Royal Indian Hotel, here in after referred to as RIH or just Royal is a name synonymous with Mughlai food in north central Calcutta. Located on the historic Chitpur road in the Burrabazar neighborhood. Home to the business bourgeois of the city. This place is normally not frequented by the well heeled or the upwardly mobile and those with a ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude. I have memories of this eatery from my growing up years when I used to tag along with my Dad on our eating out sprees. Royal is nestled among some non-descript shops selling mostly Kurtas, Sherwanis, and other clothing paraphernalia. As such this is situated in a very congested part of the city, where the fastest mode of transport often can mean walking to your destination.
Sundays are normally a blessing for at least some streets in Calcutta, as the roads are mostly devoid of business traffic and it is generally given a miss by the rallyists. Ain’t that a blessing? Wish we had more than just one Sunday in a week ! I decided this past Sunday, it was time for ‘Close Encounters of a Royal Kind!’. Decided to give my car a much needed break and used mass transit to reach my destination in a record 25 mins from Salt Lake.
RIH is split it into two levels, ground floor for mere mortals and the first floor dining hall for the upper echelons of the society. I self-invited myself to the privileged first floor dinning hall. It was 2:30 pm, and the place was only a trifle busy. Got my self a comfortable table and had Nandan Nilekani for company, while I sipped on my Thums Up, and briefly browsed the Royal Offerings !
Some of the other diners looked at me in amazement and talked in hushed tones and occasionally broke into a laughter similar to that of a gang of school girls sharing girlie talk ! I take, they were amused looking at me taking pictures on my camera phone of otherwise banal subjects. I did not waste much time or deliberated too much on what I wanted to start out with. Ordered myself ‘2 Rotis and Mutton Chaap’ to begin with.
This is a signature dish that will wake up a dietician from his/her grave. It probably has enough calories for a week if not longer. But you might wonder, since when have I started watching my calories. Well, the answer is simple, I don’t. Just a head’s up for those who might. I say ‘You only live twice!’. For those unaware, this preparation is made by beating mutton fanatically, until the tissues begin to break down. It is one of those dishes that should come with a disclaimer - ‘These stunts are performed by professionals, please do not attempt this at home !’
My hunger quadrupled and I dug into the Rotis and Tender Meat ! This dish is quite literally, not for the weak at heart. Weather in a word - Hot and Spicy ! I was nearing completion of the first course was when the luncheon reached it’s anti-climax. I was struggling with what I initially thought of a bone that got stuck in a tooth-cavity, in my upper jaw. I was in pain, and the uneasy feeling cannot be put in words. I tried poking at it with a tooth pick and my tongue. All in vain.
I had already ordered the Chicken Biryani and had asked for it to be brought out a few mins after the first course was served. The serving crew took no cognizance of my compromised situation and brought out the Biryani.
The Biryani looked inviting and I momentarily forgot about the stuck-bone-in-my-tooth. However, as soon as I started to chow down the Biryani hurriedly, the food was hurting my upper jaw and I continued to struggle. I continued to probe at it, trying to edge it out by rolling my tongue inwards and forcing it out. And voila !
What came out was a portion of my tooth ! And now it dawned on me that all this while what I was struggling was not some meat bone, but my own tooth. I could feel a warm gush in my mouth. I could taste my own blood. No, I was not going to bleed to death but it was still a little scary. I have saved this broken tooth, and it could belong to the ‘Royal Museum’ !
Never say die attitude got the better of me. And I got back to the business of polishing off my Biryani. I had wanted something to go with the Biryani and was delighted to see ‘Mutton Pasinda’ on the menu. The joy was short lived as it was on the dinner menu for Sunday not lunch. I was offered ‘Mutton Seekh’ kebabs as a suitable replacement, but then they found out even that was not available. Finally settled for ‘Chicken Reshmi Kebab’ which looked much better than it tasted. I could not find anything wrong with it, except for the fact that it was just too manicured for my taste buds. The kebabs were plump and succulent but missed the X factor !
A quick word about the Biryani – the quantity of rice wasn’t enough if you are really hungry. The chicken was a tad too stringy. Overall Biryani was may be just a 6/10.
I normally hate to leave food on the table. But in this case, had to resort to it. Now that my carnal desires were met, I was ready for some socializing.
I introduced myself to the most elegant member of the Royal Crew – one Mohammed Ishrafique. Mohammed bhai has been serving the Royal army since 1976. I was then an innocent three year old, not exposed to the ways of the world ! Mohammed bhai after an initial bout of apprehension, acquiesced for a picture of his. Though not smiling in this picture, he gleefully shook my hand.
No meal is complete without a dessert or two. I was offered Firnee or Shahi Tukra (not in picture). Ignoring my penchant for the unknown, this time I went for Firnee. And have no regrets I did. One is never enough for a big man like myself, so I pigged out on another one. Lucky not to have lost my ‘sweet tooth’, despite losing a ‘tooth’ !
I paid my debt to the society, a total of Rs. 309, plus a handsome tip and bid adieu. ‘Khuda Hafiz’, I thundered to Mohammed bhai before walking out the door !