For a food blogger and lifetime Bengali, I actually find it quite difficult to write about Bengali food. Partly because I grew up with this cuisine and like any true Bengali out there, it is a deeply personal guilty pleasure; I just like to eat it, not talk about it. But my hesitation is also due to the fact that words cannot fully convey my true love and hankering for homespun Bengali fare.
Bengalis love their food, in fact they celebrate it. This becomes apparent especially around Sunday lunches, festivals and weddings when everyone gathers together for a feast. There is no place for or mention of calories and the conversation ultimately veers from politics (another Bengali obsession) to food. My recent dining experience at Little Kolkata was a throwback to those magical moments of growing up in a Bengali household.
What started as a sold-out supper club in their apartment for founders Prabir Chattopadhay and Biswajit Deb has successfully transformed into a permanent bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Covent Garden. We met Prabir and probed him about his latest venture. As it turns out, he was a marine engineer but loved cooking more. Well, marine engineering’s loss is the London culinary world’s gain.
The menu is a crash course in Bengali cuisine. Every item on the menu has a story, inspired from an aspect of Prabir’s upbringing in Kolkata. Some of the items on the menu may be risky and a bit of an acquired taste for some. However, hats off to him for feeding relatively lesser known classic Bengali dishes to a wider, more mainstream audience.
The interiors were a juxtaposition of two colour tones of purple and red. Mustard and light pink cushions brought a soft contrast and mirrors with curved edges summed up what was a quirky and colourful scheme. It reminded me of wedding banquet halls back in Kolkata, so well done to his French interior designer for capturing the essence of it.
The food here is all shared small plates and comes out as it is been prepared. The line-up included:
√Garihater Ghugni Chaat – Spicy lentils garnished with green chilli, tomatoes, tamarind, onion, sev and chopped cilantro (the non meat option with minced lamb)
√Iilish Maacher Deem Bhaja – Hilsa Fish Roe/Egg Fritters gently sautéed with spices
√Calcutta Style Chilli Chicken – Tangra is Calcutta’s Chinatown and the only one in India, this dish is inspired from that region
√Golda Chingri Malai Curry – Jumbo prawns cooked in coconut cream – a real Kolkata delicacy
√Kalighater Kosha Mangsho – Goat meat slow cooked in a rich flavoursome sauce
√Rusgollar Payesh – Cottage cheese spheres dipped in a thickened milk pudding
The cluster of egg fritters were tasty and had a real zing to them. Even if you are unsure from the sound of it, I totally recommend ordering this dish; it’s a real delicacy. The deep, rich goat was on the spicier side and tasted of slow-cooked, flavoursome goodness that had you salivating. We mopped the meaty morsels with some puffy well-risen, golden-coloured luchis (Google it). The chicken was crispy in texture, with hints of sweet chilli flavours. The sunshine yellow lentils were fragrant; they were cooked spot-on, dressed with fresh herbs and with added meat for more depth. But my favourite were the jumbo prawns, which came drenched in a luxurious but mild sauce which I licked every last bit of. In fact, when dining here, don’t be afraid to eat with your hands. It is the best way to enjoy it.
In the end, it was a side dish that completely seduced us – the moreish Truffle Porota. Although truffle has nothing to do with Bengali cuisine and was thrown in for the on-trend, crowd-pleasing factor, it was a definite triumph and a must order. We ordered it twice but forgot to take a photo of it!
In general, we found the portion sizes on the smaller side for the price and that’s probably the only negative for me here. It was also early days of opening for the restaurant so the operations were still work-in-progress; the service needed work and staff needed further training, which Prabir duly acknowledged. He mentioned that the team had been overwhelmed by the popularity and he had to be hire more staff to cope with the busy sold-out first few weeks of the restaurant’s opening.
Little Kolkata has all the makings of a successful restaurant if they can iron out the little crinkles. Nearly everything we tasted was sensational and full of nostalgic flavours. Prabir himself comes across not only a passionate foodie and cook but also a practical and savvy entrepreneur. In terms of taste and authenticity of flavours, LK definitely gets a big fat thumbs up from me. Here’s hoping that Londoners embrace this sort of traditional style Bengali food as much as they have lovingly accepted other less familiar cuisines and that this ambitious venture is here for the long haul.
Location : 51-53, Shelton Street, London, WC2H 9JU
More information can be found here.
N.B. All photos and opinions are mine. Our food was discounted as part of the restaurant’s soft launch period.