A heavy dose of nostalgia kicks in once you enter Sonar Tori at Kolkata’s Salt Lake City Centre. Especially if you are a Bengali staying away from Bengal. Steeped in the elite babu culture that Renaissance Bengal was famed for, every corner of this 82-seater fine diner, launched two months ago, is awash with that classic, colonial ambience.
Decorated by artist Narayan Chandra Sinha, every inch of the restaurant showcases the creative flight of this master artist. With the unique ability to turn the mundane into majestic, Sinha has created artworks that take your breath away. Indeed, to create a scintillating light installation for the ceiling out of 268 inverted spittoons, one needs an acute sense of creative cleverness. The lavishness of yesteryear Bengal is flaunted with a flourish at Sonar Tori—the Bengal that ate out of gleaming ‘kasha’ (bell metal) utensils, where Hindustani classical music permeated through the walls of the bonedi badis and where a languid charm infused everyday existence.
This is actually the second outlet of Sonar Tori. The first one is in Raichak at Ganga Kutir, beside the River Ganges. Says Sinha, “It took me nine months and products from all over the country to get this look. I made up for the lack of natural surroundings by incorporating a lot of Bengal’s flora as elements of décor. One instance is the brass installation of the banana plant in the reception area.”
There are two private dining rooms here. One of them has red velvet and brocade walls and upholstery and an installation made of old bedposts lighting up a table for 10. The other has a purple palette with a bed frame holding lampshades clustered together like flowers lighting up the table for eight and old Benarasi saris on the wall. Flowers have been thrown in with abundance in every nook and corner of the lobby that is lit up by an opulent chandelier.
To continue the aura of opulence, paintings and posters of archival value adorn the walls, and rich handwoven tapestry finds company in beautiful antique wooden furniture.But all this effort would be just fluff and fancy if the eatery did not serve heavenly food. They do. The Bengali thali has a gobsmacking 16 dishes and the combos change every four days. Lunch here is all about that mindblowing non-veg thali for `850 plus taxes (they serve a compact corporate thali as well). During dinner, you would get that too, along with choices from the a la carte menu, curated with love by chefs Swarup Chatterjee, Sumanta Chakraborty and Bhaskar Dasgupta.
Some of the preparations will surprise you, for sure. Like mochar aamshol, chapra ghonto, bhindi tok, pur bhora bhetki, bhuna mangsho and desi murgir kosha. Lost recipes from the zamindari as well as the agrarian classes (you will find authentic dishes made in today’s humble homes as well, like maacher dimer bora, topshe fry, maajhir ilish jhol and so on) have been revived. These are preparations that bring together East and West Bengali cuisine gloriously.
Clearly, this place is an ode to the culture Bengal is celebrated for—the land of sweet music and melodious language, the land of art and aesthetics. A place that reminds you that a Bangali babu wears his love for hedonism on his sleeve and makes no bones about it.