Park Street icons in Kolkata innovate as pandemic offers food for thought

Topics Kolkata | Coronavirus | restaurants

From the Metro exit if you stroll down Park Street, the original party hub of Kolkata, Trincas is one of the first places to greet you. For decades, this iconic stop has transported the Kolkata connoisseur to its glory days of live music and legendary singer Usha Uthup. Often one drops by just to pay obeisance to its past, get a beer and something to go with it.

But in this period of gloom for restaurants in the country, something has changed. The Park Street regular will notice this from the outside. The entrance, which long had an unassuming look stewed in nostalgia, now wears polished woodwork and a sign with the letters aglow that makes its invitation to the past look at ease with the changing present.

When one enters, the live-music stage is shaded by a velvet background; and there is a glow from under red lampshades that one only saw in Trincas’ glory days.

Anand Puri, partner at Trincas, explains that changes were afoot since late last year but the Covid-19 pandemic, with all its troubles, favoured a plan of renewing the landmark. “People love their history here. Whether you see the newspapers, magazines or the ardent discussions, there is always ample space for nostalgia.”

Late last year, Puri was figuring out how to re-infuse the aura of Trincas with its original charm and showcase it as a welcome dining destination for families. “I wanted to take inspiration from the past and take it forward,” he says.

For a start, Trincas got a new website in November. And an archiving plan, The Trincas Timeline Project, sought out people with memories to share.

One of the first stories Puri landed was one that had many hooked. A chance interaction led him to nuggets about Cinzio and Lilly Trinca, the original owners.

“They had moved back to Switzerland in 1959 and opened another tea room. They ran it for five years and then chose to retire comfortably. It was fascinating to know this bit of history, but I did not have the time to explore much else,” says Puri.

The pandemic came as an opportunity. And it gave plenty of time to think.

“The online initiatives were not so much of a sale but a gentle reminder of beautiful things — like amazing food, the music played at the restaurant, or a story from the 1950s,” says Puri.

The restaurant excavated old menus and reintroduced ala Kievs, stroganoffs and sizzler with a 1970s flavour.

“Even our signature Chinese dishes like drums of heaven have found new fans after the online dialogue,” he says, adding that with a new chef joining in, Trincas offered Thai cuisine post-lockdown.

Delivery is now a big feature, too, thanks to the coronavirus. The restaurant is focusing on food that travels well — Thai curries, meals-in-a-box like the chelo kebab, chicken stroganoff, baked lasagna and continental baked fish.

Classics at home

(What’s on the menu)

  • Thai cuisine; ala Kiev, stroganoff and sizzler with a ‘70s twist
  • Home delivery of favourites and meals-in-a-box
  • New outlet in Ekdalia, Gariahat (south Kolkata)
  • Home delivery of breads, cakes and English breakfast

The footfall now is about 40 per cent of the pre-pandemic levels, says Puri, and is improving every week.

Debolina Chatterjee, 37, an English professor, was bowled over on her first visit last week. “We ordered prawns in paprika sauce and chelo kebab. Both were brilliant. We tend to associate chelo kebab with Peter Cat (a Park Street landmark) but who knew Trincas is so good with it!” she gushes. Trincas, in her view, had the stereotype of a watering hole. “But this is now a myth. The food is amazing and the venue is well sanitised and child-friendly.”

Across the road, another favourite , Flurys, is also beating the pandemic blues with innovation and expansion.

While many have struggled to keep afloat, Flurys opened its 40th outlet (at Gariahat, South Kolkata) on October 20. For Flurys, lockdown triggered demand and facilitated home delivery of bakery products to most parts of the city.

“After the lockdown began on March 24, we made our main factory operational two days later with limited staff. The idea was to supply breads, which fall under the essential category,” says Rajesh Kumar Singh, director, Flurys.

As it began supplying breads to residential complexes, the numbers kept growing through mere word of mouth. “We started getting calls, and were soon producing and delivering over 3,000 pieces of bread daily,” Singh adds.

The business in most outlets of Flurys is closer to pre-Covid times, Singh claims. At its flagship store on Park Street, the visitors are back. “We haven’t held out any incentives, but we are following social distancing norms very strictly.” And sticking to an old rule — never rush a customer.

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