Monday, January 31, 2011

Icons

I have started posting on a collective food blog - Foodnama - started by friends and this is my first post. Some very eclectic posts there on Nizam of Calcutta, chocolate chip cookies and potatoes.

Every city has a few iconic places to eat – restaurant being too pretentious a term for some of them – that are part of the city’s social and cultural history. It is not only about the food they serve – which is usually fantastic – but about the ambience and quirks of the place. Somehow, these have become part of the image of the place, adding to the legend.
For all of them, the aura is as important as the menu. Many of them have been described as over-rated by non-regulars. There have been complaints of poor service. That is again part of their charm. Old-timers, wanting to keep the riff-raff out of their favourite adda, even tacitly support this!
This post is the first in (hopefully) a series in which I try to recount my experiences at these places.

Bangalore – Koshy’s
I love the way they put a table cloth when you order a beer. I love the way old-timers refuse to sit in the AC section. When I asked a friend why he didn’t want to sit inside, he said “That is not Koshy’s. That is Jewel Box. Koshy is out here.” I love their Brain Masala. Of course, I have been repeatedly told I should always be ordering the steak at Koshy’s. Its location – at the cusp of St Marks Road and MG Road – is as iconic.
When I was in Bangalore, there used to be a night-club called 180 Proof (now Hard Rock Café) just ahead. I remember clearly a discussion I overheard at Koshy’s on the meaning of 180 proof and whether absinthe was 180 proof alcohol.
It was as if I was back in Calcutta. How better can I compliment a place?
Picture courtesy: Iyer Matter.

Bombay – Britannia & Co.
Any restaurant which shuts on Sundays and opens for only 4 hours on other days gets undying admiration from Bengalis. I mean, the bugger doesn’t care about money and only about the quality of the food. Wah wah – one more Caramel Custard, please.
The red-check table cloth. The chatty owner shuffling from table to table. The bow-tied waiters. Even the hideous-tasting ‘unique drinks’ are part of the Britannia lore. It is a small matter that the legend was started by Berry Pulao and the Dhansak – which are quite fantastic.
I had lunch there again yesterday – after a gap of nearly five years – I was a little apprehensive whether I would like it as much as I did the first time. I needn’t have worried. From the first spoon of the Pulao to the last mouthful of Caramel Custard, it was beautiful. The warm sun outside, the patience of the waiting crowd and the sleepiness of Ballard Estate on a Saturday were all just as beautiful too.
Did I tell you that their Sali Boti is even better than their Berry Pulao? Well, try it and tell me if you agree.

Calcutta – Peter Cat
Very few restaurants – actively or passively – discourage mobile phone conversations nowadays. Peter Cat not only puts a tent card requesting patrons not to speak on the mobile phone, the stewards walk up and whisper polite warnings if you do speak!
Peter Cat is all about legend. As I had written some time back, an overwhelmingly large number of Calcuttans have been to Peter Cat after their first salary and that is a sentimental high no other gastronomical creation can match.
And their iconic dish – Chelo Kabab. No single dish in any restaurant in the world would form such a large part of the total orders as Chelo Kabab does in Peter Cat. It is currently described in their menu as ‘the protected regional product of West Bengal, our special kababs prepared in rare spices blended with Persian herbs and served on a bed of rice with butter and an egg’. Whoa!
When I was in Peter Cat last, I took a picture of the menu with my mobile phone camera. As I took out the phone, the steward frowned and started towards me. When I pointed the camera at the menu, he smiled and turned away. Must be happening a lot in there!

Delhi – Karim’s
There is nothing left to say about Karim’s that Lonely Planet, HT City Eating Out Guide or Time magazine hasn’t said already. Except that contrary to popular belief, the restaurant did not start in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s time. The descendants of the Mughal emperor’s chefs started the restaurant in 1913 (CENTENARY ALERT!!) and has been serving soul-stirring food ever since.  Which means no other restaurant in the world is probably as Mughlai as Karim’s.
Part of Karim’s charm is, I think, the inaccessibility. Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin, I can understand. Even their Malaviya Nagar outlet is particularly bad for turning and parking. I guess you feel the food better when you work hard for it.
I don’t know if there is any one dish that Karim’s is really famous for because I manage to forget every item I order by the time I visit next. Actually, I forget the dishes by the time I walk out of the restaurant. All that remains is a whirl of meat, ghee and spices that tend to engulf one’s senses. In fact on the way out, I manage to lose myself in the bylanes as well. How does the second left matter after Chicken Jahangiri?

Hyderabad – Paradise
How many places in the world do you know where a street or a square is named after a restaurant located there? Paradise Circle is the only one place I know of.
For those who think biriyani is paradise, Paradise is biriyani. In a city known for biriyani, they have taken it to a different level altogether. Actually they have taken it to three different levels altogether – the air-conditioned section upstairs, non-AC downstairs and the terrace outside!
Their chicken-mutton mixed biriyani is an innovation that deserves a Nobel Prize – either Chemistry or Peace. And their take-away section deserves one in Economics – for the most efficient revenue generation. Their hermetically sealed packages of biriyani and kabab are handed over in one smooth motion after the money is handed over and you are back in your waiting cab even before the ignition is switched off.
Visits to Hyderabad are incomplete without a sealed packet of Paradise in your hand baggage. Don’t tell me you’ve not done it even once!

Lucknow – Tunday Kababi
They have opened branches in malls of Lucknow and Delhi. And yet, their original shop hidden in the labyrinth of Aminabad remains the touchstone of all carnivores. I had written about it once earlier and haven’t eaten there recently to add on that.
Except that I’d give anything to eat there right now. (Updated to Add: Apparently, even the Aminabad shop is not the original. The real thing is in Chowk.)
Picture courtesy: Outlook magazine

4 comments:

Gautam Ghosh said...

Hyderabad Azizia near Nampally station has much better biryani - and they had the Noorani (chicken + mutton) Biryani much before

by the way, Paradise was the name taken on later. The restaurant was called Persis, and there was a Paradise theater by which the restaurant and the place got their name

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Good selection, but in Calcutta, Mocambo over Peter Cat every time.

And in Chennai, I've just discovered a place called cornucopia.

In Hyderabad, you shouldn't miss Chutney's.

J.A.P.

Meghbalika said...

Next time you visit Bangalore, try Koshy's Appam and mutton stew.

Arnab Nandy said...

"How does the second left matter after Chicken Jahangiri?"

Couldn't agree more :P