Friday, August 20, 2010

Brown Sahib in black and white

I have been thinking of it for days. And when I land up at Brown Sahib it seems exactly what I have been thinking of. Soothing, contemporary d├ęcor, Bhadralog waiters and a menu that annihilates my already weak decision-making powers.


It’s got all the Bengali preparations of fish I imagined – Kalia, mustard, fry. It’s got crab cutlets and prawns. And its got a mix of every Anglo-Indian dish you ever had or ever imagined as a child. The cutlets, the puddings, the soups, the roasts the dishes are many more than our two powerless selves can possibly handle tasting.

By the time the food arrives, The Kashundi mustard paste on the table has bit-by-bit found its way to my spoon and then on to my mouth. I love it.

But right after that begins a series of disasters. The arrival of our food is heralded by an awful stench, one I can smell from the end of the room. It’s the green coconut inside which the prawns have been baking in a mustard paste, the husband assures me. The waiter looks puzzled at the fuss and tells me it’s just the smell of the fish.

Remembering my Mother’s assertion that Bengalis don’t mind certain smells as long as they are fishy, I hold my tongue. Meanwhile, our server has spooned some crab (de-shelled, cooked in a spicy masala) on to the husband’s plate. As he tastes it, he almost bursts a valve – “It’s the crab. It’s rotten boss.” The server looks at us ready to fight for his establishment’s fishy reputation till he is asked to sample some from the plate. Immediately after, he nods, picks up the plates and the offending dish and disappears. When he reappears, it is with an offer to replace the dish. We reject the offer, doubting the abilities of a cook and an army of bhadralok who could serve premium menu items way past there throw by dates.

We decide to sample the prawns baked in green coconut. While the flavours are nice they do not blend and the salt is guaranteed to lower your blood pressure. In our case, it gets heightened. This premium menu item too was disappointing.

By now the mood at our table is decidedly low. We decide to try the Calcutta Biryani, so evocatively stationed in the menu. Suffice to say, the under-salted tradition continues while the oil is enough to blockade an artery.

The food when done the way they do it is average and so not worth it (it being your time, your money or your anticipation). The menu on the other hand is a masterpiece of deception.

No, no dessert, we tell our waiter who has been looking decidedly sad since his first offering turned out rotten. No one else has bothered to apologize – definitely not the manager.

Just then, the waiter hands me a comment card. He looks even more apologetic and mumbles something about helping them improve. I pen an essay on things that could do with improvement.

The following week, I receive an email from Brown Sahib on the address given on the comment card. It is to invite me to try their catering service (and foist it on my guests). Still no apology.

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