Peshawri (Calcutta, Jan 2020)

Yes, we went to Calcutta from Delhi and ate North Indian food. Given the fact that in the last couple of decades there’s been an explosion of Bengali restaurants in Calcutta this may seem like a particularly silly thing to do. But we ate one meal a day at the home of one aunt or the other every day while we were there, and so we were not really hurting for the hardcore Bengali food experience. And then one of the events at the wedding we were in the city for had food catered by Peshawri, the North Indian restaurant at the ITC Sonar Bangla; and it was so goddamned good we decided we’d spend one of our meals there rather than go to 6 Ballygunge Place or some other restaurant whose food would be excellent but couldn’t compete anyway with what we’d been eating at the homes of various aunts. And a good choice it was too.

Even if you’re not Indian, if you’ve followed Indian food for a while you’ve probably heard of Bukhara, one of the two famous restaurants at the ITC Maurya hotel in Delhi which truly put North Indian food on the fine dining map (Dum Pukht is the other). There was a time when Bukhara would regularly show up on those silly 50 Best Restaurants lists in the West. (Many years ago on a food forum I quipped that Bukhara showed up on those lists in the way that that Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back used to show up on Rolling Stone’s “Greatest Albums” lists.) When I lived in Delhi in the late 80s and early 90s, I couldn’t afford to eat at Bukhara or at any of the other restaurants in Delhi’s five-star hotels. The occasional wealthy college classmate or visiting relative from the US would sponsor a meal at one of them but I never made it into Bukhara until I myself became a visiting relative from the US. I first ate there in the mid-1990s—when the exchange rate was such that even a grad student stipend in the US could pay for such a meal—and then again a couple of times more than a decade later. On all these occasions the meals were spectacular. However, in between, and since, the Delhi restaurant scene expanded dramatically to include more restaurants featuring cuisines from other parts of India; and with the rise of mid-market restaurants like Punjabi By Nature which offer many of the same dishes—to say nothing of places like Cafe Lota or Mahabelly—the thought of paying the increasingly eye-watering freight at Bukhara did not appeal.

But here’s a thing I didn’t realize until this trip. If you are in a major city other than Delhi that has an ITC hotel in it you probably have access to a discounted Bukhara. (Yes, I’m about to explain why I’ve been going on about Bukhara in a review of a restaurant called Peshawri.) You see, to protect the branding of the Delhi Bukhara, ITC does not use the Bukhara name for the identical restaurants at its flagship hotels in other cities. Instead they get names like Peshawri or The Royal Afghan in a nod to the North West Frontier Province origins of some of the cuisine. But the menu is basically the Bukhara menu; and at Peshawri in Calcutta it is is exactly the Bukhara menu in a restaurant that looks identical—but a fair bit cheaper. Which is not to say it becomes a cheap meal—it was still the most we spent at a meal on this trip, despite it being just the four of us. But given how much our boys enjoy tandoori chicken and naan—as embarrassingly recorded in my Goa reports—we decided to splurge and give them a taste of these things at their decadent best.

And I’m happy to report that, as far as I could tell, the discounted Bukhara experience at Peshawri was just as good as the meals we’ve had at Bukhara in the past. As it was just the four of us and we couldn’t take leftovers home we didn’t order very much; but we didn’t have any regrets. We began with their reshmi kabab (just excellent), moved on to their tandoori chicken and their paneer khurchan (we’d had this at the wedding event and liked it so much that we decided to get it again) with an order of their famous dal on the side. To mop it all up, an excellent rumali roti (for the kababs) and textbook naans and lachha parathas for the rest. At the end the missus and I shared an order of decadent rasmalai.

For a look at the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. For thoughts on the experience as a whole and to see how much it cost, scroll down.

The service was as good as it always is at the better five star hotel restaurants. That is to say it was friendly and solicitous and not overbearing. The price before tip was approximately Rs. 8500 or just about $120. Not cheap for two adults and two small kids but we ate very well—and it would have been enough food for at least another adult. At Bukhara in Delhi the same meal would have cost at least 30% more. Would it still have been worth it at that higher price? Hard to say—the naans and kababs and dal at Punjabi By Nature were also very good on this trip. For a once a decade splurge, however, this was a good deal.

Okay, one more report to come from Calcutta—of another “Continental” meal, this time at a Park St. classic. That’ll be next weekend. I’ll have another Twin Cities takeout report before that.


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