New to Fitzrovia and brought about by Shrim Chakraborty, many would be forgiven for missing Calcutta Street if it weren't for the soft glow of candles and duck egg blue shutters that stand out amongst the thundering concrete of the area. Arriving for a meal before a dose of horror-theatre from the CoLab scamps that evening, I couldn't have forgiven myself for missing some of the most humble Bengali dining in the city. I at least had to go down into an abandoned basement with a belly of the good stuff.
The Venue and Atmosphere
Cutesy, unpretentious and casual, it's as though Calcutta Street doesn't want to give too much away before the dinner throwdown. Split between two floors, the restaurant has Bengali nods throughout, from the wooden shutter menus and creative fan-lamps to rich, dark furniture, pillows and murals that nod to Calcutta and all of its cultural exploits.
The space was filled with friends and families with couples dotted throughout. While not rampant a restaurant on a Saturday night, the casual buzz is welcome, while the spacing of tables could be looked into as to avoid curry-coat dipping and the jabbing of elbows from those meandering towards their seats. Perched in a corner watching the restaurant glow, I would have appreciated a little quicker a service, but I actually think Calcutta Street lends itself to a humble flow, where food and drink come at a casual and relaxed pace. And hell, when the staff are that nice, who's complaining?
The Food and Drink
Straight from the mouths of babes, Shrim says that "A large part of the Calcutta Street menu is inspired by my mum’s cooking, but a HUGE part of the inspiration is the city itself", and it couldn't come across more in the selection of dishes. Humble, warming and authentic to Bengali cuisine, not only are the dishes an interesting take on Indian dining, we as two vegetarians had our pick of the bunch.
Starting with the Beguni of sliced aubergine, fried in chickpea flour batter (£3.50) and Phuchka of crisp semolina balls filled with spiced potato, dipped in tangy tamarind & mint water (£4), this was a light and friendly opener to the meal. While the rich batter of the aubergine came with a perfectly tart and mustard led dip, the semolina balls were a theatrical starter of feathered flavours and fair spices, all down in one. Alongside these we opted for two cocktails, The 'Bengali Rose' of East London Liquor Company vodka, bitters, rose, ginger and prosecco along with a 'Tarun’s Tipple' boasting Johnnie Walker old fashioned, with seasonal fruit and chaat masala (both £9). My favourite was the latter, bringing out the flavours of the starters while still adding a punch to the back of the throat like any short drink should.
One thing I liked about Calcutta Street was the ordering system. Rather than waiting once meals were over, they request all dishes ordered at once, meaning we were thrown into plates willingly and regularly. Set to be the star of the show, it's the mains that made Calcutta Street. Split between us, our meal was a mix of Panchmishali Torkari (£10) of seasonal vegetables cooked with panchforan and Paneer Posto cooked in a poppy seed and cashew paste (£12) alongside a chapati, steamed rice with clarified butter and a wholesome potato side. As a vegetarian i've had my fair share of paneer-led curries, but none quite like this posto. Accompanied by the cashew paste and enriched by the seeds, the dish was bitty and spectacularly seasoned, encasing the paneer in a sauce too good to miss. The seasonal vegetables too came with a warm and welcoming bite, while our spiced potato side matched all the dishes in unison, piled upon the chapati in true Bengali fashion.
Shrim has conjured up quite the cosy, Bengali-inspired nook just shy of the restaurant tussle of Fitzrovia. While there are a few nodes to iron out such as table spacing and a reasonably slow-going service, the food more than speaks for itself, conjuring up a selection of bold Calcutta bites that really ring with passion and enthusiasm.