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This Poila Baisakh, take a trip back to Sky Room and Blue Fox

14 April, 2021 17:49:10
This Poila Baisakh, take a trip back to Sky Room and Blue Fox

“You think Rs 37 would buy the three of us dinner at Blue Fox?” asks Lalmohan Ganguli alias Jatayu in Satyajit Ray’s immortal Feluda story, Gorosthane Sabdhan, as he picks up a wallet at South Park Street Cemetery, which becomes a clue to solving a ‘grave’ mystery, pun intended. In response to his question, Feluda says Rs 37 would barely be enough for tea and sandwiches at Blue Fox.

Gorosthane Sabdhan was published in 1979, when Kolkata was Calcutta, and Park Street was its beating, cosmopolitan heart. Two names from that era still resonate with those Kolkatans whose memories of childhood treats are inextricably linked to them - the legendary Sky Room and Blue Fox. Both restaurants were once glittering jewels of Park Street, and the epitome of Continental fine dining for the city’s middle and upper middle classes. Poila Baisakh, for instance, would have meant a special meal at either of the two for many citizens.

The Olde House Eatery team with actor Victor Banerjee

While Sky Room closed down in 1993, Blue Fox suffered a more protracted demise, finally closing down for the last time in 2005. For generations of Kolkatans, a part of their childhoods died with these two. Happily, a revival of sorts is now under way, courtesy entrepreneur Manju Dutta, whose Olde House Eatery on Southern Avenue is bringing back most of the signature dishes from Sky Room, and some from Blue Fox, under the guidance of Vikram Malhotra, whose family used to own both. The response from customers, she says, has already been hugely encouraging. 

Manju, who voluntarily retired from her administrative job at Air India a couple of years ago, describes herself as “an old soul”. She is essentially a revivalist at heart, having worked to restore old houses and apartments too. When it comes to food, the idea, she says, is to revive the glory days of the 1970s and ’80s, when “Calcutta served really good Continental fare”. Even the interiors of her restaurant are a throwback to an older, more relaxed Calcutta. 

“The food we ate as children at Sky Room and Blue Fox just doesn’t exist any more. Owing to cost cutting or whatever other reasons, the ingredients just aren’t the same,” Manju says. As proprietress of Olde House Eatery, therefore, the one thing she is focusing on is replicating ingredients and taste to match the originals. “Good ingredients are the backbone of good food, so I’m not scrounging on those,” she says.

Sky Room before it was torn down

Food historian and blogger Indrajit Lahiri’s childhood memories of Sky Room include a “cabbage salad” that he still remembers fondly and distinctly. “I was really young then, but I remember the dessert trolley that would roll by, from where we could pick our favourites,” he says.

The salad that he is talking about is the Cabbage Coleslaw, which is part of the Poila Baisakh menu at Olde House Eatery. Along with that are a host of dishes steeped in Calcutta nostalgia, such as Devilled Crabs, Prawn Cocktail, Fish Florentine, Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken Roulade, Lamb Chops, and Baked Alaska (with the obligatory flambé) for dessert. This last, says Manju, was particularly in response to popular demand. 

Not all revivals have been equally successful. Two of the more prominent recent efforts that come to mind are both to do with Calcutta’s other great culinary passion - Chinese food. One is Sei Vui, which has set up shop in Blackburn Lane, near what used to be Nanking, India’s first Chinese restaurant and yet another Calcutta legend, patronised by the rich and famous from all parts of the country. While Sei Vui is in business, the famous How Hua of Elliot Road, which shifted to Anwar Shah Road to begin life afresh, is now permanently closed. 

Olde House Eatery interior

Olde House Eatery, however, is doing brisk business as of now. “The menu is still work in progress, and we will gradually introduce more favourites such as meringues with whipped cream and fresh fruits, and macaroons. Old favourites like Chicken Tetrazzini and Fish Florentine are already on offer,” says Manju. “As of now, we have incorporated almost 70 percent of the menu from Sky Room and Blue Fox.”

Alongside the food, what she is also endeavouring to do is partially reintroduce that way of life. Hence, there will also be a high tea from 4.30-7.00 pm, as well as a brunch for those so inclined. What better way to start off the new year than a trip back to old Calcutta?
 

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