It’s been a strange, and tough, few years for restaurants, a mood that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. We’ve lost a good few, others have become other things, all seem to be crying out for staff… and yet the new openings continue at a pace that suggest we haven’t had a global pandemic and aren’t facing a massive cost of living crisis. Weird. And then there are the places that opened somewhere in the middle of all that madness and slipped completely under the radar. Well, my radar, to be strictly accurate but, you know, I’ve been doing this for a while and you generally find out somehow, be it by press release, social media or some form of catering osmosis. And yet somehow Chourangi, a restaurant celebrating the cuisine of Calcutta, opened last October and completely passed me by. When the opportunity came to pop along, I was feeling somewhat cynical. I mean, if it was any good, I’d have heard of it right?
Anyway, call it a glitch in the matrix or normal service not being resumed because, whatever the reason for its relative anonymity, Chourangi is really rather good. And, judging by the size of the crowd on a sticky summer Wednesday night, I’ve clearly been following the wrong people on Instagram.
According to their website, Chourangi brings “300 year old Calcutta cuisine to the heart of London” and “celebrates the harmonious blend of European, Mogul and Chinese cultures and food that has evolved in Calcutta”. I’ll bow to their superior knowledge but I am utterly delighted that food from India’s “City of Joy” is brought to us by a Chef named Anjan Chatterjee…
The menu is an interesting read: it’s dotted with familiar dishes and familiar ingredients, but with the latter popping up in unusual combinations or in a manner I don’t recall seeing before that do, indeed, skip around the various culinary influences listed above. Certain dishes appear on a shaded background and our friendly waiter(s), explain that that these are the chef’s specialities, and it’s these we mostly focus upon, from banana flower croquettes to Tiger Prawn Malai Curry.
Over a couple of cocktails – a daily special, a surprisingly sweet-but-refreshing Lychee Martini for me, a less-surprisingly-sweet-but -refreshing Her Majesty (buttered rum, vanilla, lemon juice, honey water) for the colleague – we whittle things down to what still turns out to be a mountain of food. The croquettes – intriguing, strongly cinnamon-y –are satisfying bar snacks, as are the smoked chilli poppadom, a basket of compact, crisp-size poppadom, accompanied by a couple of excellent chutneys. The Laal Murgi Kebab – chicken with red chillies, stone flower, coriander, roasted shallots, coconut – is our only “official” starter but it’s a winner. Nothing out of the ordinary, to be sure, but tender, well-spiced and very enjoyable.
Moving into the mains and sides is where things get more interesting. Kosha Lamb – more cinnamon, that warming depth of clove, green cardamom and mustard oil – is a great bowl of food, served on the bone, marrow-rich, the sort of thing that has you reaching repeatedly for the (excellent, buttery) bread basket. The Tiger Prawn Malai curry is also a winner: coconut-heavy, with yet another lick of cinnamon, and as heavy on the prawns as it is on the sauce. Our initial reaction to the prices as a little bit lumpy – the lamb is £22, the prawns £23 – is swiftly modified to an appreciation of the value. The Grand Trunk Black Dal is familiar from just about every restaurant of this ilk – dal makhani by another name – and one day I won’t feel a need to order it but this was not that day. Even better though were the less familiar, by now predictably generous sides of Mango Mustard Aubergine, Hing Aloo Dum (£8 each) and Sliced Onion, Lime and Chillies (£3). The first is a dry curry of just-the-right-side-of-al-dente veg, the Aloo Dum is reminiscent of Madhur Jaffrey’s tomato and potato curry (and this is a very good thing) and the onion is a revelation. “Do you know how to eat this?” asks our charming server, before explaining you salt the slices of onion, add a squeeze of lime, and consume between mouthfuls of other dishes. The result is a punchy, refreshing palate cleanser that adds texture and brightness, particularly to the lamb.
Desserts… Apparently Calcutta is known for its sweets – the cinnamon should probably have been a clue – so, while damned close to that “to the gills” feeling (and with enough leftovers already packed up to form what turns out to be a decent second meal for two) we split the Baked Sondesh Tart, of curd cheese, date-molasses, pecan nuts and coconut ice cream, and a very tasty little thing it is too.
The wine list is solid – glasses of good things from £7 to £12, carafes of the same for £25 to £45 – and there’s a couple of decent whites for under £30, with rose and reds just a little north of that. That will probably change very soon – sigh – but let’s take the win (and the wine) for now.
Again, I’d expect prices to jump up considerably soon – good luck, all, it’s going to be quite the ride – but, for the generosity of portion and the pleasures of such wonderful cooking, Chourangi is a strong addition to this end of Oxford Street.
3 Old Quebec Street