Native cuisine has always been an emotion for many. When you are away from your homeland, you often find it difficult to suppress the cravings for favourite dishes. The Bengali food enthusiasts in Australia, especially in Williamstown, have always had an option- Iconic restaurant, Calcutta Club, of Williamstown.
Unfortunately, the restaurant is going to be shut soon. The Calcutta Club in Williamstown has decided to close its doors. The announcement was made through their Facebook page.
“To all the Patrons of Calcutta Club, with a heavy heart, we must declare that ‘Tis the end of the only true Bengali cuisine in Australia’. We will no longer be operating due to a combination of factors. I hope we could bring some joy and hope in the hearts of the true Bengalis over the last five years. We sincerely thank everyone who has been a part of our extensive family and supported us throughout,” read their Facebook post.
Many food enthusiasts took to social media to express their grief.
“So sad to hear…Thanks for delicious Bengali food. Will especially miss the dab chingri,” Bishakha responded on Facebook.
“Never been more upset than this about a place closing down. Will dearly miss the biryani which I’ve been craving for since the last few days which by the way is the best in Australia,” said Christina.
“I know there are many people out there who are really heartbroken by our announcement, but I really had no option,” Bratadev Chatterjee, proprietor of Calcutta Club, told NRI Affairs.
“Calcutta Club was so successful because of the quality of the food we served. We have had a wonderful chef all these years, but now he is leaving. The pandemic-induced lockdowns have also dealt a severe blow to our business. We tried takeaways but it was costing us a lot. In the end everything became too much to handle, and we will need to shut shop.”
Bratadev who had come to Australia from India in 1997 as a student, completed a chef’s course and worked at the Hilton for a while. His life took a new turn when he met Shubhendu Malakar, a banker with National Australia Bank of Australia. Shubhendu who was very fond of Bengali food encouraged Bratadev to open up Calcutta Club in 2015 as an equal partner. Bratadev’s brother, Shane Chatterjee, a well-known restauranteur and owner of Ocean Grill, a very popular eating joint with the young and happening crowd of Kolkata, helped them find a good chef from Kolkata. Anupam Paul was young, eager to work and extremely adept at making traditional Bengali dishes and so, for a few years the business boomed.
Kati Rolls, kebabs, Dhonepata Kancha lonka Murgi (Chicken cooked with coriander leaves and green chilli), the Kolkata Chilli Chicken, Chicken Chaap, Mutton Rezala, Golbarir Kosha Mangsho (spicy goat curry named after Golbari, a Kolkata-based small heritage eatery), Bhetki Paturi (fish marinated in mustard and coconut paste, steamed in banana leaf), Ileesh Shorshey and of course the ever-popular Kolkata Dum Biryani were the main attractions of Calcutta Club.
According to the NRI Affairs report, the first jolt to the business came when Subhendu left the country all of a sudden, citing his father’s ill health, never to return or even take Bratadev’s calls. Subhendu had allegedly misbehaved with the chef, causing him to leave and, according to Bratadev, left a huge debt of $150,000 for the business to handle. There were also issues of alleged non-payment to suppliers, unpaid rents and salaries. Reeling from shock and disappointment, the report added that it was the first time Bratadev had thought of closing down the business.
However, three Sikh men came forward and offered to buy a part of his business, thereby easing the pressure of debt from his shoulders. Also, the chef, Anupam, returned to work. For a while it seemed the business had been saved. And then the pandemic hit.
“The lockdowns were a very difficult time for us. Williamstown is usually filled with visitors but the pandemic took that away. We started takeaway orders but realised it was very difficult to sustain,” said Bratadev.
“I don’t want to give up completely. I could open a restaurant or even a takeaway joint anywhere in South-eastern Melbourne because I feel that is where most traditional Bengali families reside. So perhaps in the Glen Waverly or Mount Waverley area, who knows. I will have to arrange for another cook from Kolkata maybe,” he said.