Last November 2017 I purchased two £20 Time Out vouchers to enjoy brunch at this "authentic" Bengali restaurant on Sunday 3rd December. Due to poor health and bad weather conditions I had to cancel my original booking which I rescheduled for the evening of January 5th, the only date me and my friend managed to synch diaries. Prior to confirming this second booking, I intentionally double checked the restaurant would not object us using a brunch voucher against an evening meal. I was assured there would be no problems. However, upon arrival to Calcutta Street in the evening of January 5th we were told that unfortunately we had been misinformed and wouldn't be able to use our vouchers as promised over the phone. None of the staff members on duty that evening had been kept in the loop of our booking specifications. All they were willing to offer to compensate was a 20% discount on their dinner menu if so inclined instead. Obviously, that was not an option me and my friend were keen on exploring. After consultation with (we assumed) the chef and a subsequent call to (we assumed) the manager, it was agreed the original expiry date of our vouchers (6th January) would be exceptionally extended for an extra week and ended up making a third reservation for brunch for14th January. To note that with the exception of a couple quietly having dinner, the premises were totally empty, which we found a bit bizarre considering most restaurants in the area tend to be fully booked on a Friday evening...
On January 14th I arrived at Calcutta Street at 1:20 pm. By the entrance, two guys smoking. No lights inside. No signs of much activity either. Is the restaurant open at all?, I ask myself. The two guys move away. Are they staff or just passing by? I walk into the restaurant. Deserted. No customers, no staff. Suddenly, the two guys just mentioned walk in and, without acknowledging me, climb down the stairs leading to the basement to alert whoever is on duty that there is a customer waiting upstairs. Soon after a waitress turns up. She appears to be one of the staff members we had already met the evening of January 5th. I begin to feel a bit more relaxed. Not so sure about how empty the whole place looks again though. And why are the lights not on?
My friend arrives and, without much hesitation, we order. She will have the Peter Cat Chello Kebab (English breakfast, Calcutta style with rice and butter). I will go for the Dimer Bhurji (Calcutta style spiced scrambled eggs cooked with tomato and herbs, served with buttered buns and smoked salmon). Roasted tomatoes and bacon to be shared as sides. When asking for clarification on the Peter Cat Chello Kebab, the waitress’s lack of knowledge on the menu I find rather appalling. Though difficult to describe, she assures us the dish consists of "some sort" of omelette with "some sort " of meat. Quite often chicken. Who would dispute that?
Two glasses of Prosecco later, we are served some Bombay Mix. Yes, indeed... that savoury snack you can get for roughly a pound at Tesco's. The unexpected treat comes with a likewise unexpected apology: there is a problem in the kitchen... so sorry for the delay. To note that in the interim the two 'mysterious' guys of earlier on keep on popping in and out of the restaurant for reasons beyond my understanding. Who are they? Kitchen staff? If so, why are they not dressed adequately? Whichever their connection with the restaurant is, their customer services skills are appalling. On one of the occasions, they come into the restaurant, one of them hands the waitress a receipt before he disappears down to (we assume) the kitchen. It is dead quiet down there anyway...
At 2:30 pm (an hour after having placed our orders), our food arrives. Bland and dry scrambled eggs, smoked salmon straight from the packet and an inedible buttered burger bun. My friend gets served three small pieces of skewered chicken with two spoonfuls of unseasoned white rice, three slices of cucumber and some julienne-cut red and green pepper. No Calcutta style to be found. Where is the "some sort" of omelette?, we wonder. The sides dishes I will spare you the details... An hour of wait nibbling on Bombay mix to get served the sort of food I could have at any of my local diners for £5 and impeccable customer services??? By now another member of staff has made an appearance and fixes similar eating options for himself and the waitress. They eat and chat by the counter whilst trying to engage in conversation with us every now and then. I find that quite disruptive.
Neither my friend nor I finish our orders, needless to say. Upon being prompted with feedback on our food, we politely admit we are frankly disappointed as our expectations hadn't been met at all. The waitress then reveals the chef had not been able to come into work... Seriously? Is that the ‘kitchen issue’ she had remarked to account for the delay to serve us??? So who cooked our meal??? One of the unfriendly chain-smokers? The look on our faces must have sent alert signs to their heads as they immediately offer to compensate us with a 20% on our bill next time we book a table with them (deja-vu?). As we stand up to leave, they have the audacity to ask whether we would like to give a 12.5% discretionary service charge... Service??? What kind of service? We refuse and leave the restaurant. Eagerly as well as fuming. To note that for as long as were in Calcutta Street, we were the only customers. Quite telling, I guess.
I understand Shrimoyee Chakraborty, founder and chef of Calcutta Street, opened a sister Bengali street food restaurant in Brixton last summer. Maybe she should keep an eye on her "first-born" before expanding any further.