Kolkata is a city of many iconic visions—the Ganga ghats by the Hooghly, the much romanticised trams, the vermillion red on the forehead of the Bengali woman that repeats on large-eyed Durga’s golden brow, and, of course, its colonial past that shows itself in a flash of a faded Corinthian column or a greyed Gothic dome. Our current subject belongs to the last set.
Tucked off the thoroughfare that is the Hazra stretch of Sarat Bose Road is a gleaming white building with a small yellow signboard and wrought-iron gates. On the gate is inscribed the year of the original building—1904. It looks well-preserved for its age, and indeed, even belies its age with its youthful heart.
Vivacious young Megha Agarwal serendipitously chanced upon this derelict house and the rest was history. The Corner Courtyard (TCC) in Kolkata is a colonial property restored into a quirky boutique hotel with a gourmet café-style restaurant. Rotten steel beams have been replaced or reinforced. Modern plumbing laid in to carve out bathrooms instead of mere outhouses. Not just age—vintage photographs, walls lined with books, old clocks reinforce the blast from Kolkata’s glorious past.
Megha is a woman of many talents: she has an MBA degree, travels extensively and has just opened another restaurant in Nairobi. Her partner in her dream project is her paternal uncle. But TCC also owes its character to a passionate team working under Megha, who gave it seven rooms over two floors, thematically distinct and done up in different colour palettes.
A charming little roof garden is bursting with bougainvillea and cane chairs. Beneath and indoors, the colour schemes of the guestrooms range from the Cadmium yellow of Kolkata’s distinctive Ambassador taxis to the Vermillion room replete with the spirit of the city’s famous Durga Puja festivities. The black-and-white Charcoal room deploys cinematic imagery to pay homage to the Satyajit Ray; the Viridian to the green patches of the city—the Maidan, the iconic Eden Gardens, etc; and the Indigo room to the oceans as well as the flowing indigo fields upon which the British built their fortunes. Ivory evokes the former glory of such stunning edifices as the Victoria Memorial. Muted Crimson is inspired by the romance of aged red brick. Megha has retained the original façade, louvered window shutters and chequerboard flooring in the public area that grounds the property in nostalgia.
Yet there is nothing creaky and faded about it. The soul is whimsical, contemporary, the perspective clearly starting from the 21st century and looking back over its shoulder with amusement. I love the feel of the atrium topped with a glass pyramid, flooding the café with sunlight. Inside the restaurant, surrounding a faded raw-indigo green door with twin leaves, a plaster-white wall is studded with an eclectic assortment of vintage-style door furniture—gleaming door handles, tower bolts, rotund knobs, knockers and chains and hooks and other brass accessories. Yes, the Corner Courtyard has the heart of a time traveller: an old radio, a Satyajit Ray-era projector, vintage cameras and clocks, cosy nooks with piles of books and magazines, nostalgia-laden images of Kolkata amidst an anything-but-antiquated present. History is embraced as a fresh and colourful accessory. My favourite is that installation on the book wall called the ‘Antiquarian’, where old tomes are decorated with vintage Indian coins—they spin their own ancient stories as you sit at the table.
Intriguingly, the menu is no ’70s show, nor grand zamindari thali. Beneath Swarovski-studded chandeliers, my leisurely breakfast in the Baroque modern dining hall includes pancakes and a ‘Flipped Parfait’—a delectable stack of assorted fruits topped with muesli and yogurt and glazed with honey and syrups. This is a menu for the glocal gourmet, ambitious and upmarket, world cuisine adapted to include fresh ingredients sourced from local markets (much beetroot and bekti in evidence, but not the more challenging local greens and gourds that might scare the uninitiated), with some exotics on top that are definitely well travelled. A Waldorf-ish salad features dried figs and walnuts, pommes as well as pomegranates. There is ravioli alongside Thai-spiced risotto balls, Acapulco-style quesadillas, grilled calamari and wood-fire pizzas. Don’t forget to end your meal with their espresso-infused apple crumble pie. The café buzzes at lunch and dinner time with a mix of yuppies and couples and families.
Locating my bed is easy, despite the post-prandial stupor. Outside my room is an antique post box. Inside, an antique four-poster bed holds centrestage, flanked by an old wooden wardrobe and a small writer’s desk. It has a coffee maker and a shelf of books. And after the well-read siesta, as the sun lolls back and the breeze freshens, it is time for a gander about the town—in a 1949 Series 1 original Land Rover for hire.
No, this wouldn’t be the muted refuge for any shrinking violets, the TCC. It is the address for the unselfconscious diva, happy to take centrestage, no matter their age, no matter how far from home.
Where: 92B Sarat Bose Road; an hour from the airport; 20min from Sealdah station and 30min from Howrah
Accommodation: 7 rooms
Tariff: Rs 4500++ on single occupancy; Rs 5,500 ++ on double occupancy
Contact: +91-9903999567, www.thecornercourtyard.com