Sonargaon ("golden village") is the Indian restaurant within the Taj Bengal hotel - there are eight different places to eat here in total if you count the lounges. It is on the ground floor of the building, the dining room decor designed to be reminiscent of the rustic northwest frontier of India. There is a small upstairs section in addition to the main room up a flight of stone stairs, suitable for private parties. The menu has dishes mainly from that Punjabi region, though there are also some Bengali items. The kitchen is headed by chef Sonu Koithara, who has worked at quite a variety of luxury hotels round the world in his career, from London to the Maldives, before moving here in 2015.
There was a wine list with some good quality growers featured though, bizarrely, no vintages were shown. It was nice to see a selection of Indian wines such as Grover Cabernet Shiraz from Bangalore at INR 3,000 (£30), three times its retail price. Guigal Côte Rotie is a lovely bottle of Rhone wine, but if I am going to shell out INR 12,500 (£125) on a bottle then I would expect to know the vintage; this retails at about £40 but varies significantly by year. Similarly only those on a generous expense account are going to shell out INR 40,000 on a bottle of Chateau Lagrange without knowing from which vintage it came, but it sounds like an awfully big mark-up unless it is from a remarkable and rare year. Kingfisher beer was INR 400 (£4) a bottle.
Popadoms were very good, grilled and tasting fresh and crisp, and a mint chutney had unusually vivid flavour. We tried a selection of starters, both vegetarian and otherwise. There were two paneer dishes, the grilled paneer in particular having excellent texture, a far cry from the plasticine-like versions all too common in London. A kebab of mutton laced with cardamom was nothing special but chicken tikka had good flavour and a pleasing hint of charcoal from the tandoor, and a slab of tandoori fish was carefully cooked. I was less taken by a tandoori prawn that was rather dried out. Overall the starters were 13/20 level on average, the most memorable being the grilled paneer.
A better prawn dish was the main course chingri malai, a Bengali prawn curry made with coconut milk and mild spices. The shellfish were tender and sauce creamy and gently spiced (14/20). Palak chorchori was a spinach dish fried with mustard paste and spices, and had good leaves (13/20). My lamb dish was tender and had reasonable flavour, but was tepid by the time it was served (12/20). Bengali fish wrapped in banana leaf and steamed was carefully cooked and had fairly vibrant spices (13/20). Another distinctively Bengali dish was mochar ghonto, which is a banana flower (taken from the purple red blossom that grows at the end of a bunch of bananas) dish flavored with coconut, cumin and ginger, an interesting and mildly spiced local delicacy (13/20). Best of all for me was the pulao rice, fragrant and with the grains distinct, very carefully cooked (15/20). Paratha was good, the romali roti just a touch harder than I would have wished (13/20 bread on average). For dessert, a jaggary (cane sugar) ice cream was pleasant though unsurprisingly sweet (12/20). At a separate lunch, chicken tikka malai was very generous in portion size but was not as tender as it can be, though the spices came through well enough (just about 13/20).
Service was very attentive and staff plentiful, even at a busy service like this one, where every table was taken and some tables were being turned. The bill came to INR 1,357 for two, which works out at £68 a head, with just two beers to drink between us. With, for example, the chingri malai dish alone at INR 1,900 (£19) these are prices that would feel a touch steep in Mayfair, never mind in Kolkata. Yet it is a measure of the robustness of the Indian economy that every seat at the restaurant was taken on a Sunday night, the dining room almost entirely populated by what appeared to be locals rather than tourists or business folk.