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The colonial Park Street Restaurants

17 December, 2020 11:27:54
The colonial Park Street Restaurants

The steaming Kung Pao Chicken with all its spices intact, no more spreads the fun of one of the oldest Chinese restaurants of Kolkata, Waldorf. The majestic exterior has given way to cheap modern shops, and the original outlet turned into a small food joint opposite Bengal Club. Gone are the days when live bands set up the beat of tapping feet in Blue Fox, that too replaced. So did the Skyroom, that would take you high. Yet, heritage restaurants of Park Street still survive the onslaught of their hip and happening outlets that have invaded almost every locality of the city. 

For they have preserved what we call the DNA of Kolkata, in their hearts. Where food travels through the soul, touching on various eras, of chefs down generations, of a nostalgia that has always been a part and parcel of the city. And the ‘Street That Never Sleeps’ still attracts long queues of foodies, even foreign travellers. The Gonzalves, who relocated to Canada a decade ago, make it a point to come every year to Kolkata during Christmas. This year they could not make it due to the Pandemic, and as they spoke over the phone, their dampening spirit was quite audible. Derek Gonzalves said: ‘We visit Kolkata every Christmas and stay at five-star hotels, but for meals, we always land up for the unique cuisine of either Mocambo, Moulin Rouge or Peter Cat. My wife still cannot get over the bands at Trincas. It is just too much to get over the colonial charm of the place.’ 

Mocambo was set up by legendary hotelier ‘Baba Kothari’ in 1956 after he migrated from Lahore, while Trincas came up during the British era. Interestingly, Baba Kothari came from a very different background – he was managing director and editor of a newspaper called the ‘Sindh Observer’ and his decision to step into restaurant business was influenced by his partnership with one of the great chefs of those days, an Italian gentleman named Prandhi. Nitin Kothari runs Mocambo remembering that legacy of Baba Kothari, and has made it a point to honour the contributions of the Italian chef in the restaurant’s menu that speaks of how the chef had experimented with ingredients available in the post-Partition, post-Independence Calcutta. Italian and Continental delights grace Mocambo menu even today. The strong Italian influence is still palpable in their multiple Sizzlers, Devilled Crabs, Prawn Cocktail or Garlic Toast with Chateaubriand steak (beef), Singapore pork chops and Lobster Thermidor. The Mixed grill a la Mocambo and the Beckty Bell Meunierea along with Angels on Horse Back (sausage wrapped in bacon) are for the more adventurous ones. ‘The contributions of Prandhi takes their menu to an amalgamation of Italian, French, Russian, Austrian and German cuisine with Indian ingredients. Their continental offering is simply mind-blowing,’ added Gonzalves. Most Park Street restaurants of the colonial era have preserved their art deco interiors, with food served on silver plated cups, ambience of dark carpets and wall paintings, the period lamps – all speak of a Kolkata that has little changed from the days of the Raj. 

For they have preserved what we call the DNA of Kolkata, in their hearts. Where food travels through the soul, touching on various eras, of chefs down generations, of a nostalgia that has always been a part and parcel of the city. And the ‘Street That Never Sleeps’ still attracts long queues of foodies, even foreign travellers. The Gonzalves, who relocated to Canada a decade ago, make it a point to come every year to Kolkata during Christmas.

The Street itself that harbours these restaurants has not grown old. It still caters to a Las Vegas styled night life, almost like the one in ’60s and ’70s with well-known clubs, pubs and restaurants. ‘Why just Mocambo? Take the waterholes of Trincas, Peter Cat, Oly Pub, Moulin Rouge that even come alive every dusk till date,’ says Debabrata Mukherjee whose office is on Park Street. ‘Even during the Pandemic, I can see them full to the brim with all safety precautions in place. The charm of these restaurants is so deeply engrained in our psyche,’ he adds. Since 1940’s Park Street has witnessed Calcutta’s prolific night life that exuded fashion and a superior elegance. Even The Park Hotel chain that started in 1967 is a testimony to it. 

The restaurants have found mention in literary works. Trincas – where our favourite Jatayu and Feluda discovered Godwin’s band and traced a historical tale. Trincas was always known as the ‘Mecca of Music Lovers.’ Many like Usha Uthup started their musical journey from Trincas. Despite changing times, it still holds on to the old-world charm and to music. It was way back in 1920, when two Swiss gentlemen decided to open a couple of tea rooms on Park Street. Thus, started Flury’s and Trincas. Much later in 1959, after the British had long gone, two friends working at the Oberoi Grand Hotel, Om Prakash Puri and Ellis Joshua took over the reins of Trincas. The tearoom was revamped to a proper restaurant. A stage was set up in a corner for live bands in 1961 and till today live music is played. In the early days, there were regular jamming sessions during Sunday afternoons, high tea and fashion shows for ladies on Tuesday. 

The Street itself that harbours these restaurants has not grown old. It still caters to a Las Vegas styled night life, almost like the one in ’60s and ’70s with well-known clubs, pubs and restaurants. ‘Why just Mocambo? Take the waterholes of Trincas, Peter Cat, Oly Pub, Moulin Rouge that even come alive every dusk till date,’ says Debabrata Mukherjee whose office is on Park Street. ‘Even during the Pandemic, I can see them full to the brim with all safety precautions in place.

Trincas brought a revolution on the musical scene. Joshua would always look out for new talents to bring in a new flavour. Like he saw Usha Uthup performing in Mysore and convinced her to come down to Kolkata and sing peppy numbers at Trincas. Even the band ‘Trojans’ was a regular. Nandan Bagchi, who began his musical career with the band known as the Chequered Tricycle, first performed here. The band introduced rock music to Park Street and performed their covers of Jimi Hendrix, Dylan and the Doors. The crowd used to mostly comprise of teenagers and Anglo-Indians who loved swinging to the dance numbers played at Trincas. Jews, Europeans, Armenians were patrons and old timers of the city still have fond memories of the place. Molly, a black beauty from Middle East used to sing at Trincas’ and people would form a long queue in front of the restaurant to catch a glimpse of her. 

The queue infront of Peter Cat never ends. Even on weekdays, food lovers do not mind waiting for hours on Park Street and Middleton Row, just to have a taste of that legendary Chelo Kebab, a speciality that has been handed down generations, tickling taste buds of grandma, ma and grandson, displayed to perfection on that designer plate before you. As you recline on the cushy old red sofas, with the dim light hovering on you and well-mannered attentive attendants in sherwanis smiling down, with not a single iota of post-modern Kolkata’s changing culture, you feel your City of Joy hasn’t changed much. This age-old heritage restaurant is a namesake of a much-loved cat that used to reside on the Lord’s Cricket Ground during the 1950s. Even their menu card comes in the shape of a cat’s head with rare and choicest dishes that only Peter Cat can think of serving for decades. 

The Chelo Kebab that is originally an Iranian dish, comes as a complete meal, with juicy kebabs, served along with buttered rice, vegetables and also an egg to top it. The flavor is heavenly and so are the crackling sizzlers that come in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian form. If Chelo Kebab rules the roost, the lesser known fish dishes of Peter Cat are also to die for. The ‘Betki Muenier’ and the Grilled Fish are perfect blend of sauces and the Kolkata Bhetki. What is more, Peter Cat will never burn a hole in your pocket. Extremely pocket-friendly, despite its ambience and elaborate menu and its vintage tag.

Times change. So do people, so do their tastes. But one thing seems to remain same --- the colonial charm of the restaurants of Park Street.
 

Story Tag:
  • Park Street

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