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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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A cafe with Continental classics

Ambience is a word that has quite rapidly earned the dubious distinction of becoming a well worn cliche, but it is a word we cannot do without. An important word especially in the restaurant business, it can make or break the success of a place.

The food in two establishments may be equally good but one is winning and the other is not. In hindsight, people analyse that it is the ambience, which, broadly speaking, includes the service and attitude. But to put one finger on what exactly, is not always easy, just like figuring out why a film made it or didn't at the box office.

Among the new places that have mushroomed across the city in the last two or three years, is one that combines the atmosphere of a cafe in a university campus with dining options that offer some of Calcutta's oldest classics in Continental cuisine, first introduced decades ago in establishments where tuxedos were the dress code and the maitre d' peered down his nose at you.

The place is called One Step Up! at 18A, Park Street and is so named because it started as a mezzanine level place though now they have the ground floor as well. Some of the old classics they serve have also been available at other Park Street addresses for years, especially at Skyroom (which closed in the 90s) and Mocambo.

Glass fronts let in a lot of light; pastel shades in the decor and light, simple furniture give the place a young feel and indeed loads of customers are college students and their friends freshly into new careers.

At one table the order might be for sandwiches, burgers, salads and cold coffee or beer and at another it might be Prawn Cocktail, Cream of Asparagus Soup, Fish Meuniere and Chicken Cordon Bleu. This juxtaposition of generations gives One Step Up! a particular charm. The ownership tells a similar tale. This establishment is Rajiv Kothari's baby; his father having set up Bar-B-Q (which once had a fancy Continental menu and you could even get Baked Abalone) and Tandoor, which became Flavours of China.

Chef Perris, who is in overall charge, was cooking up Hungarian Goulash and Lobster Thermidor way back in 1974 at Princes at The Oberoi Grand when the place was swinging to the sound of Sonny Lobo's band.

Without a second thought, I chose to try some of the classic items that I have referred to. To start with Prawn Cocktail was a must. The preparation of this item sounds simple and is in fact not complicated. Mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, seasonings and variations such as lime juice or Worcestershire sauce are combined and boiled prawns are added, but to get this spot on is not at all easy, yet if you do, as they used to do in Skyroom, the result is ecstacy. At One Step Up! they actually come very close and it is quite exceptional.

And then on to Chicken Tetrazinni which needs no introduction. Chopped onions and garlic are sauteed in butter and then shredded chicken and mushrooms are added and cooked in chicken stock, white sauce and double cream, the main seasonings being salt and white pepper. Boiled spaghetti is then added and combined, the dish is then topped with grated cheese and baked to a golden brown.

Prawn Newburg is also like a household name, and uses similar ingredients but it is not baked and has no pasta or cheese. Here again, fresh button mushrooms, chopped onion and garlic and prawns are sauteed in butter; salt and whiter pepper are added and the ingredients are cooked some more by adding the prawn stock. The dish is finished with white sauce, cream and a dash of tomato concasse.

The only more contemporary item was Chicken Mexicana. Chopped garlic is sauteed in butter till golden brown and then shredded chicken, juliennes of capsicum, sliced onions and button mushrooms are sauteed together and seasoned with salt, white pepper and chilli flakes. A spicy tomato-based sauce and chicken stock are added and when cooked some fresh basil is added. The dish is served by pouring this preparation over a bed of garlic-flavoured spaghetti.

There are no preparations with lamb, duck or any other meat and to enjoy the Continental fare you have to enjoy your fish, prawns and chicken. In fact other items they do well are Fish and Chips with Tartare Sauce (it is the sauce that holds the key here and they do it well) and also Chicken Stroganoff. Stroganoff is originally a beef dish but Calcuttans have been enjoying the chicken version for years, and many senior citizens would approve of this dish here.

These are Indian selections on the menu as well ' regular North Indian fare ' and here you will find Mutton Sheekh Kebab and Mutton Rogan Josh. It is a good place to eat out, whether an adda over snacks, burgers and sandwiches or a serious meal. And the authenticity and subtleness of touch lent to the old favourites have taken the benchmark one step up.

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