If you want to sample some lip-smacking dishes of north India that are available along the Grand Trunk Road, which connects Kolkata with Kabul in Afghanistan, take a sturdy car, at least a fortnight of leave from office, and get prepared to drive for about 4,000 km. Or simply step into We.Desi.
Tucked away on the fifth floor of a landmark white building in Kolkata’s upscale Camac Street, We.Desi offers a range of authentic Indian fare, which is available in cities and towns that lie along India’s most famous road rebuilt and renovated by Sher Shah Suri in the 15th century.
The nine-month-old We.Desi is the brainchild of Shivangi Bhambani, a 27-year-old economist-turned-entrepreneur. A Punjabi born and brought up in Chandigarh, Shivangi hated the way Punjabi food tastes in dhabas in Kolkata, which became her home after she married Nikhil Bhambani, scion of Shehnaz Group of Hotels, which also owns We.Desi.
“There are either dhabas or fine dining places in this city, which lack mid-range, comfortable joints with good food. The basic gravies taste awfully different. What we call Chana Bhatura up north is completely here. That’s when the idea of coming up with We.Desi struck. Initially, the plan was to offer authentic North Indian dishes, but Nikhil insisted on offering a pan-Indian gastronomic experience,” explains Shivangi.
We.Desi’s 3,000 square feet seat 110 people. Done up in black, white and grey with wrought iron furniture, and black and white pictures of Indian royalties adorning the walls, the gastro pub has a very stoic look; the monotony is broken with the splash of colours on your plate.
For the starters is the Himachali roadside bun samosa ghugni, Delhi’s bread pakodas, shakarkandi chaats and bharwan golgappas. Instead of soups, there are the typical Awadhi clear soups, shorbas, and an authentic fare of vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs. The Grand Trunk buffet during lunch hour, which started in March, is popular with regulars and corporates. Each week, cuisines of a different region, city or state are offered. “We had cuisines from Lahore, Bengal, Sindh, Punjab, Bihar and Odisha. This week it’s Amritsar,” says Shivangi. Priced at `549 per person, the buffet offers a beer, vegetarian and non-vegetarian chaats, and shorbas. There is a live counter rustling up starters and four vegetarian and four-non vegetarian main courses with rotis or rice. There are also four to six desserts. A dinner for two costs around `1,000.
For those with less appetite, there’s khichda, made at midnight in Delhi’s dhabas by cooking all the leftovers together.
Shivangi now plans to open small food joints across the city. To be called We.Desi Express, these will sell regional snacks and chaats along with khichda. The first such centre opens next month. “We have also started outdoor catering with Pao stations serving vada, keem and anda pao, and khichda stations,” she says.
“One must read the pulse of diners and keep adding or eliminating options. From next month, we are planning to open Curryaki stations, chef’s live counter table, similar to Teppanyaki in Oriental food, to add that extra zing,” says Shivangi.