This ain’t no restaurant, it’s a timeless experience. I step in and out of nostalgic centuries, seamlessly. By the serene river Ganga (in the village of Raichak, an hours drive from Kolkatta) stands “Sonar Tori” a mindblowing restaurant which I discovered two years ago (now I know what Columbus must’ve felt like) and then went back and shot as a judge for the Times Now Foodie TV show. Did I just call it a “restaurant”? It is much more. It is a tribute to the old and rich Indian tradition, it is an art centre, the Bengali idiom has been infused into the coastal architecture of the place in a contemporaryfashion.
Sonar Tori is a visual recreation of the of the rich and layered facets of the socio- cultural- literary – ritualistic elements of Bengal; There is conservation of nature and culture here. The nostalgia of yesteryears has been infused by the usage antique articles and utensils and whoa! The multi-layered and flavorsome Bengali fare delivers magic.
SPRAWLING BY THE RIVER
I was floating on air with joy here. The sheer melding of the beauty of nature with manmade buildings is a triumph of art and science. The existing grooves and water bodies have been conserved. Minimalist thatched roof buildings have been built without disturbing a single tree or water body. Around the 11, 000 sq ft restaurant there is a a scattered look with walkways connecting them. Walk in to the restaurant which sprawls languourously on many levels and like Alladins cave, fabulous rooms keep opening up one after another. The Rabindranath Tagore room (main dining area) the Shisha Bar, main bar, an open air dining area and a sit out by the riverside here. There is also a separate cozy Private dining area within the restaurant.
I cant peel my eyes off the amazing collection of old windows, doors, old photographs, nutcrackers, betel boxes, traditional accounting books, 4 poster beds and trunks. Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poems and sketches adorn the ceilings, as do vintage chandeliers, old-fashioned handheld fans and other bric-a-bracs adorn the interiors, all put together to create nostalgic grace.
“It has been a privilege to say the least, to have been privy to the myriad sensitivities and sensibilities of Bengali cuisine” says the brilliant Harsh Neotia, the driving force behind it “and to offer the assimilation of years of gorging on both the palate and tradition”. His gorgeous wife Madhu Neotia shares his passion for it and works hands on here as an advisor.
THE JOURNEY OF BENGALI CUISINE
How does the brilliant Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti manage to showcase the influence of the Mughals, Europeans and of course the indigenous agrarian ones in his Bengali menus?
He explains that the much relished Bengali fare like polao, kosha mangsho, korma, kofta have been derived from Mughlai cuisine. The Nawab of Awadh (then Oudh) who took refuge in Kolkata during the British Raj brought with him hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers) who brought in chat, chop & cutlet, pauruti or bread and more.
I find out more about Ghotis (the people of West Bengal who use poppy seeds liberally) and Bangal ( from East Bengal
who favor dal and fish). Ghotis prefer fish bred in ponds or estuaries, like magur and topshe while Bangals prefer fish from big rivers. But the hilsa or ilish is a universal favorite. And Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti, Mathemetics Honours, Bachelor of Architecture and a master in hotel management, combines years of working with Indian and international masterchefs to seamlessly deliver an amazing experience. He serves three varieties of cuisines, namely Zamindari, Grameen & Musalmanir. Each one is served in different metals of thalis and in it’s own pristine orders. Freshest of seafood catch, flavorsome of curries, plumpest of rotis, sweetest and most delicate of milk based desserts…it’s a never ending feast for the senses. I can fill a book about it, instead I request the chef for his recipes. Should you want more please email me (Rashmiudaysingh2014@gmail.com, twitter @rashiudaysingh )
SONAR TORI RECIPE
Channar narkol paturi
Fabulous recipe of chenna steamed in a banana leaf
120 gm Chenna – Bengal cottage cheese
50 gm Grated coconut
2 tea spoon Ginger Paste
1 tae spoon Garlic Paste
3 nos Green chili paste
2 tea spoon Mustard paste
1 pinch Black cumin seed
1 table spoon Khoyaa
1 no Green chili slit
To taste Salt
½ tea spoon Sugar
1 no Banana leaf
2 tea spoon Mustard oil
Blend with the end of the wrist chenna into smoothness, and then add the grated coconut, ginger paste, garlic paste, green chili paste, mustard paste, khoyaa. Mix the entire ingredient nicely.
Crackle the black cumin seed, sprinkle on top, wrap the mixture in banana leaf, add green chili slit on top and drops of mustard oil and seal the banana leaf. Serve preferably with bangla pulao
Steam it for 4-5 minutes