Meet The Chef Who Brought Calcutta Street Food To London
Noted food critic Tom Parker Bowles wrote about her enterprising cooking in the Daily Mail and many positive reviews followed. Shrimoyee Chakraborty’s family recipes inspired her to launch the traditional Bengali cuisine restaurant, Calcutta Street, in London. The menu comes hidden in blue wooden boxes, reminiscent of the French shuttered windows in ‘Tolly’ (Tollygunge Club), a country club that exemplifies the colonial influence in the erstwhile capital which has been a Kolkata landmark from the days of the British Raj. It is still a much-coveted spot to hobnob with the elegant elite and nouveau riche, and membership is strictly offered only to those that have surpassed the corridors of success. The menu comprises dishes from different areas of Kolkata, such as ‘Lunch from New Market and Chowringhee Lane’ and ‘Street Food from Golpark’ (pre-dinner snacks) and ‘From my Family Kitchen in Gariahat Road’ (main courses).
Leaving a career in business and trading it to follow her passion for cooking, food blogger Chakraborty describes her cuisine as pure, home-cooked, traditional Bengali grub with recipes that have been personalised and tweaked by her grandmother and mother and perfected over time with secret ingredients. Prior to opening, she fuelled her challenge with successful pop-ups across London in Camden, Exmouth Market and at the Notting Hill Carnival. The restaurant is on two floors, with a no-reservations policy on the upper level, and has a couple of small cosy outdoor tables which are suitable for extending intimate evening conversations while sipping after-dinner midnight cocktails such as the Bengali Rose (East London Liquor Company vodka, bitters, rose, ginger and Prosecco).
For appetisers, try the crispy spicy puchkas filled with tangy tamarind and mint water and mach bhaja (shallow-fried whitebait sprinkled with spices and served with a pungent mustard). Follow it up with kosha mangsho, which is a rich hearty sumptuous mutton curry that makes you sigh with pleasure and takes its heritage from when Calcutta was ruled by nawabs during the times of the Mughal Empire. The famous railway mutton curry from the British-ruled India days is a milder alternative to this dish. Other dishes worth sampling include macher paturi (seabass steamed in banana leaf with mustard and coconut) and the popular tiger prawn malai kari, all best eaten with ghee bhat (steamed rice with clarified butter) and luchi (deep-fried puffed bread) that’s perfect for smearing the delicious leftover curries. Don’t miss out on their version of mishti doi (sweetened yoghurt which is torched to give it a caramelised shield and topped with finely diced mangoes).
Chakraborty chose to turn her passion for cooking into a mainstream career because she feels, “Bengali cuisine was something unexplored and serving Kolkata cuisine in London is both a challenge and a novelty, giving me a large canvas to fulfil my creative endeavours.” Authentic spices, original recipes and well-trained friendly staff all add up to ensure repeated visits.
Excerpts from a chat….
“Were spent in Calcutta…. It was a great city to grow up in, with such fabulous food, literature and art. It’s a slow city, but has a lot to offer in terms of culture and education and I think that has definitely shaped my personality. My childhood was filled with a lot of love, growing up in a big family full of characters, food and a lot of gossip — I miss that.”
“I finished high school in Calcutta, moved to Bombay for undergrad studies (Sophia College) and then eventually went to Manchester Business School for a masters in global business analysis with a major in economics. I have worked with Disney and Unilever in India, and have had a small stint as a TV presenter with Star TV before moving to the UK.”
“My mother, as she is just a fabulous cook and has inculcated a lot of culture in me since I was a child. She introduced me to world cinema, art, music (jazz), literature as well as travel experiences all over the world.”
“Don’t mean much to me, but what matters most is recognition from people. If my guests love my food and the experience and keep coming back, that is the best award for me.”
Add… “I would love to add maybe some personal life, as London can get all-consuming and also with my current lifestyle, I am just working around the clock. I am looking forward to a more sensible work-life balance and to enjoying the last few years of my 20s. But I also love my work so probably it’s a catch 22.”
“I would like to subtract the inequality I face as a female entrepreneur every day. I can’t believe that this exists even in a city like London. However, I have now learnt how to deal with it and how to change people’s attitudes within 10 minutes of speaking to me.”