For a Tasste of Retro Restaurants Visit Kolkata’s Mocambo

With Christmas not so far away, I had the sudden urge to walk down Park Street — which can be counted on to don Christmas decorations and become a hub of gayety within the next few days.  As I walked down a strong sense of nostalgia, overwhelmed me and almost without thinking I decided to turn into Free School Street and step into Mocambo, located near the Park Street junction. 

Nothing seemed to have changed much in its exterior look, since Shivji Valji Kothari opened Mocambo in April 1956. The exterior was much the same with its name written in white, with its large red-painted ‘M’ located just above the door.  The smartly dressed door man who greeted me with a “Good afternoon” was certainly a new addition!

In its early days, Mocambo was a restaurant that came closest to a night club in the Calcutta of the 50s and 60s and its dance floor with its multicoloured lights was the only one of its kind in the city. It was also where one came to eat some of the best Continental food in the city and dance to Anton Menezies and his band with its glamorous crooner Pam Crain—in her blonde bouffant and shimmering fish-tail sheath. On other days one could also have a quiet and satisfying meal with a special friend while listening to the talented violinist Stanley Gomes.   

Mocambo is now considered a real Retro restaurant. At the time of its opening the decor was created by Messerschmidt, a German designer whose style was much admired during the 1960s. Sky Room and Blue Fox were two other restaurants created by the same designer, whose Nouveau Art Deco style was often referred to as the ‘Hollywood Style.’

The nightclub concept has totally disappeared with the removal of the bandstand and the lit dance floor in 1980s . The restaurant is now bigger having taken over the shop next door and the 102 covers have grown to 164, spread over three sections. 

Mocambo, now an elite restaurant, has three sections, the two in the main block being discretely divided by a wrought iron screen and the 3rd entered through a door. The decor includes red and orange lamp shades that add a warm glow at night and a dash of orange in the daytime and the comfortable red leather sofas that were important features of the earlier look. There is an attempt to bring in some greenery and a touch of grey-green is also added in a few sofas in this shade of leather.

According to an earlier discussion on the excellence of their Continental Cuisine, Nitin Kothari (Shivji’s son) had said, “It is thanks to the ‘Mug Cooks’ from Chittagong that father employed.  While the Indian food made by them tasted like ‘nothing on earth’, they were able to create even the most difficult nuances of Western Cuisine, quite effortlessly”. The cosmopoliton mix of International and Indian clientele ensured that Mocambo’s Continental food had many takers, but for adding Mughlai and other Indian dishes to the menu, it became necessary to seek chefs from the northern states — Delhi, Lucknow and Punjab.  

Adapting to the needs of the clients is a paramount necessity these days with restaurants serving cuisine of all kinds, mushrooming all over the city. Mocambo prefers to continue to use the same lively colours and design for the menu cover — a lively yellow and blue with the picture of Spanish dancers. There is also a brief history about the restaurant and includes information on how some items are considered as part of the restaurant’s heritage. In addition, there are humorous pen and ink sketches on some of the pages.

On checking with the staff, it was reassuring to learn that the favourite dish was still the same – ‘Devilled Crab’—crabmeat on cheese and mustard sauce served in a shell. Another dish that has gathered many fans, is ‘Fish a la Diana’ which is beckty stuffed with prawns cooked in cream sauce.

Among fish dishes, ‘Beckty Newburg which comes with buttered rice is also very popular, as is Prawn Newburg.  The internationally rated ‘Prawn Thermidor’, and ‘Fish a la Moutarde’ (grilled beckty in spicy mustard sauce) are all favourites and then there is everyone’s favourite — the famous ‘Prawn Cocktail.’ 

There  are so many popular chicken recipes  – ‘Chicken Tetrazzini’— chicken cooked with pasta, green peppers and mushroom in Sherry Sauce. ‘Angels on Horseback’s  an international recipe of chicken wrapped in bacon. ‘Chicken Paprika’ is a creamy blend of pepper flakes, black pepper and crushed red peppers. Among the Indian items the known and loved Murg Mussalam is one of the favourites, followed by chicken Dopiaza and Roghan Josh. 

While dessert is not Mocambo’s forte, but, can we possibly leave it out in a restaurant in Kolkata? This is the time to bring on Mocambo’s ‘Baked Alaska’. Do try and taste a few of these on your next visit to Mocambo — you won’t be sorry!

 

Columnist: 
Shona Adhikari