This Kolkata restaurant with a quirky name sticks to minimalist décor because it wants the food on centre stage.It is easy to miss the simple brown doorway among the rows of posh gated residences in this south Kolkata neighbourhood unless you happen to notice the name of the restaurant - To Die For - written on a plaque next to the door. It was more out of curiosity than any prior planning that we landed here for a late lunch one November afternoon
The minimalist look continued indoors. A glass framed roof allowed the sunlight in. The whitewashed walls were bare save for a few framed decorations made from broken chinaware. Large plain white tables with contrasting brown chairs lay along one side of the long-ish room. A solitary table for a couple on the opposite side. At a time when restaurants are going jazzy, banking on themes to attract customers, this café-patisserie’s minimalist décor was a big surprise.
“Because I want the food on the plate to be the centre of attraction,” said Shashvat Dhandhania, a food entrepreneur and the owner-chef of To Die For. “The visual elements have been kept minimalistic so that the plate can be busy and be heard,” explained the young owner.
With a Diploma in Patisserie from the Le Cordon Bleu, London, and after staging through restaurants in Boston, New York and Singapore, he finally decided to open his own place in Kolkata.
The menu was not very long – divided into hot and cold soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches, pastas and mains, desserts, and hot and cold beverages. And yes, this is an almost vegetarian restaurant, the only concession being the availability of eggs. The dishes on offer were mostly styled on Continental cuisine.
We began with a melon, avocado and jalapeno salad with a mild dressing of salt, black pepper and olive oil, and topped with iceberg lettuce and lollo rosso (red lettuce). Definitely a plate for the health conscious, it sharpened our hunger for something tangier. So from the appetizer section, we chose the tomato bread cheese toast. Parmesan and yellow cheddar cheese were heaped on the toast along with sun dried tomatoes. On this we spread the accompanying dips, one made from tomatoes and the other from olive paste. bottlegourd fries with Huancaina sauce or goat cheese tarts with tomato jam or mushroom crostini, etc., were some of the other dishes from this section.
Choosing the main dish was a bit tricky. eggplant fettuccini, or spaghetti with button mushroom and truffle oil? Or, Pici Pasta Cacio e Pepe with pink peppercorn? Or, leeks and goat cheese tortellini in beurre blanc sauce? As we struggled through the increasingly longer names, occasionally sipping the orange and mint flavoured water, the steward, who was probably watching the drama from a discreet distance, sauntered by. We sought his help. And he promptly suggested pumpkin ravioli and the ricotta gnochhi with artichoke.
The pumpkin and cheese stuffed pasta was cooked and served in a garlic flavoured brown butter sauce with capers and topped with roasted almond flakes. The gnocchi too was served in a mild buttery sauce with grilled artichokes, olives and rocket leaves. All the sauces, dressings and garnishes needed to bring the dishes together were simple and minimalist, which pretty much indicated this is not a place for those who love spicy overcooked food. But if you like your food a tad bland, filled with the goodness of fresh ingredients and mild sauce, then you will definitely like it here. However, the portions served may seem small if you want to share a dish.
The menu also has a special section called ‘small plates’, intended for those who want a light but complete meal. So we decided to round up the mains with the sautéed asparagus served with creamy mashed potatoes and poached egg. Some of the other dishes in this section were sweet potato roesti with sautéed spinach and sweet potato chips, fennel gratin with Israeli couscous and apple, roasted bell peppers and zucchini with jalapeno and goat cheese, broccoli rabe with emmental and crackers.
Meanwhile, Shashvat explained the curious name. “It was a compliment paid to me by an uncle who was delighted with a cake I had baked for the family when I was a young boy,” he said. He took it to the next level by changing the ‘I’ into an exclamation mark and “made it to look like a cut from a knife, to reflect the conflict of a chef to gauge the audience and perfect the plate of food.”
For dessert, we chose the chocolate and caramel, a chocolate sponge cake garnished with chocolate, and served with a layer of salted caramel sauce, caramel ice cream and cocoa tuile. You may try the beetroot, yoghurt and olive oil, or vanilla bean panna cotta with orange chilly sauce, or pecan nut tart with poached pear and vanilla chantilly among others.
But do remember, Chef Shashvat plans to change the menu every three to four months but will retain the house favourites.
Information: To Die For, 19, Ballygunge Park Road, Kolkata 700019 (near the Gariahat Road and Gurusaday Road crossing). Ph: 9674916624/8240611146. Open from 11am to 11pm. The two-level space can sit 50 people.