My favourite regional Indian cuisine is cuisine from Bengal. I love it. Further, depending on whether the style of cooking is Ghoti (originating from West Bengal) or Bangal (originating from erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh), the flavours will swing between creamy sweet to fiery hot.
Luckily, at 6 Ballygunge Place, you don’t have to choose this way or that! You can savour and indulge in the best of both worlds! It will challenge the stereotypical notion that the cuisine is all about Maach Bhaat (fish curry and rice). That now, only paints a broad picture of Bengali food. The menu at 6 Ballygunge, will rekindle your love affair with meat cooked in decadent curries and the relatively lighter dishes, marked by simple gravies, that celebrate the humble raw banana, pumpkin and drumsticks.
About a decade and a half back, Bengali cuisine was nothing you would pay money to eat at in a restaurant, and certainly not in Kolkata – where it makes for ordinary eating in almost every home. Then, 6 Ballygunge Place, was born – 100 year old bungalow turned into a restaurant. Its old-world charm is retained to date, in its architecture and décor. Befitting of that charming ambiance is exquisite food. No surprises then that it happens to be a favourite for connoisseurs in the city.
There’s not much I can say about the food that hasn’t been said previously already, I’m sure. I enjoyed my starter of Prawn Cutlets which in this region I have come to realize is a safe bet at most small to high end restaurants. What wowed me here was the Fish Kobiraji Cutlet. Legend goes that the recipe is a result of British influence on the Bengali cuisine, and that the word kabiraji has its origins in the English word ‘coverage’ since the cutlets are covered in a lacy egg net. It was a beautifully delicate dish, which though deep fried, wasn’t the least greasy on the hand or the palate. Not to forget mentioning that the taste and texture of it was just something indescribably unique. Same was with the Jhuri Aloo Bhaja. Bhaja itself is very famous in Bengal and a very intrinsic part of the food ritual. There are many variations and each kind of bhaja is made a few different ways. Unfortunately, though meticulous versions like the Jhuri Bhaja leave some of the best of restaurants today, taking the easy route of buying pre-cooked bhaja off the shelves and serving it to customers. In this case, I was just over the moon, that my bhaja was freshly prepared from scratch in the restaurant kitchen.
Though a variety of food was ordered for mains, I like always stuck to plain fish and rice – a Bhapa Ilish (Hilsa) and steamed rice. Fresh water fish curry to me is soul food. It is food from my past and reconnects me to very precious memories. Our Sunday family lunch was essentially always, a light curry (chicken or fish because mutton was only had on VERY special occasions!) and steamed rice. My father used to refer to the ritual as RCT – Rice, Curry, Tumble – indulgent comfort eating, followed by a leisurely siesta. My dish of perfectly steamed Ilish, steeped in a pungent mustard sauce and then liberally doused with mustard oil brought back many happy memories. This is exactly the kind of eating experience that isn’t just sensuous, but also one that is extremely nurturing and healing to the soul. It wasn’t the first time I was enjoying a simple curry and rice in a restaurant, though, it was the first time, that the experience managed to evoke such strong reminiscences. The food at 6 Ballygunge is literally that powerful. Any other similar dining experience, pales in comparison to the one I had at this South Calcutta eatery.
I learnt later that the restaurant boasts of the A-list glitterati eating out of their kitchen. I’m sure that speaks volumes about the high standards of food they serve. Honestly though, having eaten there now, I couldn’t care less if it was patronized by high society folks or was an unpretentious hole-in-the-wall. The food and the honest and glorious celebration of ingredients is enough to make me want to return there many more times – perhaps every time, that the city of joy calls me back.