When I eat I am deaf and dumb, a well-suited Russian proverb for the Bangalis, especially when someone is as hungry as a bear, bites off more than he/she can chew and eat like a horse at one sitting. No wonder our eyes are bigger than our stomach, perfect example is the month of Ramadan. My last restaurant visit was such a day. It was The Chennai Express Restaurant! Yes, an Indian restaurant, named just after the blockbuster Bollywood film Chennai Express, at Road 11, Plot 67-D, Block E (Level 1), Banani, Dhaka. There is an English maxim - "the proof of the pudding is in eating it", similar I will remark about their foods, unless you taste them fully, my fine words can't feed you.
The 'Six Set Menu' will make one's mouth water without a hitch, but their Special "Kolkata Peter Cat's Chelo Kabab", 'Set Menu 1', reminded me of Shakespeare's verses in Julius Caesar - "a dish fit for gods". Its ravishing look and details in the menu melted in my mouth before my tongue tasted them. It includes Plain Pulao, Chicken Reshmi Kabab, Beef/Mutton Kabab, Mixed Vegetable, Egg Poach, Butter, Green Salad, Lassi (Sweet/Salt) - only at BDT 499. Who can resist not giving a call for it? Before the meal was served my eyes were brimmed with zeal and went on looking for other dishes in their menu. Their "Chaat" section has a cliché-variety of Pani Puri, Dahi Fuchka, Papri Chaat, Aloo Chaat, Chola Batura, all between BDT 130-180. Their 8-category "DOSA", at BDT 150-350, will catch the eyes of the mid-light-meal seekers, particularly the youngsters. I was served a complimentary "Jeera Pani" (Cumin Water) and my eyes took pause from surveying their menu. It seemed for a while every other customers where living high off the hog. I don't know what the celebration was; all the tables were bounced with dishes. Some had the 'Set Menu 3', as it provides Haji Biriyani (Full) with Salad, Lassi/Borhani, and Pudina juice at BDT 350. Nevertheless, I focused on my job again, their menu. I wished I could be here in the evening! Who can struggle against the temptation of a 16-kabab list with diverse Roti, Nan and Paratha? The Kashmiri Nan (BDT 125) is on the hit-list, said the manager. Last week while reading Virginia Wolf's A Room of One's Own, what I came across is worth sharing - "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well". Let's see my lunch serves the quote to what extent!
Eye-balls unexpectedly got enlarged. "BDT 1299" will lock any eyes certainly in Bangladesh. It was the "Mixed Tandoori Platter", perhaps for the ones who are born with spoons, whether golden or silver. I wished to have a glimpse and if possible, would prefer to serve my tongue a bit. Conversely, there are some distinctive and useful dishes at sound prices like for the Veggie-lovers - Vegetable Pulao (BDT 240), people fond of mushroom can click for Tandoori Mushroom (BDT 350), for the prawn-freaks - Tandori Prawn (BDT 500), and the tingri kabab, boti kabab, reshmi kabab, seekh kabab of mutton/beef/chicken and the most-cherished "Mutton Hydrabadi Biriyani" (BDT 425) is very obvious in every Indian cuisine based restaurants.
The ambience of the restaurant is of a family-type décor, silence is soothing. The visage of Rajnikant - the superstar - in their walls is a witty-way of branding. Sound-behaviour, music on television, neat props and swift-service left no space to criticize.
Ow! My food was served by then. I closed my eyes, smelt to the full, water-drop took break on the edge of my tongue. Bernard Shaw was right. "There is no sincerer love than the love of food". I said earlier, don't expect from me to tell how the dish was. Words are not enough. But yes, if you are not well-acquainted with the Indian's practice of 'butter-in-dishes', I think the meal is not for you. So here stands the menu-variety!
Food transports us back to the past, according to Homaro Cantu. Whether the childhood birthday cake or mother's hand-made traditional cake (pitha), a universal experience food provides and so James Beard termed food as - "common ground". What is really tasty, will taste well to all. The Bengali-streets are filled with kabab-stoppages. Some are hygienic and some are not. Even if bourgeois-restaurants cut throats by vacuuming our wallets, many choose such dining places only considering the hygiene-air of the inside - the kitchen. And Chennai Express will not disappoint you in that case even.
However, the bounty meal was still horsing in my stomach, so took time for the dessert to warm up the belly for the next race. Meanwhile, two guests arrived to book the restaurant for their upcoming family party. But they were looking for a buffet-dinner arrangement with a variety of cuisines, not only Indian cuisine. Before the manager could speak a word, the owner - actor Shahriar Nazim Joy - came out from his private-dine-space and spoke with the two ladies with peak-hospitality as well as affirmed, "For any cuisine, we have chef. You can present your desired menu without any worry." The guests' lost smiles were recovered as they thought earlier it is only based on Indian cuisine. For party, and for specific number of people, rules can be turned towards customers' pleasure in The Chennai Express Restaurant.
Dessert-time! I short-listed three - Hot Golabjamon (BDT 100), Rash Malai (BDT 100), and Kulfi Malai (BDT 160). All are my favourite, hopefully others' favourite too. Yet, "Kulfi Malai" won the race as I cannot digest the three at a time. Moreover, conveyance is not free in the country. So wallet caught the grip of my lust.
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are, a famous quote by Savarin knocks my head now. What would he have told about me? Readers, go on thinking! I better feed my face again with The Chennai Express Restaurant. I forgot the Mixed Tandoori Platter that day!
Ahmed Tahsin Shams is with
The Daily Observer