It’s not very often a new restaurant comes along that has the air of a Wes Anderson movie, a tiger above the bar, and dried grass patio umbrellas reminiscent of Gilligan’s Island.
Calcutta Cricket Club is the latest restaurant venture from a team called Thank You Hospitality, who are behind Native Tongues Taqueria (and the almost-open Two Penny Chinese at 1213 1st St. S.W.) — Cody Willis, Shovik Sengupta, Amber Anderson and Maya Gohill.
In the space that was most recently Bar C — on 17th Avenue between Anju and Cilantro — the modern Indian eatery draws inspiration from the complex geography and cosmopolitan, multifaceted cultural cuisine of West Bengal, and particularly its capital, Calcutta.
The place is cool and casual, with a front and side patio. It’s open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., later on Friday and Saturdays, for the bar snacks and cocktail crowd, although the dishes range from small to substantial.
Local artist Maya Gohill drew from her own Parsi and Gujarati roots to emulate a 60s social club feel for her first interior design project.
“It has a tropical, colourful vibe. Lots of rattan, pinks and turquoise, which you see a lot in India,” Gohill says. “There’s a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe going on, and a few other influences. I grew up watching the Golden Girls, Fantasy Island and Gilligan’s Island.”
“In India, there are a bunch of old Raj-era colonial clubs that are still around,” says Sengupta.
‘Strip all the pomp and exclusivity out’
“One is called the Calcutta Cricket Football club. A couple of my uncles are members there. They’re definitely not as ornate and beautiful as they used to be, and they’re not as elite. It’s very much like, ‘Let’s go to the club and hang out.’ We wanted to strip all the pomp and exclusivity out of the experience.”
The result is an old gentleman’s club meets Fantasy Island, with a few Golden Girls at the bar.
The menu — made up of bar snacks, meats and veggies from the clay oven and grill, curries and kati rolls — is inspired not only by the region and its eateries, from street food to social clubs, but by the group’s relatives. Sengupta’s family is from Calcutta, Gohill is part Parsi, part Punjabi, and chef Rene Bhullar is Punjabi.
One hallway pays homage to their collective roots with framed black-and-white vintage family photos.
“Most of the Indian food you find in western countries is from Northern India. You can get some southern Indian food, but the east is very underrepresented,” says Sengupta.
Their kati rolls, classic Calcutta/Bengali street food, are made with paratha (soft, thin flatbread), fried in oil, filled with tandoori skewered meats (they have a tandoor oven to make naan, roast meats and veggies), onions, green chiles, chaat masala and lime, wrapped in paper and served with Maggi hot and sweet sauce on the side.
‘All about rituals and celebrations’
Chicken Rezala, a royal white curry with aromatic spices, yogurt, cashews and saffron, is rare on restaurant menus outside Calcutta. The bite-sized chili chicken is a spicy-sweet take on a hakka classic. Calcutta has a large Chinese community.
There’s also a small trophy section of more substantial entrees, including tandoor roasted fish that changes daily, Bengali braised lamb shank, and bison biryani served table side.
“India is all about rituals and celebrations,” says Sengupta, “so these are the dishes people eat when they sit down to celebrate.”
Perhaps the best part? At the bottom of the menu, credit is given to various aunties and other family members.
The bar program was put together by Stephen Phipps, who has previously opened up bars for the Concorde Group (Model Milk, the Bourbon Room) and is now the bar director at Calcutta Cricket Club.
With a British influence, the cocktails are very gin-centric.
“We just want them to be fun, light, easy drinking, and go well with the food,” says Willis. “Crushable, with Indian flavours and notes to them.”
Nice vibe, great cocktails, beautiful space
The wine list is heavy on the whites, and they have a good beer list. Both pair well with Indian food.
“We wanted to create a place you could go that has a really nice vibe, great cocktails, a beautiful space, to see people and be seen,” says Sengupta.
“Calcutta is such a cosmopolitan city, with so many waves of influences from different places. This place is just a great combination of amazing things.”