Kolkata Club has just opened in Mississauga, and owner Hemant Bhagwani is making this passion project personal. The former Amaya man and Indian Street Food owner, just to rhyme off a few, dug deep for this new concept, and it’s close to his heart and heritage. After traveling through India with his father (who recently passed away), Hemant was inspired by the many dining halls that make up the country club culture in colonial India when it was ruled by the Brits. While the rule of the British Raj came to a close in 1947, many of these clubs still exist- Hemant should know, he gained entry to many of these exclusive membership only clubs during his trip with his father, a reconnaissance mission to ensure his tribute in Canada would be authentic.
The first impression of the space is immersive. The decor is a silent nod to his intentions, the black and white checkboard tile flooring is borrowed from this era, ditto for the mustard hued banquette seating, “They put that condiment on everything!!”, adds Hemant. A departure from his dining room days, Kolkata Club is for imbibers too, a beautiful wooden bar anchors the space and encourages a cocktail or two before eating, you’re meant to linger here, another signal to the history behind these clubs, where Indians would serve the Brits refreshing tonics with influences like the ‘Our Way’ G+T ($11.50), here prepared with Bombay Gin, fresh Juniper berries and fancy Fever Tree tonic. Sahibs Game ($12.50) brings the commonwealth approach to the forefront with Scotch shaken with maple syrup and star of anise. The Aam Panna Mojito ($12.50) no doubt proved to be an elixir, aam panna is proven to help those with heat stroke, timely for both 200 years ago and present day.
The food echoes this confluence too. While the Chef’s Five Course Tasting menu ($49.50 pp) is your best bet ($69.50 with wine pairings), the menu is an interesting read in it’s own right. Broken into Club Bar (snack menu), Appetizers, Kebabs, then a flip to the mains reveals categories: British Raj, Oriental Influence, Indian Signature, Vegetarian, Rice and finally Breads. Executive Chef Bharat Singh shifts through each of these food zones with ease, presenting the Jalebi Chaat ($11.50), a stacked salad with so much going on it could be a well priced main with protein rich chick peas, mint chutney and Indian pretzels, which are mostly like onion rings with no onion.
The tableside showstopping extravaganza that is the Red Chili Chicken Tikka ($16.50) brings the heat, but smoke first, with a cloud of mystery that first envelops the senses. A glass cloche reveals the goods, marinated chicken breast gets skewered then cooked in the tandoor oven, paired with spicy green chili raita, tamarind sauce and mint sauce, and you got yourself a keto-friendly find that brings the burn.
Off the British Raj menu, the Paneer Cranberry Lasagne ($18.50) strikes the right note, it’s slightly sweet, with minced eggplant and makhani sauce, this dish lends itself well to the blending of so many cultures, and obviously Garlic Naan ($3.50) is a complete upgrade on garlic bread any given day.
From the Indian Signature menu, the Nimbu Tawa Fish ($18.50) is a filet of fire, a well prepared (boneless, but skin on) fish of the day gets a dose of stewed plum tawa masala, spicy, for sure, and studded with Bay leaves, which should have been removed, but still made it into the mix. The dish needs some fine tuning, but is shows promise, or at the very least, originality.
History is steeped into this build out, part of a plaza on Eglinton West near Mavis. Photos from this pivotal moment in India’s history flank the walls and offer a view that most of us will never see. Hemant isn’t just stuffing more butter chicken and papadums down your throat, he’s injecting a history lesson into your meal, introducing you into a period of time that is rich and storied, and he’s aiming to create a unique cuisine and experience that goes with it.
Thanks to Kolkata Club for inviting us out!