This restaurant evolved from a pop-up, and is the first venture from Shrimoyee Chakraboty (“Shrim”) a self-taught chef who previously worked in finance. It opened in August 2016, spread over two floors in a quiet location near Charlotte Street. The idea is to serve authentic Calcutta dishes rather than the generic north Indian dishes that so often populate menus in London’s Indian restaurants. I quite liked the rather homely décor of the dining room, with jazz playing quietly in the background.
My first meal here meal began with phuchka, the little semolina balls that are filled with spiced potato. These have tamarind and mint liquid poured into their open tops and are consumed in one bite. These were good versions of the breed, the puris delicate and crisp and the tamarind flavour coming through well (13/20).
Chicken reshmi kebab was made from the thigh meat of the bird that had been marinated in mint and coriander, served on a skewer. This was tender and avoided dryness, the coriander flavour nicely enhancing the meat (13/20). Sea bream was steamed in a banana leaf, flavoured with mustard and coconut. The fish was nicely cooked and the mustard provided enough bite to enliven the bream, the coconut not too strong (13/20).
Crab kan was a whole crab coated with a spicy tomato sauce. I liked the sauce, but getting at the meat inside the crab was a major logistical exercise involving an array of metal instruments that look like something from the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps some diners enjoy getting stuck in and dissecting their shellfish whatever the risk to their clothes, but it seemed like a lot of work to me. The crab itself was carefully cooked (12/20).
Kosha mangsho was a Bengali lamb curry served on the bone, a rich and hearty affair with a decent kick of spice (13/20). Paratha was too dry (11/20), but luchi (puffed, deep-fried flat bread) was excellent (13/20). Light red dhal was flavoured with turmeric, coriander and gondhoraj lebu (sweet lime). I prefer a thicker dhal than this but that is a matter of personal taste, and this was certainly well enough made (12/20).
For dessert, mishit aam doi was a sweetened, creamy yoghurt topped with fresh mango. The fruit brought sufficient acidity to balance the inevitable sweetness (13/20). Coffee was from a cafetiere, using French press coffee from a company called Workshop Coffee in Clerkenwell. Service could have been improved at my first visit, the waiter having some communication difficulties with the order. However Shrim, who was present at this visit, was charm personified.
At a second visit, I repeated some dishes and tried a few different ones. Chicken reshmi kebab was not cooked quite so accurately as at my previous meal but was still fine (13/20). Similarly the puchka was not quite as good as before – the puris were fine but this time the liquid to be poured in them was one-dimensionally spicy, the sweetness of the tamarind not coming through as well (12/20).
The best dish at this visit was tiger prawns cooked in a creamy coconut sauce. The large prawns were lightly cooked and tender, and the sauce had a pleasing, refreshing quality from the coconut (13/20). Paneer cooked in a poppy seed and cashew paste was pleasant, the texture quite good (12/20). Luchi was lukewarm when it first appeared, but when a freshly made replacement came it was excellent as before (13/20).
Desserts were less successful. Rice flour pancakes with coconut and jaggery (“pithe”) were lukewarm and their filling was too dry (11/20). Banana “malpua” – hotcakes soaked in sugar syrup with banana slices – were also very dry and too hard to my taste (11/20).
Service was well-meaning but rather disorganised. At one stage plates were partly cleared and the rest forgotten at the table, and getting attention for additional drinks was tricky at times, though to be fair this particular night was quite busy. The bill came to £40 a head with beer to drink. Overall I quite liked Calcutta Street, which has a cosy dining room, interesting menu and some good dishes. Over the two meals I tried the cooking was not entirely consistent, but the best dishes were capable. It is certainly an interesting addition to the London dining scene.