It takes a lot of guts to open a Bengali restaurant and mess up things.
Us Bengalis, unlike the Pathans, the Punjabis or the Rajputs, aren’t a martial race. But mess around with our food and we can write some pretty vitriolic prose.
From what I understand Bijoli Grill at Mumbai had a rough ride when they started but it was all good by the time I went there. It is my favourite Bengali restaurant in town right now.
My fellow Bengali dinner mates said that we should be a bit patient with the Bhojohori Manna that has just opened at Oshiwara, Mumbai.
“Teething troubles” they said with a smile.
I strongly doubt if they would have been as patient with a non-Bengali restaurant. Frankly this ‘new restaurant - handle with care’ argument doesn’t work for me as I still have to shell out regular rates when I eat at such places.
Bhojohori Manna was amongst the first of the spate of Bengali restaurants which opened at Calcutta soon after I left the city in the late 1990s. I never made it there on my trips back home and soon BM was out of the radar.
Recently one heard that the mountain had moved to Mohamat and that Bhojohori Manna had opened at Mumbai. A few of us made plans and headed off on the long drive to Oshiwara on a rainy night.
We finally reached Bhojohori Manna and saw the big board which said ‘valet parking’. On asking found that there was no valet.
Which sort of set the tone for the evening.
We went in, met our fellow Bengali friends. K, the lone non Bengali, explained how she prefers Bengali food to North Indian. Us Bongs scanned through the menu and our smiles began to widen as we saw the long list of dishes. This was a very extensive menu.
We began to order.
“Not there. It is over”
A good thing as we found out. Five daab chingris went to the adjacent table. Suddenly a sari clad lady on that table called for the waiter and said, “These prawns aren’t good. They aren’t fresh. They are smelly. How old are they?”
Again a sign of things to follow.
“Mocha chingri” we continued.
“Not there today'”
I spoke up, “But you have it on the menu”
“Yes, but we don’t cook everything everyday”
The service at Bhojohori Manna was very authentic 20th century Kolkata. The experience very Fawlty Towers.
Our dinner got off to a good start I must admit.
Nice fish and mocha (banana flower) chops (croquettes). Good luchis – crisp, light, poetic. A very distinguished and deep kosha mangsho. Well cooked, well flavoured. Served surprisingly with boiled eggs in instead of potatoes.
The latter as natural as Gautam Gambhir captaining the Calcutta team while Saurav Ganguly still hadn’t officially retired. But like the KKR team in this season the kosha mangsho did reasonably well.
And then things changed. The nightmare at Amherst Street began. It was all downhill from there. Barring the alu posto.
We were in a big group so we ordered the whole menu, whatever was available that is. And went in for repeated heartbreaks in the best traditions of those maudlin black and white Bengali films of yore.
A deep red coloured gravy dish came to our table. We couldn’t identify what it was.
“Shorshe pabda” we were told.
None of us had ever seen such a crimson rendition of this traditionally yellow mustard dish before…the shorshe or mustard taste was beautifully hidden as was any way of identifying the delicate pada fish which had been fried to charcoal like perfection.
The shorshe pabda from the Red Planet would be as welcome in Bengal as would be Guru Greg.
Then came a plate of fairly authentic looking caatla kaalia. The only problem being that we had ordered a rather expensive chitol maccher petir kaalia. Not caatla!
In fact I chose the chitol as I told our group about how my grandmom had served this delicacy three decades back to my dad on Jamai Shoshthi (son in law’s day). I remembered the boneless fatty cut of fish with just 3 long bones from then though I was just eight.
But there was a problem. The fish was full of tiny bones. On inspection we found fins too. This was not the expensive peti or stomach cut. This was the lyaja or tail!
We called the waiter. He denied this. Said they only serve peti.
Which is when I looked at him menacingly and said “aamra shobai ranna kori”
(We all cook and know what we are talking off).
The fake chitol maachher petir kaalia was as gruesome as it looks in the photo.
A mysterious lady in black came to our table and asked politely what the problem was. She looked rather lost when we said that it was the wrong fish. She floated off without saying anything. Only to make an equally pointless appearance later.
Was she Basil Fawlty? Or was she Manuel?
We wanted to check the biryani here. Called for an ilish or Hilsa Biryani. This is a Dhaka speciality which I recently learnt about from Kanishka whose mother in law cooks and sends it for him from there.
The pot of biryani came to our table. Expectations rose as I photographed it. Then a strange odour surround me. Folks started serving the biryani. And stopped.
The Hilsa was rotten. Spoilt.
We called the waiter and sent it back.
And as requested by the very polite and patient Rahul, I told them not to get it back.
The Mystery Lady returned to out table and went:
“Please have our nolen gurer (jaggery) ice cream at the end. It is very good”.
Was this the the salve to cool us down?
Very sweet and rather red prawn malai curry followed. The sweetness not a bad thing as we found out later. We did need a sweet end to our dinner after all. We would not get our just desserts that night.
The prawns were over cooked but since the curry was the only non- low of the session we called for another.
The next malai curry came. They had slyly slipped in the more expensive tiger prawn which we earlier said that we didn’t wont. Anyway we were too frazzled to put it politely by then, mind eff’ed, by then to argue.
Thought we would call for the desserts. There was the promised ice cream from the Mystery Lady. We wanted some mishti doi too.
The waiter came to take our order.
The ice cream was over!
We saw the Mystery Lady walk off with a plastic bag full of containers without a glance at us. Ice creams we hazarded.
So mishti doi it would be.
Except those were over.
“Too many home deliveries sir'”.
I smiled and asked for the bill.
“He is so patient” said the others at the table looking at me.
I was just waiting to to ‘get to the mattresses’.
Or the keyboard.
PS For whatever it is worth, the experiment cost our group of five a reasonable Rs 400 (10 USD) each. Plus fuel. And a good dinner.