The latest to join the merry band of Bengali restaurants here is 25 Parganas in the Sahara Star hotel which is next to the Mumbai domestic airport. I was keen to visit this place and got a chance recently when we went to visit a friend staying there. She is Bengali too and wanted to try the place out.
We went there last evening and had a fairly pleasant experience. What's interesting about 25 Parganas is that after Oh Calcutta, it is only the second fine dining Bengali restaurant in Mumbai. Most of the other Bengali restaurants here, Bhojohori Manna, Calcutta Club, Bong Bong, Boda are small and simple places. 25 Parganas turned out to be the best expensive of them all and is more expensive than Oh Calcutta.
In terms of ambience, with its black and white checked marble flooring and classic white chair and wooden table seating, you don't have too much to choose between the look and feel of 25 Parganas and that of Oh Calcutta. So I looked at the food and service to see if the premium charged at 25 Parganas is worth it.
The service is pretty pleasant and warm. We were pointed to a Bengali maitre d who came and asked us if we were familiar with Bengali food. I later heard him explaining all about Bengali food and giving recommendations to the few non-Bengali patrons who later came to the restaurant. This is a thoughtful service in a specialty cuisine restaurant where everyone will not be familiar with the food.
The task of ordering was given to me by my friend Nilakshi who wryly said, "why should we even bother". I've known Nilakshi from before my B school days and it's always fun to catch up with her. Yesterday we spent two and a half hours over a very unhurried meal and I had no idea where time flew.
Getting back to the menu, there were the usual favourites - mochar chop, kosha magsho and alu posto and so on in the a la carte (no Moghlai) menu. There was a set meal option, the latter costing upwards of Rs 2,000 per person. I decided to go in for a la carte and was attracted by a section called 'didimar heshel theke' in the menu which the maitre d explained means 'from grandma's kitchen'. This had dishes such as machhed matha diye daal (fish head daal) which is made in Bengali homes but rarely found in restaurants. Here's my recipe for the same.
I chose luchis to start with and mangsho ghoogni instead of the usual chholar daal. I last had had mangsher ghoogni (Bengal gram curry with mutton) at a stall in Delhi's CR Park . I have never seen this dish, prepared during Bijoya after Durga Pujo in Bengali homes as Nilakshi reminded us, in restaurants.
The maitre d told us that the order would take about 15 minutes and we waited while they gave us some home styled mustard oil fried sliced raw bananas, potatoes and brinjal to munch on. They also give you a rather plasticky version of alu bhaja made with sweet potatoes in the beginning as an amuse bouche.
The luchis, 4 to a plate, were thankfully served hot unlike my experience in Oh Calcutta, Khar, sometime back where we were served cold luchis.
The mangsho ghoogni (Rs 900) was a generous serving, tasted quite flavourful and zesty yet not too spicy, the ghoogni pulses were firm but not under-cooked. There were ample pieces of juicy bits of the mangsho (mutton) in it.
The luchi and ghoogni went together very well. I noticed that the dishes in the didimar heshel section were more expensive than the more regular fare.
For our mains we had the short grained Bengali favourite rice, Gobindobhog, which was served with a liberal helping of Jhorna ghee which most Bengalis dote on. I loved the combination last night. Nilakshi said that of late she has been buying her ghee from Banchharam, the sweet shop near Gariahat in Kolkata and finds it better than Jharna.
With our rice I chose the pui chingri (Rs 1200) from the didimar heshel section. Pui is a winter green which I have eaten during my growing up days in Kolkata and not since. Nor have I seen it in any restaurant. The dish at 25 Parganas was cooked beautifully. The characteristic taste of the pui greens came through and was not smothered by excessive spices. The dish was all about the pui. The chingri (prawns) were rather large and not the tiny shrimp used in Bengali houses for this dish. The prawns were cooked with TLC andwere fairly juicy and not overcooked.
Nor was the betki in the doi mach (fish in yogurt sauce - Rs 900 and has a hilsa version too) that I ordered over cooked. The cubes of betki were served very juicy and succulent and not dry at all. The sauce was a bit strange though as the dominant taste was that of kalo jeere (kalonjee), not usually used in doi machh, and posto or poppy seeds. As Nilakshi pointed out, it lacked the tanginess one associates with doi machh. The dish tasted good but was not exactly what we had in mind.
For desserts the girls shared a nolen gurer ice cream which every Bengali restaurant touts as their speciality. This was one a rather milky one and lacked the cheesecake like texture one associates with this dish in other places.
Our overall experience was pleasant though not exceptional. This was good comfort food but left me wondering about the justification of the cost (Rs 5100 I think without alcohol for 3). I have just come back from Delhi and Gurgaon where I had three five star Indian meals at the Indian Accent, Oberoi's Amaranta and Diya's Leela. Each of these meals pushed the boundaries in terms of flavour combinations and plating which made the experiences very different from the average Indian restaurant experience. You felt you were in for a special treat in those restaurants.
The food was nice at 25 Parganas no doubt. Yet, from the ambience to the taste to the plating, there was nothing exceptional about 25 Parganas which seems to justify its premium pricing barring the fact that it is from a 5 star hotel and is located in it.
Quite the price to pay for a good clean loo and marble flooring I guess.