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Sohini Banerjee

Sohini Banerjee wins hearts with her unique take as she reshapes perceptions of Bengali cuisine in UK

‘Maachh-er Matha Diye dal was a total game changer,’ says star chef

Rohini Chakraborty | Published 14.03.24, 10:38 AM
Sohini Banerjee shops local produce at a Kolkata market

Sohini Banerjee shops local produce at a Kolkata market

Sohini Banerjee, a chef, supper club host, and food innovator, is reshaping perceptions of Bengali cuisine in the UK. Born in Kolkata and brought up in the UK, Sohini’s culinary journey began with her food-loving family. From a career in health economics to her true passion, she founded Smoke and Lime, a supper club in 2018 in the UK with her husband, Rijul. Through intimate gatherings in their South London flat, they offer guests a taste of Bengal, infused with global influences, without compromising on authenticity. Sohini’s culinary approach is a mere fusion of Bengali traditions with diverse flavours and techniques. Her passion extends beyond the plate; she wants to serve an atmosphere of warmth and connection, drawing on Kolkata’s adda culture.

Sohini’s kitchen is her haven, where she brews familiar scents and ingredients she grew up with. Through Smoke and Lime, she invites diners on a culinary journey, celebrating the essence of Bengali cuisine while embracing the richness of global gastronomy.


Kolkata is set to get a taste of Sohini’s culinary brilliance with a two-day pop-up at Omo Bistro Calcutta (at 91 Manohar Pukur Road). Utilising ancestral wisdom, she will craft no-waste menus sourced from local markets like Kalighat and Jadubabu Bajar. Celebrating spring’s produce in the city, her dishes will focus on subtly spiced with green mango and chillies. The pop-up on March 15 and 16 will offer a tasting journey where Sohini’s stories harmonise with each dish served. A Telegraph chat with Sohini.

What inspired you to bring Bengali cuisine to the UK?

I grew up in the UK so I am as much British as I am Indian. I also grew up eating the best food at home cooked by Ma, who adapted her Bengali food to local produce. So it was never an aim to call my food fusion, it just so happens to be a concoction of food I ate growing up and travelling.

How do you blend traditional Kolkata flavours with international culinary influences in your dishes?

I cook with the ethos of my ancestors. My food has roots in how we made food in Kolkata — no waste, seasonal, predominantly vegetarian. It is second nature to me that my food will always belong in Kolkata but influence me wherever else I travel. Most of my inspiration honestly just comes from when I walk around in Kolkata. The lanes of Lake Market, Jodubabu Bajar. Seeing the colour palette of Kolkata, the windows, and the flower vendors inspire most of my dishes.

What are some key ingredients or techniques you use to authentic Kolkata flavours in your fusion dishes?

Mustard oil and green chillies. I love the simplicity of Bengali food. Most people in the UK assume that Indian food is rich with onion, garlic and even cream. I think some part of me just wanted to show that our food is so much more than that. I love showing off the no-waste nature of our food and how innovative our women are in their kitchens.

Can you share a favourite Kolkata fusion recipe that has been a hit with your UK clientele?

Maachh-er matha diye dal was a total game changer. I didn’t change the dish much at all but just triple-fried the salmon collar and head almost to make it feel like crispy chicken wings. I always feel that traditional Bengali dishes don’t need any reinvention but perhaps a slight makeover to change the perception of our way of eating. I never actively try to make anything fusion but the way my dishes may look can make it seem so. I cooked the dal how my dida would and served the crispy fish perched on top. Everyone ate with their hands and licked the bowls clean, even those who had never eaten fish before.

How do you navigate sourcing authentic Bengali ingredients in the UK?

This is easy. Most of London is so diverse that you can find shops from any corner of the world. Bangla grocery shops are everywhere and you can get anything from supuri to koi maach to radhuni and shukto masala. I buy all the ingredients for all my events myself. Typically this means travelling to East London where there are rows of Bangladeshi dokaan. It may not feel like a Kolkata bajar but I can find everything there. I do try not to use too many imported ingredients but honestly, that is sometimes hard because the UK produce is not the best. There are a few little things I carry from Kolkata — bhaja moshla from my phuchka kaku.

What challenges have you faced in introducing this fusion cuisine to the UK food scene, and how have you overcome them?

If I am being totally honest, Londoners are so open to new food that there has not been a challenge. I never want to change my food for my audience; my food has to be authentic to me. I cook what I feel like eating and so far in my six years of hosting supper clubs, all my guests have enjoyed my flavours.

One thing you miss the most about Bengali cuisine, being in the UK...

The fresh seasonal produce from Kolkata bajars. There is no comparison to that anywhere else in the world. When I’m away I miss the simple seasonal dishes and adapting our meals to the weather. Eating lau in summer or eating koraishuti in winter. My venture into the food scene in Kolkata is to satisfy my own needs of eating seasonal food here. When I wrote the menu for my upcoming pop-up on March 15 and 16 with Omo, it was entirely led by what I can see being sold in the bajar.

Pictures courtesy: Sohini Banerjee

Last updated on 14.03.24, 10:39 AM

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