Friday, May 27, 2022
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Kolkata Local: Celebrations Take A New Meaning At Jalsa

An architectural delight, this fine-dine restaurant has taken food innovation to a new height without compromising on the Indian element of the dish

Kolkata Local: Celebrations Take A New Meaning At Jalsa
Elegant interiors make dining at Jalsa a celebration indeed

Kaali Jalebi Caviar, with a dollop of ‘rabri’? What next, I wondered as I skimmed through the menu’s dessert section, a section I – born with a sweet tooth – always turn to first before deciding on the starters and the mains. Wouldn’t mind the caviar I thought but not in my dessert please!

But let me not jump the gun.

I was at a relatively new restaurant on Ho Chi Minh Sarani in the heart of Kolkata. The road itself (which houses the US Consulate and the British Deputy High Commission among other key addresses) is turning out to be quite a food street with international and pan-India brands opening their restaurants here, each trying to outdo the other with modern décor, exotic beverages and food experimentation. But Jalsa, was a world apart I soon discovered.

Avo Cornetto- Activated charcoal and fenugreek flavoured cone filled with Kodaikanal avocado, americ
Avo Cornetto- Activated charcoal and fenugreek flavoured cone filled with Kodaikanal avocado, american corns, chopped tomato and onions

The restaurant is housed inside the hallowed Harrington Mansion, a more than a century old building [one of Kolkata’s legacy buildings built by Armenian real estate developer J. C. Galstaun (1859–1947)] and interior designer Ajay Arya has used the classical elements like high ceilings and arches to accentuate the contemporary vibes he has created through colour and lighting. 

The tone is set right from the foyer which leads into the sprawling restaurant beyond. Deep red walls, black and white striped marble flooring and mood lighting enhances the narrow space. The black and white pattern continues into the main dining hall which is flanked by a private dining hall and a lounge area. 

But you notice all that much later. 

The Jalsa Woman
The Jalsa Woman

No sooner than you step into the hall, you are drawn to the portrait of the Jalsa woman over the bar; her expressive eyes appeared to have a hypnotic quality about them. “She is what this restaurant aspires to be,” said Harsh Sonthalia, who co-owns Jalsa along with Apurva Salarpuria and Aman Chitlangia, and our host for the evening, “classical yet modern.”

The vibrant lounge at Jalsa
The vibrant lounge at Jalsa

The burgundy and teal colour palette gave a lively appearance to the lounge or party area along with a variety of seating arrangements. The private dining hall with its wooden floor and painted arched windows wore a statelier look. Since the restaurant had a heavy list of advance booking for the evening, we decided to repair to a corner of the private dining room, where the table was laid with glasses and cutleries in polished rose gold finish.

Tamil Nadu's flavoured Sambhar reduction wrapped with tempered coconut flavoured sushi rice.
Tamil Nadu's flavoured Sambhar reduction wrapped with tempered coconut flavoured sushi rice

When three Calcuttans sit down together for a meal, can ‘adda’ be far behind? The discussions ranged from an expat’s life in Australia to the painted ‘haveli’ of Rajasthan (taking off from the interesting use of hand paintings on the walls) to how colour schemes on walls impact the subconscious mind. In between, we sipped on the refreshing Cola Blast, made from cola, chat masala and ginger. The bar menu is quite extensive with some desi twists to the classic cocktails.

Although the restaurant has an a la carte menu, they also have a ‘tasting menu’ (probably the only one in Kolkata?) which gives you a chance to sample many of their signature dishes. My companion added helpfully, “[the tasting menu] is a good idea when large groups opt for a sit-down meal because deciding on what to eat becomes quite a task.”

Mango Tequila Bhetki
Mango Tequila Bhetki

It being summer, we started off with the Mango Tequila Bhetki, where the bhetki fish was essentially cooked in mango salsa and drizzled with tequila; pleasantly tangy. Next arrived the Phulka Laal Maas Tacos, where Mathania chillies spiced up the slow cooked mutton; since the tasting menu includes single serves, it was served like a tostada.  One of the pleasant surprises was the platters and the service bowls. Made of ceramic or slate, they came in myriad shapes and colours, adding an artistic touch to the presentation. The chicken tikka meat balls where the roasted and shredded chicken was mixed with cheese, crumb fried and served on a bed of makhni gravy; a familiar and comforting Indian taste.

And then arrived the dish I was trying to avoid. To confuse me further, there was no ‘jalebi’ in sight.

Kaali Jalebi Caviar
Kaali Jalebi Caviar

“Have a spoonful before you ditch it,” appealed my host.

I picked up a spoonful of what looked like black pearls nestling against saffron esfuma and a scoop of ‘rabri’. The pearls crunched noisily as I bit into them, and hey, they tasted like ‘jalebi’. The dish was a pure delight.  Activated charcoal disguised the cardamom flavoured Jalebi pearls. And the use of espuma (froth or foam in Spanish) helped eliminate the use of any non-vegetarian emulsifying agent for the foaming.

Baklava with rose ice cream
Baklava with rose ice cream

But meals don’t end in Jalsa with desserts. It ends with the quintessential Paan (betel leaf). But no, I will not give away the secret here. But let me tell you, you have never had paan like this before.

Hand painted walls add an artistic touch inside and outside
Hand painted walls add an artistic touch inside and outside

What and where: Located at 8 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Ground floor, Harrington Mansion, it is right next to the popular gastropub PTD (Please Don’t Talk). But remember, regular taxis are not allowed to ply on this stretch though app-cabs and private cars are allowed. Timing: 12.30pm to 4pm and pm to 11.30pm. The vegetarian tasting menu is priced at Rs 1845 plus tax and the non-vegetarian tasting menu is priced at Rs 1995 plus tax.

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