Shrimoyee Chakraborty opened her first permanent restaurant, Calcutta Street, on west London's Tottenham Street last month, having run several successful pop-ups. Poppy Treadaway talks to her about the inspiration behind the idea, the importance to her of Bengali traditions and the success of her blog.
What gave you the inspiration to open Calcutta Street?
What lessons have you learned from operating pop-ups and how do you plan to incorporate these into the permanent restaurant?
First, be hospitable - if people are paying for my food, then I should treat them well. My first pop-up was disastrous in terms of customer service because I was trying to do everything by myself - I didn't have money for staff. I learned my lesson though.
Second, I think the main reason people liked my food is because I never compromised on quality. This is easier in pop-ups than in restaurants, but I'm willing to make less profit so I don't compromise on food quality.
And lastly, with each pop-up, I raised the bar further when it came to experimenting, with crazy dishes that people had never tried. London is a city that is ready for anything.
Why do you think you've had such a strong response to your blog, Shrimoyee's Scrapbook?
I think people like the authenticity. I hardly ever get anyone to proofread my posts, and my early posts were webcam videos shot in my kitchen. But people supported me back then, which gave me the confidence to continue and produce higher-quality content.
How would you describe Calcutta Street?
The atmosphere at Calcutta Street will be like me - modern London mixed with hints of Calcutta. Our logo is very modern but the lines in the font are inspired by Calcutta shutters. However, the food is going to be 100% Bengali home-cooking - no compromises!
Are there any dishes that stand out to you on the menu?
I can confidently say that most of my menu can't be found in any other London restaurants. Kaankrar jhaal (crab kari) is a traditional Bengali dish, or lal saag (a vegetarian dish made with red spinach) is a dish you'll only find in a Bengali home.
You aim to introduce a range of classic Bengali drinks. Where did you find the inspiration for these?
When I was little, all I was allowed to make were shorbots, which are like mocktails. Now I will be making cocktails out of my favourite childhood drinks with Bengali ingredients.
Have your family and Bengali traditions had a big influence on your vision of Calcutta Street?
Since I moved away, the only way to stay close to my family has been through traditions. Calcutta Street is me trying to build my Bengali home in London.
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