I had hailed United Kitchens of India as “big, bold, and ambitious” during my first visit. While most restaurants struggle to maintain quality and consistency with just a single cuisine, UKI promises authentic delicacies from six cuisines spread across the country. Most of the dishes that I tried on my first outing made a strong impression, but a few things from the Bengali menu were disappointing. In the following months, UKI worked hard to improve the authenticity of its Bengali dishes, and I found signature dishes like Fish Kobiraji and Kosha Mangsho to be up to the mark during subsequent visits. Now, UKI is trying to take things to the next level with the addition of a few more specialties to its Bengali menu.
I was invited to a tasting session a few days back, and got an opportunity to experience the upcoming additions to the Bengali menu. First dish to arrive was the humble “Beguni”, a deep fried preparation of thinly sliced eggplant dipped into ground chikpea (besan) batter. Beguni is dish is available in almost every corner of Bengal, and it appears to be deceptively simple . However, the perfect Beguni requires a fair bit of technical prowess. While the outer coating is expected to be light and crunchy, the eggplant slice is expected to be moist, and slightly overcooked. I’ve had this dish at numerous outlets in the city, but UKI was the first to serve a perfect version of it. Next up was Mochar Chop – another exceptionally popular veg snack in Bengal. It’s a cutlet or a croquette made from banana blossom. Once again, UKI nailed the dish. The stuffing, which is prepared by mixing banana flowers and mashed potato with various spices in just the right quantities, was perfect.
New non-vegeterian additions include Murshidabadi Chicken and Fish Chop. Murshidabadi Chicken, which is prepared by pan grilling boneless chicken slices that are marinated in a special herb mixture, was popularized by Oh! Calcutta. The chicken was succulent, yet offered a hint of resistance – somewhat similar to the texture of a Chicken Satay. Fish Chop is a croquette prepared by dipping a mixture of boiled fish and spices into besan batter and breadcrumbs. UKI paired this dish with its unique curry mayo sauce, which is unusual, but delicious. Both the non-veg starters gave me little room for complaint, but it was one of those rare nights where the veg starters stole the limelight.
UKI’s resident celebrity mixologist Sharad Arora offered us two of his unique creations to wash down the starters – the Indian Punch and Apple Cider. The Apple Cider, which was presented in an unique and intriguing setup that’s best described by the pictures below, has the potential to become the next talk of the town. Both the mocktails used apple juice, and Indian spices like Cinnamon, but had distinct flavour profiles. The Indian Punch was richly infused with Indian spices and had a latent heat. The Apple Cider had generous amounts of butter, and had a dominant tangy taste that was wonderfully complemented by a sweet and slightly salty finish. Both of these warm drinks are great for a winter evening, but the Apple Cider undoubtedly stole the show.
For the main course we had Luchi (Wheat Flour Poori,) Koraishutir Kochuri (Luchi Stuffed with Green Pea paste), and Steamed Rice, served with Mocha Chingrir Ghonto, Fish Kaliya, Kosha Chingri, and Siraji Gosht. The Mocha Chingrir Ghonto, a dry vegetable mishmash with banana blossoms and prawns. This was perhaps the only disappointment of the evening. The mocha had probably been steamed a bit too much and had lost its texture as well as flavour. A dash of ghee would have also helped.
Although a “Kosha” is an essential part of Bengali cooking, I’ve never had the opportunity to have Bagda Chingri Kosha – Tiger Prawns cooked in thick, spicy, gravy. Tiger-prawns have a unique taste and texture that can’t be matched by smaller prawns, which often turn out to be chewy and devoid of flavour. While I have no prior exposure to this particular dish, the flavours seemed familiar – including the sweet finish that’s common to most Kosha preparations.
In my book, a Fish Kaliya ranks lower than a Sorshe (Mustard) or a Bhapa (Steamed) preparation. However, this mild curry is more newbie friendly, since it relies on ginger-garlic and other ingredients that would be familiar to the Indian palate. The Kaliya in UKI was how it should be, and offered no reasons for complaint.
The star dish of the night was Siraji Gosht, a rich mutton preparation with potatoes. Although the Gosht didn’t have a lot of heat, the Mughal influence meant that it had higher levels of spices than one would find in a typical dish from the western half of Bengal. This is a dish I had not heard of before, but it garnered universal acclaim, and has the potential to be one of the stars of UKI’s main course.
Some of the things that we tried, such as Beguni, can be currently served to patrons on request. However, most of the dishes will become available to the public as a part of a new menu that is still being worked upon. If UKI can consistently offer the quality that we experienced, then it will undoubtedly rank among the best restaurants in the city for Bengali Cuisine.