Food review: This Puja, Kwality merges Kolkata’s two most favourite dishes, biryani and chelo kebab
What happens when Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan get immersed in a duet? Or, what happens when Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd go on a rampage at the same time? Or, when soccer legends Pele and Garrincha would start moving up through the middle and rightwing in tandem? Or, when chelo kebab and biryani came together in a fusion item?
Using the Iranian delicacy chelo kebab and Kolkata’s signature biryani, Kwality, the grand old dame of Park Street has rustled up quite a stunner before the pujas. It has brought together two items that numerous residents of this city swear by and created a remarkable jugalbandi on the plate that is as novel in its appeal as it is free of sin (read oil).
Kwality has taken a part of both items and left out a part of both. You will find the long grains of aromatic rice along with half a potato and egg of the Kolkata biryani. But the pieces of well-cooked mutton or chicken have been replaced with chelo kebabs. The kebabs are exactly as they are in the familiar chelo kebab dish from which the butter cube on the top of a small portion of plain rice and a poached egg have gone missing.
But whatever is missing has been adequately compensated. The Maharaja Chelo Biryani comes loaded with mutton, chicken and fish kebabs. The item is remarkably low on oil thereby making it ideal for those with an obsession for low-grease food.
At the end of what is a substantive plate, you would be left with almost dry fingers and no sense of loss of not digging your finger into the rice, coming up with the well-cooked succulent piece of mutton (or chicken). The long chelo kebabs have replaced them well.
The stickler for gastronomic protocol might argue that a chelo biryani is neither chelo kebab nor biryani, destroying the epicurean possibilities of both. But incompatible as they might sound, it has turned out to be a happy marriage.
In Iran, special care is taken to prepare the heart of the item — the kebabs. Traditionally only lamb tenderloin is used and the cut is supposed to be special and delicate, something in which Iranian butchers specialise. Though the Indian variety does not go to that fanatical extent — there hardly seems to be the need for it perhaps — the kebabs are delectable that make great jugalbandi with the rice.
What is quite remarkable is that Kwality does not offer Chelo Kebab in its regular menu. You can take your pick from the four eclectic Biryani Chelo offerings that include Maharaja Biryani Chelo comprising mutton, chicken and fish kebabs, Mutton Biryani Chelo, Chicken Biryani Chelo and Subz Biryani Chelo.
Over the past few years, the biryani has been subjected to experiments that were both adventures and misadventures. Consider, for example, the prawn biryani and hilsa biryani. Kwality’s experiment is bold and it is likely that it will draw the food experimenters of a city that has always rewarded novel ideas. In the least, it takes the banality out of the biryani.
Even if doubting Thomases argue about a chelo biryani, the Murgh Purani Dilli is a certain killer, hardly leaving any room for polemics. The thick gravy of molten cheese with spices conceal magic that starts unfolding as it touches your taste buds. The meat is tender, quite evidently the result of slow cooking.
The restaurant has preserved another dish that has become quite a signature even in the non-veg paradise that Kolkata is. The Pindi Channa (a delectable chickpea dish) is as well-cooked and aromatic as it was almost half a century ago. It’s slightly dark in colour and is ideally suited for those who worship flour bread such as nun or kulcha. A dash of lemon and the pickled onion that Kwality serves complements this evergreen item.
The biryani chelos will be available only for the five days of the Pujas from October 22-26. Prices for the same start from Rs 295 onwards.