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Brown Sahib: Calcutta bites, home style

Stuck with a non-adventurous clientele for years as well as dusty laws that required elaborate licences and fees to import anything, Delhi restaurants have generally tended to celebrate their freedom from these shackles by going overboard with excess. Luxury food items did brisk sales in posh eateries even during the downturn. However, luckily for those of us who believe that life isn’t merely about foie gras and quail eggs, some enterprising foodies have turned restaurateurs simply to give us a taste of what traditional home-cooked meals, prepared elaborately and slowly with lots of time on your hands, can really be.

Brown Sahib is one such place that opened up in Delhi about a week ago, offering home-style Bengali food as well as nostalgic takes on some typical Raj dishes that clubs and old restaurants in Kolkata will still dish out.  Set up by a former Public Relations professional Rajyasree Sen, the restaurant in Saket (MGF Mall), doesn’t immediately remind you of a living room in a genteel bhadralok home—despite Sen having brought some art works and curios from her home in the City of Joy do double up as restaurant décor—but if you forget the indiscriminate mall location (real estate, after all, in Delhi is a killer and from a first-time entrepreneur who has put in her life’s savings in the project, plus taken a bank loan to finance it, the choice is forgivable)—the experience can be very rewarding.

When we visit on a Friday evening, Sen is at the door looking very much an anxious – and excited host — ushering in guests personally. I immediately take a liking to her as she warmly welcomes us in, makes it a point to engage with my five-year-old daughter and shows us some limited edition Husain prints that deck up the walls. I also like the fact that the 48-cover restaurant is spread out so that there is enough privacy for everyone. There are a few reluctant kids being subjected to the torture of a gourmet meal when all they may have liked to do is wriggle out of their seats and grab a McDonald’s burger (the crassness of youth!), but we are unable to overhear a single complaint.

The bar license has not yet arrived. But the juices are nice enough and when my daughter asks for orange juice, she gets a tall glass of real, fresh juice—and not Real juice out of a tetrapack! The service is hardly perfect though. We order a bottle of sparkling water only to get still Evian, much pricier than the other bottled water on our table. The poor chap serving us gave a troubled and puzzled look at the mention of “sparkling”, so being the genial guests we usually are, we let the matter rest.

My snobby Bengali foodie friends (are there any other kind?) tell me that Oh! Calcutta, the only other Bengali restaurant in Delhi, doesn’t serve authentic enough bites. Next time, I will take them to Brown Sahib because as far as I could make out, this is first-rate home-style cooking, the recipes coming from Sen’s family kitchen and some of them being so personalized that the chicken curry here is, in fact, dubbed “murgir” or chicken from the Sen “barir” or home.

I love the bitter sweet shukto and cholar dal, the simplest of vegetarian preparations in a Bengali home. These are perfect here. The much-loved chingri malai curry is great too—we order jumbo prawns, so much for shrimp authenticity. And though I don’t try them, I am impressed with unique recipes such as a chicken and cholar dal curry, mourala machcher chorchori, or slow cooked small fish with potatoes (!), not to mention a potoler bharta made with parwal . I tend to like Muslim cooking and the nawabi section here has the rezala with Calcutta-style biryani (in Bengal, you will find that rice-with-spice takes on quite another interpretation, the biryani being more robust than the Avadhi variant and using amongst other things even the humble potato), that I adored and will go back for. The dish of the day for me, however, is the grilled prawn chops they serve as a starter. The chicken stuffed with sausage, sinful with butter and the comfort of mash on the side, that I order for my daughter comes a close second.

There are also other Raj creations such as Scotch Eggs (whose Mughal equivalent is the elusive and fast-disappearing nargisi kofte; hardboiled eggs covered with mince and dunked in gravy) and even the hilariously named Ball Curry—koftas in coconut gravy—that you may like to sample to take you back to colonial times. And overall, the restaurant is now on my list of must-visit-again places.

The only bone I have to pick here is the portion sizes. If you are used to the generous helpings that most Indian cuisines come in, you will seriously mind the quantities they serve here. The biryani is just enough for a single person—something you don’t expect in a Indian restaurant where food is meant to be shared and doesn’t come pre-plated. The starters too offer you just four pieces of prawns or fish instead of the standard six at other, similar restaurants. That’s cheating.

Anoothi’s ratings:

Food: 4

Service: 2.5

Ambience: 3

Value for money: 3

Thumbs up to: Grilled prawn chops, Biryani, malai curry with jumbo prawns

Thumbs down to: Smaller portions; also only luchis, paranthas on the breads menu—too greasy with a heavy meal. Dinner rolls don’t count
Address:  Brown Sahib, MGF Mall, Saket

Meal for two: Rs 1,600 (but this is the official figure given; be prepared to spend more depending on what you order)

Phone No: 91-011-40820027-30

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One Response to “Brown Sahib: Calcutta bites, home style”

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