Monday, 30th October 2017

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North Indian nuggets in tribute treat

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By Tongue Twister Musician and foodie Nondon Bagchi samples the down-to-earth, balle balle menu at Chicky’s
  • Published 4.10.05
(From top) Models savour the delicacies at Chicky’s; a spread at the restaurant. Pictures by Rashbehari Das

When night life on Park Street and Chowringh-ee went into decline from the mid 70’s onwards, most of the entertainment or what was left of it, found its way into the various clubs in the city and club nights always involved live music.

The concept of DJs had not caught on and neither had the idea of singing with a recorded track. Indipop, bhangra rap or other music of that genre had also not been created so a live band at a club night would play what was loosely called Pop, but actually meant anything you could dance to ? from the music of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Connie Francis to The Beatles and the Bee Gees to Tina Turner, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie.

Our band’s beat was Saturday Club, Dalhousie Institute, Tollygunge Club, Royal Calcutta Golf Club and Calcutta Cricket and Football Club, mainly. At the last three named, the catering was invariably done by Chicky Madan, an institution in Calcutta.

I still remember an evening at the Tolly when Bob Wright, another city institution and president of the club, announced with ceremony that the evening’s culinary honours belonged to Chicky Madan. The event was the Made For Each Other Contest for Couples; there were 2,000 odd guests and among the many luminaries was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi who was asked to say a few words. He reflected that this was perhaps not the ideal platform for him because, according to his wife, he quipped, he was only made for himself!

As was our practice, the band ate last but the food was warm and fresh and there was enough of it ? usually a generous north Indian spread with a selection of Continental items too.

Chicky Madan started his business in 1945. An early venture was Calcutta Coffee House near Basusree cinema, probably the first air-conditioned restaurant in the city and a well-known south Calcutta adda.

Outdoor catering also took off and office catering, cocktail receptions, packed lunches and wedding dinners followed, a large and well run operation, with son Nitin alongside for 25 odd years.

When his father passed away about three years ago, Nitin took charge and by way of tribute to a grand old man of the city’s culinary scenario, opened a small, elegant restaurant called Chicky’s at 29/1A, Ballygunge Circular Road almost exactly a year ago.

September 26 was their first anniversary and the occasion was marked by a week-long seafood festival during which there was a departure from the north Indian fare which comprises Chicky’s menu. From the south-west coast there were delicious Prawn Gassi and Malabari Meen Curry; from the south-east there was Prawn Chettinad. There were tandoori pomfrets, squids and crabs and their Continental touch took shape in the form of Baked Crab ? crab meat and cheese baked and served in the shell.

Some of these items will find their way into Chicky’s regular menu, which as it is now, is an honest, down-to-earth (I am tempted to say balle balle) north Indian spread. Tandoori items, half-a-dozen items each under chicken, mutton, fish and vegetables, a few dals, rice items, breads and mithai.

I thought there are many places with similar menus and was not particularly enthusiastic till I did a home delivery and realised that they have a distinct signature that makes frequently-found dishes come alive. If you like this cuisine and enjoy dal, roti, sabzi and gosht (or machhi and murg), Chicky’s is a place you must visit.

Take their kormas. These yoghurt-based gravies are made in many places, but they look like the regular curries. At Chicky’s, the kormas are white ? rich with cream, yoghurt and cashew paste. I tried the Fish Shahi Korma ? lightly fried bekti simmered in a smooth textured gravy.

The Methi Matar Malai had a similar hue and set next to the rich cream of Palak Aloo, the reddish orange of Delhi Butter Chicken and the darker hue of Rogan Josh, it was pleasing to the eye, which is so important.

Dal Bukhara is a must. Mainly urad dal, with some rajma and a little chana dal (all pre-boiled) are slow-cooked in a tomato gravy with cream and butter. Delhi Butter Chicken is also a tomato-based gravy. Chicken tikka cubes are cooked in a gravy of pureed tomatoes, yoghurt, butter and cream seasoned with cumin seeds and red chilli.

From white and red to green. The Palak Aloo, where the spinach-green chilli combination is so smoothly blended and the potatoes are cooked to a nicety, is a homely but delicious dish.

And finally, the dark-hued Mutton Rogan Josh, a more ceremonious dish with a asafoetida, large cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon seeds and black peppercorns to give it an exotic character. These ingredients are sauteed in oil before the meat is added with a little water and cooked till soft. Additional seasonings are red chilli powder, powdered aniseed and coriander powder and this item also has some yoghurt added to give the gravy some body.

I have a hunch that one of the reasons for the smoothness of texture and well-blended flavours of the sauces at Chicky’s is that they take “cooking on a slow fire” much more seriously than most establishments.

Only two minor disappointments were that they don’t serve roomali rotis and the raw papaya used in the marinade for the Mutton Bara Kebab was too apparent and gave the meat a pasty texture.

There is a compact selection of desserts with some house specials such as Mango Yoghurt, Vanilla Ice-Cream with Lychees and Rabri with Peaches (what a fine idea). They also do a delicious firni.