| (From top) Interiors of the restaurant Haka; chefs at the live dim sum counter; a spread of dishes at the City Centre food stop. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
City Centre at Salt Lake epitomises the new face of Calcutta, which is quite a talking point these days. It is arguably the most happening mall we have; the only 'horizontal' one ' not floor upon floor upon floor ' truly sprawling, with the highest footfall, car parking for hundreds of cars, offering retail therapy of just about every kind, films, fast food, wining and dining.
Snugly situated in this vast complex is a new addition to the city's culinary address book, an Oriental restaurant which has made a quiet entry.
It is called Haka, and in keeping with its immediate environment, presents a profile where the young brigade, people on the move, the IT Cadre and their ilk, are more than likely to feel at home.
You will hear John Bon Jovi, Queen, Bryan Adams, The Ketchup Song, Elton John and The Scorpions among others as you dig into your dim sum, and there is a busy buzz about the place.
No Peking Duck on the menu here. It is a practical menu, not aimed at exotica or elaborateness, but at the same time imaginatively chosen to offer as much variety as possible in a streamlined selection where there are no more than a dozen or so items under any section.
There is also a balance between the non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes on offer.
Dim sums are a separate section, then there are starters, soups, main course dishes, rice and noodle options, desserts and beverages.
In fact, there is a counter in the corner of Haka where guests can watch their choice of dim sum being made in front of them. Dim sum can of course be ordered at the table as well and will be served there, but at the live counter you can select after having a good look at them; they will then be steamed right there and served.
I shall describe some of the delicacies from the Haka menu. Prawn Siu Mai, the dumplings where the envelope of very thinly rolled dough ' the 'wanton skin' ' is open at the top, is a popular item.
The filling for these siu mai is made with minced prawns, carrots, onions, ginger, garlic and coriander stems (all chopped), wine, soya sauce, pepper garlic sauce, oyster sauce, salt and pepper well mixed together.
The wanton skins, cut into circles, are wrapped around the filling and then the dumplings are steamed.
Vegetarian dim sum selections include Steamed Spicy Mushroom Dumplings and Steamed Vegetable and Corn Dumplings.
A fine item under starters is the Grilled Shrimp and Crab Cakes. Minced shrimp, crab meat, chopped chilli, onion, ginger and coriander stems, wine, sesame oil, oyster sauce, chilli flakes and salt are mixed well together and then shaped into small patties, grilled and served with garlic pepper sauce. This item has a strong seafoodish taste, which I liked.
Haka Chilli Chicken is another starter. Diced, boneless pieces of chicken are marinated in a mixture of egg, cornflour and salt, and deep fried to a crisp. In a wok, chopped ginger, garlic, onion, green chillies, coriander leaves and capsicum are sauteed together; soya sauce, stalk and salt are added and when reduced to the required consistency, the fried chicken pieces are tossed in this sauce until well coated all over.
Other recommendable items under starters are Chilli Satay Fish, which is a Thai dish in which fish fillets are marinated in a similar egg-cornflour mixture, deep fried and then tossed with typical Thai peanut satay sauce, and Caramel Glazed Chicken Wings in which chicken wings marinated in ginger juice, cornflour, salt and pepper are deep fried and then tossed in a sauce made with soya sauce, worcester sauce, caramelised sugar, chillies, crushed peppercorn and other seasoning.
There is a small selection of soups and the non-vegetarian selection includes Lime and Pepper Chicken Soup which is a straight ahead Thai Tom Yam Soup. You can also ask for Tom Yam Goong, which is made with prawns.
For the main course there was Roast Chicken Fried Rice and Sliced Chilli Coriander Lamb.
For the rice, a whole chicken is marinated in Chinese spices and oven roasted. Then the flesh is taken off the bone and diced or shredded.
Egg is scrambled in a wok, the shredded chicken is added and then the rice, which has been parboiled earlier, and soya sauce are added and tossed together till the ingredients have combined uniformly.
Spicy Chilli Coriander Lamb is made by first sauteeing ginger, garlic and green chillies in a wok. Stock, seasoning and fresh sliced roast mutton are added, followed by oyster sauce, soya sauce and a little cornflour dissolved in water.
The best part of this dish was that the lamb was roasted to a nicety and was tender and succulent at the same time.
Among the desserts, only one is Oriental while the others are typical Calcutta favourites. Black Forest, Caramel Custard and Brownies (homemade) with Ice Cream are listed here.
Two important things must be said about Haka. The first is the surprisingly reasonable pricing. The most expensive item on the menu costs Rs 129 (before taxes). Among the vegetarian dishes, Rs 89. The overall average would be somewhere around Rs 80. That is true value for money.
The other is that Haka is part of a 'stable' of restaurants run by one of the country's leading restauranteers ' Anjan Chatterjee ' the man behind Mainland China and the Oh! Calcutta chain of restaurants.
Haka is meant to be a different experience from Mainland China, where a leisurely a-la-carte meal can transport you into realms of exotica. But as far as quality, service and professionalism is concerned, it is all there.
They have made an inobtrusive, low-profile entry, relying mainly on word of mouth to gather a clientele. I have a hunch that mouths will be busy, in more ways than one.