We are past that stage when Bengali cuisine used to stop at macher jhol for us, thanks to all the Bengali restaurants in the city. But there is still a lot about this cuisine which isn’t known. With my limited experience of Bengali food and memories of eating baingan bhaja and mustard fish curry as a kid I decided to explore this new twist in the tale and invited the pakki Bangalan Reema to join me for dinner at Bong Bong, a new restaurant in Bandra which promises to serve Bengali food with a European twist.
We reached the venue just half an hour after it opened on the first day. Bong Bong is small cosy restaurant with a laid back informal feel and decor filled with all things Bengali. We stood there for a few minutes to take a good look at the old kerosene lamps lighting up the place, 60s style Philips radio, an old type writer and a Borolene ad. The last one made Reema jump with excitement and reach into her bag to show me the box of Boroline she still carries. The place has got it all right in terms of interiors. But the music needs a little attention. The Punjabi ‘jugni’ number sounded very out of place. We suggest that they should try playing some old Hindi or Bengali classics to add to the ambience.
There’s a small outdoor and an indoor seating area. As much as we wanted to sit outside the overwhelming aromas of Khane Khaas made us rethink and we walked in the AC section.
There is no final menu yet and the owner Kanika Mohan Saxena told us that they plan to change the menu everyday for a week to know what works best. For now, there was a printout with categories like Tuk Tak, Mohabhoj and thhandaaaaah.
We picked out the Green pea nuggets (Rs 219), Cheese and spinach croquettes (Rs 312), Mango pickle steamed fish (Rs 239) and the Fried fish (Rs 319). Service was quick and friendly at this one-hour-old restaurant. While Reema filled me in on food tales from Bengal, we snacked on the Tuk Tak or light bites
I liked the steamed fish which was wrapped in a strong mustard paste, the kind usually used in a mango pickle. The generous use of mustard gave me a nice kick which is characteristic to most Bengali fish preparations. The fried fish on the other hand was a tad overcooked and had become mushy under the crisp coating of masala. Reema, a vegetarian, quite liked her green peas nuggets; deep fried nuggets and green pea balls. They weren’t laden with spices except for a dash of cumin. The cheese and spinach croquettes weren’t too impressive. The tuk tak were served with a tomato mustard sauce; inspired by Kashundi, a dip usually made with turmeric, lemon, chillies and mustard oil. Bong Bong’s version was a mix of mustard and tomato sauce, which tasted too much like good old ketchup.
While deciding the main course we spotted Plastic Chutney (Rs 69) and were intrigued and amused all at the same time. Reema described that it’s a traditional dish made of thinly sliced raw papayas boiled in sugar syrup. Oddly named perhaps, but the name comes from the fact that thin slivers of raw papaya are cooked until they turn almost transparent and look like a wad of mangled plastic strips dunked in sugar syrup.
For the main course, Reema picked Cauliflower and Peas in a creamy coconut curry with saffron rice (Rs 279) while I set my sights on the Green Chilli Mutton with paratha (Rs 329). When the papaya chutney arrived I realized that it was pretty aptly named, it really looked like plastic. Reema suggested that we sprinkle some roasted cumin powder on it the way Bengalis eat it. The waiter quickly got us a small bowl of cumin powder and we’d recommend that you try it that way. The toasty jeera really brought out the flavour of the sugary sweet papaya beautifully.
The cauliflower and peas cooked in slightly sweet gravy of cream, coconut milk, and poppy seed paste was served with a mildly flavoured saffron rice. The subtle flavour of coconut added to the light and creamy texture of the gravy and for a second I wanted to leave the mutton and keep eating it. The mutton which according to the menu was cooked in green chillies wasn’t as spicy as I thought it would be and someone with spice tolerance as low as mine would happily wolf this down. The curry had tender chunks of meat on the bone served with two parathas. While the layered parathas were buttery and crispy the mutton didn’t have a distinct flavour. The portion however was good enough for two people with a moderate appetite. While Reema wiped her plate off I was wondering if I should have opted for a fish or prawn curry instead. With spoonfuls of plastic chutney for rescue after every bite we finished our dinner.
To keep the Bengali spirit going we wanted to conclude the meal with some mishti and ordered the baked roshogolla (Rs 79). Instead of being dipped in chashni or a sugary syrup it was served in mishti doi or sweetened yogurt. The baking made the roshogullas tough and didn’t add anything except for a little brown colour. We were hoping for a more cheesecake like preparation but it was not what we expected. If you like picking up a whole chashni-dripping roshogolla and eating it in one bite, I suggest eating this elsewhere.
Must try – Mango pickle steamed fish, cauliflower and peas in creamy coconut curry, plastic chutney (with cumin powder)
Meal for two – Rs 1200