| (From top) An assortment of dishes at Cinnamon; interiors of the recently-opened eatery on Park Street. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
When people say 'Mediterranean Cuisine', the countries which spring most readily to mind are Italy, Spain, France and Greece. The cuisine of all these countries have found a place on menus across the city with varying degrees of success and quantity to be found. Italian food, in fact, is jostling for a place among the top three favourite cuisines in Calcutta.
At Taajas restaurant on Dover Road they do an excellent Spanish Paella Rice which is a favourite there and they used to do a good Greek Moussaka too.
The Atrium at The Park has a fine selection of French items and desserts, the latter being created at Flury's. Five-star hotel menus all have items from these countries, particularly La Terrasse at The Oberoi Grand. But countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Arabia or the North African belt which have a rich culinary tradition do not come to mind so readily, and are not as well represented.
As I write, there is a Lebanese Food Festival going on at Charnock City in Salt Lake which I believe has evoked a good response. Some years back, the people who ran a Tex-Mex restaurant on Sarat Bose Road did a lot of outdoor catering of Lebanese food which was very good. And now there is a newish place at 24 Park Street called Cinnamon (it opened in July) where the cuisine of this part of the Mediterranean and, of course, Italy can be had.
Cinnamon Fish is an ap- propriate item with which to begin, although it is a main course and not a starter. Our wonderful Calcutta bekti (which we take for granted, never realising its versatility and excellence) is made into thickish fillets which are marinated simply with salt and pepper and then grilled on a griddle for a few seconds to seal the flavours and make the fish firm. They are then poached in a sauce made with browned onion, fish stock, cinnamon powder and a pinch of sugar. The accompaniments are asparagus, baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes. I would recommend garlic bread to go with this dish ' perfect for mopping up the sauce. Cinnamon Fish is inspired by an Arabian recipe for Fish Sadaya.
Another main course item we had was Turkish Chicken. Pieces of chicken are put through two marinations. The first is lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste and salt ' for about half an hour ' and then, for six-hours, the chicken is marinated in a combination of hung yoghurt, brown onion paste, roasted cumin and coriander powder and fresh coriander. It is then oven-roasted before being served with saffron rice. The broiler chickens we use here tend to be stubborn when it comes to absorbing marinade so I thought it might have been better to make the pieces a bit smaller.
Then there were Lamb Shanks ' shin bone pieces of imutton are marinated in garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and then grilled briefly on a griddle to seal in the flavours and give them colour. They are then cooked in red wine with chopped carrots, onions and leeks for two to three hours till the meat is so tender that it is almost falling off the bone. This is served with risotto made from authentic imported arborio rice cooked in vegetable stock and white wine, flavoured with saffron and finished with butter, cream and cheese.
This item is inspired by a classic Italian dish called Ossobuco which has regional variations but is invariably done with shin of veal.
Lebanese items on the menu are to be found under starters. The celebrated Falafel ' dumplings shaped out of soaked, then minced chick peas, finely chopped onions, fresh coriander, roasted cumin powder and lemon juice and then deep fried ' is done to perfection.
They serve the Falafel with two kinds of dip ' the famous Humons ' chick peas, tahina paste (made from roasted sesame seeds), lemon juice and parsley pureed together, and Babaghonouj made with the pulp of roasted aubergine, tahina paste, chopped garlic, lemon juice, parsley and spring onion.
Another interesting item under starters is Lamb Kofte ' Turkish-style minced meat kebabs grilled and served with warm Cous Cous, which is a typically North African grain staple made usually from semolina, but also with millet flour. Cous Cous originated there and spread around the region but is nutritious and versatile and goes with many kinds of cuisine and is now available in supermarkets all over the West.
The rest of the Mediterranean selection is predominantly Italian, and although we are becoming more and more familiar with this cuisine, there is not much that is commonplace and the dishes have been chosen with imagination and have an exotic charm, such as Crab Agnolotti (crab meat stuffed pasta tossed with shellfish sauce) and Chicken Breast stuffed with tallegio, parma ham, mushroom, zucchini and aubergine.
The two soups on offer are familiar ' vegetarian or non-vegetarian Minestrone Genovese style ' and Cream of Porcini (a mushroom typical to Italian cuisine) which is delicious.
Cinnamon also does Indian food but I did not want to mix up the styles although my companion tried some kebabs.
That is good enough reason for another visit, and hopefully, now that East-Mediterranean fare is on their tables, we shall soon see the renowned Turkish Doner Kebabs.