The new Bengali restaurant in Bandra, Bong Bong claims to serve Bengali food with a European touch. Shirin Mehrotra tries it out.
We are past that stage when Bengali cuisine stopped at macher jhol, thanks to so many Bengali restaurants in the city. With only memories of eating baingan bhaja and Mustard fish curry as a child, we decided to explore this new twist in the tale and invited the Bengali food blogger Reema to join us for dinner at Bong Bong.
Half an hour after Bong Bong opened its doors to people, this small cosy restaurant with a laidback, informal feel made us stop and take in its decor, which can only be summed up as ‘all things Bengali’. From the rustic kerosene lamps lighting up the place, the 60’s styled Philips radio, an old typewriter and a Borolene advertisement. The last one made Reema jump with excitement and reach into her bag to show me the box of Boroline she still totes around.
There’s a small outdoor and an indoor seating area. As much as we wanted to sit outside, the overwhelming aromas of Khane Khaas made us rethink that decision and we walked into the air-conditioned section of Bong Bong.
While they seem to strike the right chord the decor, the music playlist could use some attention. We were amused with Punjabi ‘jugni’ that was playing unabashed as we settled in.
There is no final menu yet, as owner Kanika Mohan Saxena explained. They plan to change the menu everyday for a week to know what works best. For now, there was a printout with categories like Tuk Tak, Mohabhoj and thhandaaaaah.
We picked out the Green pea nuggets (Rs 219), Cheese and spinach croquettes (Rs 312), Mango pickle steamed fish (Rs 239) and the Fried fish (Rs 319). Service was quick and friendly at this one-hour-old restaurant, we are happy to report. While Reema filled me in on food tales from Bengal, we snacked on the Tuk Tak or light bites.
The delicately steamed fish came wrapped in a strong mustard paste, the kind that’s usually used in a spicy mango pickle. The generous use of mustard gave a nice kick, which is characteristic to most Bengali fish preparations. The fried fish on the other hand was a tad overcooked and had become mushy under the crisp coating of masala. Reema, a vegetarian, appreciated the green pea nuggets; deep fried nuggets and green pea balls. They weren’t laden with spices except for a dash of cumin. The cheese and spinach croquettes weren’t too impressive. All of these dishes were served with a tomato mustard sauce, inspired by Kashundi – a dip usually made with turmeric, lemon, chillies and mustard oil. Bong Bong’s version was a mix of mustard and tomato sauce, which tasted too much like good old ketchup.
While deciding the main course we spotted Plastic Chutney (Rs 69) and were intrigued and amused all at the same time. Reema described that it’s a traditional dish made of thinly sliced raw papayas boiled in sugar syrup. Oddly named perhaps, but the name comes from the fact that thin slivers of raw papaya are cooked until they turn almost transparent and look like a wad of mangled plastic strips dunked in sugar syrup. We didn’t need any coaxing, and promptly ordered this one.
For the main course, Reema picked Cauliflower and Peas in a creamy coconut curry with saffron rice (Rs 279) while I set my sights on the Green Chilli Mutton with paratha (Rs 329). When the plastic chutney arrived, we weren’t disappointed. While it really looked like plastic, Reema suggested we try some, with a sprinkle of roasted cumin powder. Advice, we were happy to take, with great results. The toasty jeera really brought out the flavour of the sugary sweet papaya beautifully.
The cauliflower and peas cooked in slightly sweet gravy of cream, coconut milk, and poppy seed paste was served with mildly flavoured saffron rice. The subtle flavour of coconut added to the light and creamy texture of the gravy and for a second we almost forgot about the mutton we had ordered. According to the menu, the green chilli mutton was cooked in green chillies but surprisingly, it wasn’t tear jerking spicy, as we anticipated, and someone with a low spice tolerance would happily wolf this down. The dish came with two parathas.
While the layered parathas were buttery and crispy, the mutton didn’t have a distinct flavour. The portion, however, was good enough for two people with a moderate appetite. While Reema wiped her plate clean, I was wondering if I should have opted for a fish or prawn curry instead. With spoonfuls of plastic chutney in between, we finished every bite of our interesting dinner.
Getting into the zing of things, we wanted to conclude our meal with some mishti and ordered the Baked Roshogolla (Rs 79). Instead of being dipped in chashni or sugary syrup, it was served in Mishti Doi – sweetened yogurt. The baking process made the roshogullas tough and didn’t add anything except for a little brown colour. If you like picking up a whole chashni-dripping roshogolla and eating it in one bite, we suggest eating this elsewhere.
We enjoyed our meal, but apart from the presentation and mellowed spice content, we couldn’t find much of the promised European touch anywhere. The experience doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, we say Bong Bong is worth a shot.
Must try – Mango pickle steamed fish, Cauliflower and Peas in creamy coconut curry, plastic chutney (with cumin powder).
Meal for two – Approx Rs 1200 + taxes (without alcohol)