Biriyani and Calcutta have been going hand in hand since the Nawabs from Awadh set their foot in the British capital. Royal Indian Hotel in Chitpur is more than a century old (110 years) and has made its mark as arguably the best Biriyani and Chaap in the city. For those unfamiliar with the idea of a Chaap, I’d suggest a quick tour of Royal in Calcutta for this divine experience. Mutton Chaap is an item invented by the Mughals, using the ribs of a goat to their best faculty. While most recipes tend to serve the flat beaten Chaap pieces as a whole , Royal has its own way of chopping them with the ribs to bite size pieces in a delectably rich gravy of its own fat. They have begun catering Chicken Chaap as well, which is a gross misnomer as the birds are not blessed with generous ribs that ooze the same taste and flavour. On our previous visit to Calcutta, M and I were determined to try this heavenly pair of Biriyani and Chaap from Royal, still in quest of the best biriyani in our home city.
Address: 147, Rabindra Sarani, Bara Bazar, Calcutta – 700073 / 24A, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Diagonally opposite to Quest Mall, Park Circus
Contact: 033 22681073, 9903369147
USP – Biriyani, Mutton Chaap, Firni
Royal is one of those serious no-nonsense no-frills old-school ‘hotels’ which don’t believe in fancy decor. It’s an eatery with heavy wooden tables and straight-backed chairs with just a jug of water on the table. Located in the busiest and congested wholesale market of Calcutta (Chitpur/Barabazar), the restaurant is cramped for space. The floor above has been renovated and added to the restaurant as I’m told. There’s a separate air-conditioned hall with slightly hiked food prices.
Once you reach Royal braving the serpentine lanes and heavy traffic, the thelas and vans with huge sacks of spices, condiments, and grains inching their way to the respective godowns, the slow moving buses and taxis, people jostling for space and rushing past – you wouldn’t worry about ambience at all. Instead, you’d be glad to reach Royal, sit beside a huge pedestal fan and wait for your biriyani watching other eaters gloat in the comfort of their food as well.
I’d start with a disclaimer that this review is purely based on the Biriyani and Chaap that we had. Royal doesn’t boast a big booklet of menu like most new age restaurants, but a humble single page enough to satiate its customers. Our Modus Operandi was to attack the Biriyani and dissect it based on all parameters. Reaching the hotel on a moderately hot afternoon after quite a hectic commute, all we wanted was comfort. So, the order comprised of a Mutton Biriyani each for M and I, one Mutton Chaap, one Firni (for me) and two soft drinks to gulp down the richness.
When you order Biriyani, do keep in mind that it is prepared in huge handi or degchis in batches. If you’re lucky enough, your plate of biriyani will arrive within five minutes, just cut and served from the handi. If the handi is exhausted, another one on dum will be opened when it’s done, cut and served. That might take a few minutes depending on the duration of dum it has been kept on and in any well mannered restaurant, the waiter will inform you of the delay due to this reason. This is a golden rule to be remembered while you’re having biriyani. Don’t let any restaurant conjure a trick when they ask you to wait while the biriyani is being ‘prepared.’ There’s nothing to prepare or garnish in a plate of biriyani while the customer is waiting at the table.
Our biriyani arrived even before the apprentice waiter could get us the soft drinks from the kitchen fridge. Sufficient in quantity for one, fluffy and lightly fragrant Khushka served over a succulent piece of meat and a few small koftas, Royal’s biriyani is a delight. We were overwhelmed by the lightness of the Khushka and the mild aroma, thankful of the cooks for not smearing our plates with the heady fragrance of Meetha Attar. As a Calcuttan, I was certainly sad with the absence of a boiled egg and potatoes in the biriyani, but the sheer beauty of taste at Royal compensated it. We loved the Chaap as it was evidently the best we’ve ever had. Royal has a chacha perched on his seat for the entire day at the front of the hotel with his paraphernalia of Chaap – a huge tilted deg on slow fire that churns out the Mutton Chaap simmering in its own juice and fat before it is served.
The biriyani and chaap together would create a riot in your mouth, not clammering to assert their individual tastes, but complementing each other beautifully. I loved the Firni too, it’s one of my most favourite Indian desserts and is a rarity in the western part of the country where I reside now. Royal’s Firni is better than Arsalan’s, that I can assure you.
What I didn’t like
There isn’t much to dislike. We had the Chaap twice in a week and the second one had a plateful of bones mostly. That’s our only grievance.
Impeccable and old school. There’s an old chacha presiding over young waiters and taking care of each table. You just have to utter your order and chacha will look after it very soon.
My rating: 4.5/5
Have you ever been here? Let me know how you liked it.
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