On the corner of a busy north Kolkata street amidst the commercial district, heaving with traffic and chaos, there is an almost hidden entrance to one of the city’s best kept secrets. Immediately beyond the weathered colonial facade of number 140 SN Banerjee Road is a labyrinth of tiny offices and businesses, but once you step out of the elevator on the third floor and start walking down the long, green-shuttered corridor, you are likely to experience a Wizard of Oz moment.
Stepping into Bomti Iyengar’s apartment is like entering another world. Dating back to 1901, this high-ceiling, spacious home is lines with art and antiques. There’s a wall mounted with only colourful masks from around the world and a living room opens onto a large veranda overlooking Shahid Minar and the Eden Gardens.
For the last 18 years, this space has been hosting exclusive home dining experiences. A brainchild of Iyengar, it is an entirely unique way to discover the city and immerse oneself in food and culture. “It is a totally different feel than visiting a restaurant. It’s very personal, and works for a cultural city like Calcutta that is celebrated for its food and art,” says Iyengar. “Our guests enjoy home-cooked Bengali meals as I tell them a little about the culture and history of Calcutta. There are a lot of preconceptions about Calcutta as a city of poverty and Mother Teresa, but there is so much more to it. And, I wanted visitors to experience a different side of the city.”
What started as hosting a few friends of a friend for an authentic Bengali meal quickly turned into a bespoke service. On the menu is typical Bengali fare: Fluffy luchis fresh off the fire, aloo dum or potatoes cooked in typical local style, mustard fish (a delectable offering of marinated freshwater Bhetki, Ilish or other varieties), kosha mangsho (a rich mutton curry), tangy fresh chutney with papad, and a selection of the famous sandesh and sweetmeats. His chef, who has been with him for 21 years, was trained in all the family recipes by Iyengar’s mother. The meals are entirely customisable, and Iyengar prepares the menu only after taking into account the visitors’ dietary preferences. He’ll also stock up on your favourite brand of alcohol, so whilst travelling you feel completely at home.
Art curator by day and modern-day Gatsby by night, Iyengar is a fantastic host and regales his guests with stories about his life and travels, art, and the cultural heritage of the city. His stories about life in Kolkata in the 60s with its polo matches at Christmas, dinner dances at Firpo’s, and nights that ended with Nizam’s rolls at 3:00 am, make you nostalgic for the Golden Era of the city.
Iyengar moved to Kolkata in 1970 from Darjeeling, where he grew up in the tea gardens. An alumnus of St Pauls, he began his career as a tea taster before following his passion into interior design, and finally into becoming a culinary host. He says that the ‘bara sahib’ lifestyle of the gardens, in which old-world hospitality still thrives, prepared him for what he does today. Through these experiences, he says, he has learned an invaluable amount about different cultures, and his network of friends from around the globe include names like Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Queen Elizabeth II’s National Hunt racing adviser, Sir Michael Oswald.
Iyengar also offers his apartment as a space to host soirees – 20 people can easily be accommodated. He is also a patron of the arts and a firm supporter of upcoming artists. As a result, visitors also have the opportunity to purchase a piece of art that catches their fancy at a home gallery set up specifically for this purpose. In a way, you get to carry a souvenir from this place.
The meals are charged at Rs 3,500 per person, and bookings need to be made a minimum of 24 hours in advance
Where: Metropolitan Building, 140, SN Banerjee Road, New Market Area, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata
How: +9198313 14990, email@example.com