25-B Park Street, Kolkata, 700016
Chateaubriand steak for two. Sizzlers. Baked Alaska. Grilled Bekti. Prawn cocktail. Devils on horseback. What I love about Mocambo is that you can enjoy its impossibly recherche menu with no sense of irony: it’s days of the Raj with a vengeance, from the smudgy paintings to the red leather couches in those trademark booths. You still find an odd assortment of characters here, from dedicated gluttons’ clubs to jazz musicians who still sport the Dylan look.
1) Hors d’oeuvres for two: Though some of what’s on offer comes perilously close to MFK Fisher’s “disgusting vision… of soggy vegetables glued together with cheap mayonnaise”, ask for this anyway. The asparagus–tinned, limp, a dubious shade of green, served with ersatz Edam–is dispiriting. But the Russian salad, tuna salad and prawn cocktail are grandly old-world, and very good–if heavy on the cream. And the slices of ham with hard boiled eggs and pickles are simple but excellent–there’s enough here to make a filling meal on its own.
2) The steaks: If these were good enough for my late grandmother, who liked her beef but was picky about the quality of her steak, they’re good enough for me. The waiter looks dourly at those who order their steaks well-done, and fetches off with the air of a man who will now ask the chef to pick out and broil a suitable shoe. Order yours medium-rare, though, and he will make sure you get a good bit of meat. The mushroom/ black pepper sauces are splendidly old-world, and in our beef-and-pork starved country, the ham steaks are suitably juicy, though I wish Mocambo’s would run to an onion marmalade or a sharp mustard sauce instead of the tiresome Hawaiian sludge on offer.
3) The baked, devilled crab: Cholesterol unfriendly, but gloriously redolent of the days when pukka sahibs sacrificed their arteries in a good cause. Mocambo’s has been known to eke out the crab with a pasty white sauce on days when they’re full up, but arrive and order early, and you should get the real thing–heavy with cheese and cream, but generous with the crabmeat, and utterly irresistible.
4) The orange crepes/ the Baked Alaska: Like ghosts from the past, these two dishes come straight from nursery memories, and Raj-era cookbooks. Mocambo’s Baked Alaska is huge, satisfyingly cold and not oversweet; the orange crepes have an uncompromising slice of generic vanilla ice cream fattening the middle, but offer a sharp, delectable sauce with classic pancakes.
One of these days, I fear that the Mocambos and Olympias of venerable Calcutta will have given way to new-wave restaurants with less gloom and more sharply contemporary menus. Before that dark day arrives, I hope to eat my way through the Mocambo menu, savouring each bite of nostalgia. The accompanying vegetables may be boiled to within an inch of their lives, the sizzlers might cremate whatever’s on the platter, but stick to the old-fashioned stuff and you can’t go wrong. Besides, where else would a four-course meal for six, drinks included, run to the risible sum of Rs 3,000?