| Interiors of Kobe Sizzlers and (below) Hushh. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
Kobe Sizzlers is an apt name for a restaurant especially when a large selection of sizzlers is your USP, and the menu has over a dozen steak items in this selection, including Garlic Steak, Pepper Steak, Schezwan Steak, Steak with Chicken and Cheese, Steak Satellite (with mushroom, fresh cream and cheese) and Steak Shashlik.
But it’s only in the name, because a real Kobe steak, made from the meat of kuroge wagyu (black-haired Japanese cattle), can cost up to $300 in a fancy, up-market restaurant! The meat itself can cost $100 per pound, and the animals, raised on about 250 small farms in the ancient province of Tajima (now Hyogo Prefecture whose capital is Kobe), must be the most pampered livestock in the world.
No more than 15 animals are raised per farm; they are fed on sake and beer mash during the final stage of fattening and they even receive a daily massage, for it is believed that if they are mellow and relaxed, the quality of meat will be better. Even their coats are brushed with sake — the smoother the haircoat and the softer the skin, the tastier the meat! Because of the high cost of farming in Japan, kuroge wagyu are now being raised in Australia and the US, but quality control is strict; the pedigree and lineage of the animals can go back up to a hundred years.
Kobe Sizzlers is actually a chain of restaurants, set up in Mumbai and Pune and going back about 20 years. Now, Calcutta has a branch of this chain. The chefs and kitchen staff are all from Mumbai and although the menus are presented differently, the items themselves are almost identical and there is a distinctly Colaba feel to the selection — mint tea, Cona coffee, baked beans on toast, scrambled eggs, soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers, and, of course, sizzlers.
The important difference is that Calcutta’s Kobe Sizzlers (at E407, City Centre, Salt Lake), serves only chicken, fish, mutton and seafood in their non-vegetarian selection. Sizzlers have been a feature of menus in Calcutta for over 50 years, and I can still remember the start I got the first time I witnessed a waiter entering the dining area of Mocambo bearing two sizzler steaks — complete with all the drama of the smoke and the hiss of the sauces bubbling on the griddle. They still have Mocambo Sizzler Specialities on the menu but whereas in Calcutta we associate sizzlers with Continental fare, Kobe Sizzlers present these items in a distinctly Oriental style, although the boiled vegetables and French fries (or mashed potatoes) are also there.
Almost all the sizzlers, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, are served with a sweet and sour or garlic or pepper or Schezwan sauce, and many of them are served on a bed of rice or noodles. I had a Fish Sizzler — grilled, boneless pomfret placed on a liberal helping of garlic sauce, surrounded by healthy portions of French fries, peas, carrots, cabbage, spinach, beans and cauliflower, these also generously seasoned with soya sauce. A substantial dish, though quite different.
Another surprise was the Shrimp Cocktail. Although it follows the basics — boiled shrimps in mayonnaise with a touch of ketchup — the presence of a goodish amount of chopped onions, cucumber, French beans and tomatoes gave it an unexpected character, and caused the mayonnaise to puff up and become a bit frothy.
Kobe Sizzlers has brought with it its Mumbai signature. I am intrigued, and am reasonably sure that even an order like Chicken Cutlet might harbour a surprise. But the servings are generous, the food is hearty if not sublime, the ambience is bustling and informal and if one were to go up and say that shrimp cocktails don’t have chopped veggies in them (shredded lettuce for a base, maybe), the response would probably be, “We are like this only”.
Judging by the hordes who visit E407, it seems to suit them fine.
Step a few feet out of Kobe Sizzlers and take an entrance to the right and you will enter Hushh, an Italian restaurant under the same ownership and management, and quite in contrast. Here again, the food consultant and kitchen team are from Mangi Ferra restaurant in Juhu, Mumbai, which was set up about three years ago.
Hushh is not a branch, though, and even if the menu bears a resemblance to the one at Mangi Ferra, Hushh is a standalone property. It has an authentic and well-chosen, compact selection of soups, starters, salads, staples (rice, pasta), gnocchi and main courses, and whatever I tasted, I thought, had a refined and sophisticated touch, though simple at the same time.
Soup of Button Mushrooms, first up. The mushrooms are sauteed with roasted garlic in white wine which gives the soup a piquant flavour, and the body is provided by a roux sauce whose base is olive oil and flour. The dish is finished with butter.
Potato Gnocchi in Spinach Sauce was next — a dough made with boiled, mashed potatoes and mozzarella cheese seasoned with garlic, salt and oregano, is cut into small portions, shaped and designed and refrigerated. When an order is placed, the spinach sauce is prepared and poured over the gnocchi to warm and soften it and served. This was a melt-in-the-mouth dish — not sticky, like gnocchi can sometimes become.
Just a small slice of Pizza Con Frutti De Mare (thin crust, wood fired, with tomato sauce, prawns and squid) to make for another excellent starter, and on to the main course of Dijou and Citrus Marinated Pan-seared Pomfret, served with vegetable cous cous and tomato honey glaze — well-presented, delicious, though the cous cous I thought was a bit overcooked.
Hushh is a fine addition to the city’s culinary map. Minimalistic but elegant ambience, and fine food at fair prices. By mid-November, they will open up a terrace area for open-air dining that will feature the city’s first air-conditioned, see-through plastic tent in which about eight to 10 guests can lounge around and be pampered.