When one talks about Kolkata, seldom is the conversation about towering high-rises and top-dollar job opportunities. The City of Joy, once the capital of India, is at one breath a city stuck in time and a city that emanates nostalgia and charm that very few others do. For most, Kolkata is a treasure trove of enchanting flavours and culinary discoveries that pleases diverse palates.
Star chef Vikramjit Roy, who has shaped some of India’s best-known Asian restaurants (Wasabi by Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, Pan Asian at the ITC Chola in Chennai, and Tian at Delhi’s ITC Maurya) has personified all of the above and much, much more – in what feels like a tribute, an ode, a love letter to this grand, old city with his new venture The Tangra Project.
What can we expect at The Tangra Project?
For those acquainted with Kolkata, Tangra is a familiar name – both for the fish and for the region. While the former is everyday fare, the latter is an area near Park Circus where the Hakka community from China settled. It is the origin of ‘Calcutta Chinese’ – a starkly different oriental fare that you’ve to taste once to fall in love with. In Delhi, The Tangra Project doesn’t limit itself to saluting one of the most enduring sub-divisions of oriental food in India – in fact, it doesn’t even limit itself to what you’d define as traditional, classic Bengali food. The menu is all about celebrating the city and its heritage traditions.
“We are contemporary in every inch at the Tangra Project–you are welcomed by a statement bar that’s also one of the few walk-in bars in Indian malls,” says Roy, showcasing the diverse appeal that he envisions the restaurant to have. The thela, or the food cart right at the entrance, is yet another element that differentiates The Tangra Project from others. Like you’d do in every tiny alley in Kolkata, this cart will be a quick-service takeaway counter for kathi rolls. What intrigues more, though, are the next two elements that Roy walks us through.
“Up top, right beside the restaurant name, you’d find four logos that define our ethos and our philosophy. From the cycle of life, our commitment to sustainable aquatic practices, responsible poultry, and the kitchen that we worship, our four logos are testament to who we are,” says Roy. The intrigue of the logos is real and Led Zeppelin fans might wonder if there’s inspiration drawn from the greatest gods of rock.
“We then pay homage to the old ‘cabin’ style restaurants of Kolkata in the way we have arranged our seating. The seating has enclosure layouts, which hark back to how in the olden days, the cabin arrangements would be meant for families and would co-exist in tandem with the open seating areas of a restaurant,” Roy says. While The Tangra Project is incredibly modern, you can see the inspiration very clearly. The cobbled pavement floor, the twisting alleyway layout, and the mural of the fish add more to the charm.
The statement area for us was the inside tables, where the founders have emulated the feeling of a skylight on top. The lighting changes in warmth as the day progresses – with bright sunlight replicated at lunch, to a moody warmth at night. There’s also a private dining room with a statement chandelier and a wallpaper of photographs that adorns the rest of the restaurant – all shot by the restaurant’s co-founder, Vir Kotak.
Serving diverse flavours of Kolkata
There’s Kolkata in every inch, and a dash of celebration, too. What Roy has crafted is a menu that sticks to the traditional fare, while presenting and in some cases, repackaging the items in a modern, contemporary style that wouldn’t be out of place in a MasterChef finale.
For instance, you have a parwal (potol) guacamole on a sourdough toastie, where the parwal has been brined and then mashed to a soft texture and flavoured like a tamatar chutney. It is a familiar flavour for those familiar with Kolkata but has been elevated to the next level – interestingly by using ingredients and spices that are very rooted in the region.
The chenna (paneer) paturi is a delicate dish where the chenna is freshly made and wrapped in fermented mustard paste (also made in-house) and then steamed in a banana leaf. It is an absolute must-have if you love mustard – the mustard has been fermented to perfection and adds a bold flavour to the chenna. It is also offered as shrimp paturi served with tomato-khejur chutney and a signature Kolkata cabin salad.
The chicken cutlet is a true knockout – it tastes euphoric and has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that is simply delightful. The cooking isn’t bent out of the norm – instead, Roy puts his years of expertise on display with the sheer amount of reserve that requires a classic to be presented as just that – an eternal classic. We’d recommend the chicken cutlet even if you aren’t particularly hungry and would want just a quick bite on your way home.
The tangra chili paneer is spicier than the ones you’d usually eat in the oriental restaurants of Delhi, which Roy says, is a clear departure from the Sino-Ludhianvi style that you’d find in the city. The flavours stand out and are balanced with Roy’s interpretation of comfort – chilli paneer with a soft waffle sprinkled with mint.
The Robibarer mutton (Sunday’s mutton curry) is one that practically every Bengali would relate to, and like everything else on the fare, doesn’t try to overdo its complexity. Instead, it is a homage to the classic Kolkata mutton curry – steeped in flavours and nostalgia, and in a move that beats all established Bengali restaurants of Delhi, served with mete (liver) and a boiled-to-perfection piece of aloo.
Go for the food, stay for the music
In the end, what really stays with you is how The Tangra Project is different in comparison to most other restaurants that you’d frequent, and yet familiar. Roy tells us that the restaurant will soon host live musicians – they’ve gotten artists such as Nucleya to craft a set specifically for them (keep your ears peeled for when the gig will launch). It will also be a hub for indie artists, in tandem with the undying spirit of Kolkata.
Whether you find it to be a city stuck in time, or a city that’s crafted the well-preserved fairytale of heritage to the hilt, will depend on how you interpret Roy and his team’s expansive menu.