I have now lived in Salt Lake for only a little over 5 years. However my love affair with the satellite township dates back to the early nineties. Back then I lived in Bangur Avenue, a residential colony, just across the canal. Salt Lake was a destination of choice – be it for stealing a smoke away from the prying eyes of neighbors and friends of my parents, be it for walking my girl friend to her school, be it just to escape the madding crowd. Salt Lake was an oasis of peace. The over-rated ‘para-culture’ was missing and people let you be; without sticking their noses and meddling into your private affairs - ‘pun intended’ !
Salt Lake of the 90’s has changed or rather metamorphosed would be the term. City Center mall came to Salt Lake in early 2000’s and completely changed this sleep township for ever. Now Salt Lake is a preferred destination and really remains the most livable neighborhood of Calcutta. For the most part it is self-contained and you can avoid having to run downtown, every time you need something.
One brand after another – be it restaurants, banks, even businesses are making a beeline to enter Salt Lake, their adopted home. So did I, back in 2005 when we relocated to Calcutta from Stateside. Salt Lake is beaten with a stick by residents from other part of the city for many-an-evil. Truth be told, I would easily trade off any of those for the peace and tranquility this place offers.
I still experience a child-like joy and excitement, whenever a new ‘brand’, a new ‘store’, a new anything comes to Salt Lake. Really missed having a decent stand-alone bakery here. There are enough shops selling – cakes, pastries, and snacks (read ‘snakes’ – a gujju pronunciation. No offense ‘Mota bhai’, all in good humor). However we have always lacked a decent bakery selling a bouquet of breads, dinner rolls and French loaves.
In comes – The French Loaf.
This is a good looking store that was just inaugurated this past Sunday (9/26). It is a part of a national chain having stores in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Pune and Calcutta. This is their second store in Calcutta – their flagship store is on Sarat Bose Road (near Minto Park) in central Calcutta. They have a third one coming up in South Kolkata on Southern Ave. This store is located on First Ave, at Ground Floor, AB-10, Sector I, Salt Lake City, Kolkata 0 700068 (near PNB island).
The store wears a stylish look, with bright yet subtle interiors in hues of brick red and Starbucks green. The staff is very courteous and welcoming. They get the door for you if they see you walking in and hold it ajar when you are leaving them. The stock a good variety of pastries, cakes, tarts, pies, breads, and savories. The presentation is very nice and it all looked very nice so far.
I stormed into the store and was browsing their collection and checking them out, so to speak. Within about 2 minutes of my entering the store, a counter clerk from behind the counter asked ‘Sir – are you looking for veg or non-veg ?'. This is a common question you get asked a lot in India.
Few seconds later I divulged the fact that I write and am there to cover their new store. I saw their eyes lit-up and that was a game changer. I then asked them if it was ok to click a few pictures of their store and what they have to offer. They readily agreed. When I briefly paused after clicking some pictures – Rajdeep, who I believe was their store manager brought over ‘chocolate fantasy’ – a pastry. I was told it was on the house. Little perks of writing/blogging. I thanked Rajdeep and dug in. I got to say – it was one of the better Chocolate cakes I have had. I personally do not care for bitter chocolate, which is the forte of Kookie Jar, another Kolkata based chain. The chocolate cream was consistently smooth, the right degree of sweetness, the texture was soft yet firm, not mushy. The amalgamation of bread and cream was optimal. In other words – I relished the experience.
They have broadly 4 different sections in the store. Starting from cakes, pastries and mousses are kept in a chilled shelf, the snacks and savories are next (vegetarian and non-vegetarian are split on different shelves) some of them are interestingly named like – Curious Tandoori Chicken and then there are the regular stars like Chicken Ciabatta and Chicken Calzone, so on and so forth, next is baked desserts like the apple pies, brownies, walnut-crumbles, doughnuts, cookies, tarts etc.
The wall opposite from the cakes and bakes shelves was lined with different kinds of bread. There was plain white sandwich bread interestingly named as Day Breaker, whole wheat breads, multigrain breads, rye breads, Asian curry loaves, crusty breads, garlic breads, cheese breads, focaccias, and last but not the least the signature French loaves. Being a bread lover, my eyes glittered.
Done with clicking around I finally decided to order something to take away. I got myself the following :
1 Blueberry Mousse (looked like Blueberry Cheesecake), 1 Carrot Nut Cake, 1 Apple Pie and 1 Walnut Brownie. From the snacks shelf – I got me a Curious Tandoori Chicken, and a Chicken Calzone.
Now the much-awaited reaction. Blueberry Mousse was the best part of my order, it was silky smooth and even though it was made from blueberry preserves and not fresh berries. It was wholesome. Carrot Nut Cake – was good, but had a strange aftertaste – that I could not recognize. Apple Pie was BAD – it was crusty and had very little apple chunks in it. Even 2 for a $1 Mc. Donalds – Apple Pie would beat this hands down. Walnut Brownie was just about average, it lacked the punch and had a similar metallic after-taste to it. But the worst is yet to come. The snack items were truly the worst of the lot. Both the Curious Tandoori Chicken and the Chicken Calzone were doughy, with way too much bread and very little if any chicken. There was probably less than 15% of chicken by volume. Chicken Calzone was hollow filled with a mix of air and chicken !
I tried 2 loaves of the Asian Curry bread, to beat the midnight hunger pangs. It tasted nice, nothing like I have ever tried before. It had spices like mustard seeds, curry powder, and curry leaves embedded into the soul of the loaf ! Good.
Overall, I would give the store 3 out 5 on food quality (individually breads are 5/5, cakes and mousses 4.5/5, pies and tarts 2/5. Snacks and savories 1/5, I would give them 0 but that would just break their heart). At the same time I need to add the staff members were extremely polite and courteous. They had may be not excellent knowledge of their wares, but a good knowledge about what was in it. I was also told that they are also going to be start serving beverages like tea and coffee before the Pujo market warms up.
They also added that their flagship store on Sarat Bose road has a different format as it has a full service restaurant, with live sandwich counters. That sounds good, gotta try it out sometimes. Let me know by commenting on this piece, if you have already tried their Sarat Bose Road location and how did it fare on your scale. It is only a year old brand in Kolkata. I certainly hope their improve on the quality of meat in their snack items, if they want to compete with the other vintage brands like Kookie Jar!
**Trivia – Old timers will recall a store called ‘Hot Breads’ on Sarat Bose road, close to the Minto Park / A.J.C Bose Rd. intersection. There used be a ANZ Grindlays bank in the ground floor of the same building. Now both those brands are gone. The folks at The French Loaf, told me that they are from the same parent company and they have repositioned their branding.