I always wanted to do a post on Aliah hotel in Bentinck Street, right from the times I started off this blog. However, every time I would actually go there, I would always end up with one handicap or the other, and miss out on taking pictures. Or enjoy my meal. Or forget about watching what I ate.

The season is perfect for relaxing. It is perfect for a vacation by the sea, the waves crashing against the sand and dancing to the tune of lightning. It is perfect for getting drenched to the tip of your toes and loving every moment of it. This season is perfect for sitting in a coffee shop, drinking endless cups over chatter. Its perfect, period.

And yes, I am talking about my city. Sure. You can disagree. But I love the season. Its monsoon. The rains are here. Its making me happy, albeit giving me a permanently sore throat. But I love it all the same. The city is alive and moving under my watchful gaze, and I love watching every bit of it.

During Ramadan, in parts, the city sleeps until four in the afternoon, and then starts to come alive as the sun starts to go down the horizon. It was on one sleepy Thursday when we decided to go to New Aliah, to sample the season’s first Ramadan offering, the humble Haleem they make. Unfortunately, we forgot it was a Thursday, so most of the mutton dishes, including the mutton haleem (by the way, it was delicious, as I found out yesterday when I returned there!) were not available as per their shop policy. But, we still had an amazing time sampling a couple of their most popular dishes and stuffing ourselves with tasty food.

Interiors of the family AC segment.

And of course, the Haleem. For which, the three of us rode halfway through the city and walked up the narrow staircase to the family AC section upstairs, which was nearly empty around 6.00 p.m. All of us were starving, so we quickly ordered our meal, mostly without consulting the menu cars, since we had a fair idea about what we wanted to eat.

Chicken Haleem.

Our game was all about the Haleem first. Which came after a few minutes of wait, bowls of dark, yellow soup, with a thin film of fat on top. Generally, we are given a good bit of chopped cilantro leaves and lemon juice with it, but for some reason they were out of the cilantro, so our waiter just got us the lemon juice. We got the Chicken Haleem, since it was Thursday and mutton was not available, but it was, I have to admit, rather nice and comforting.

Salad.

The acidity of the lime cutting through the rich soup, with its chicken-y goodness, a soup so rich that you can actually feel like chewing a few times, this Haleem is going to settle in your stomach and make it anticipate more food. It has a great way of breaking a fast – a soup that has bits of meat in it to enrich it, but is essentially all about the mashed lentils and wheat inside, a carbohydrate-laden feast disguised as protein, extremely nourishing and perfect for the hungry soul.

Kolkata makes this in a way that is slightly different from its Hyderabad counterpart, making it with more lentils, and reminding me more of a daal gosht than a wheat-laden Haleem, but yes, that is what I wanted at this point.

With that, fat slices of onions, tomato, carrots, cucumber, chillies and a couple of beetroot slices was our salad. S immediately took away one of the chillies and asked me if she could steal some tomatoes and onions. They were nothing to write home about, but fresh and crisp, which scored massive points in my books.

I stole the lemon on top, and S looked around for it, for a few minutes, and then realizing where it has gone, fixed me with an accusing stare and furiously slurped her cold drink. I looked away, trying not to laugh as she vengefully speared a tomato, while dipping a side of a Tandoori Roti in her Haleem.

Mutton Biryani

I had targeted the Biryani next, and as the Mutton version was available, both me and IDG ordered Biryani and decided to split a Chicken Chaap between us, as we sort of realized that our eating capacity is not what it was before. My portion came with a piece of meat which was absolutely my favorite – from the leg, a piece of nalli with a lovely bit of meat attached to it.

The Biryani was light, not oily at all, yet moist. The rice was perfect – not mushy, not dry, long-grains with a fine bite to them… the balance is incredible. Same goes for the meat. Its perfectly cooked, falls apart as soon as your fork touches it, yet retains its shape perfectly.

The intra-mascular fat layer, i.e. the purdah, melts on the tongue, coating it with a burst of umami flavors that hits all the right notes.

A cooked egg comes with it, and although its nothing more than a boiled egg, its still a treat to eat an egg with your Biryani and feel naughty about messing up your daily protein quotient.

The potato, so typical of Kolkata Biryani, is tender, perfectly blending in the flavors of the rice, and adds a richness that is undeniably great. I know many people swear by places like Arsalan and Shiraz and Mezban when it comes to Kolkata Biryani, but Aliah would always hold a special place for me because of the essential simplicity with which they handle the biryani. The biryani is… how do I say it? It is made with a lot of love and not much spice, which makes the meat and rice the star of the show, putting all the faith on the duo.

Chicken Chaap.

The Chaap is dry, with oil and perfectly roasted masalas cooked together with the chicken. The meat is not very tender, but delicious all the same, and the taste is more subtle, but with a sudden sharpness here and there. Its a dish which will have to be an acquired taste, and although we demolish this with our Biryani, I would want this with a couple of Rumali Rotis and a few slices of onions and a couple of fat chillies.

Ze menu.

While eating, we experience a lovely scene, when the staff members of the restaurant join tables and sit together, breaking their fast after a long day at work as the sun goes down around 6.40 p.m., sharing bits of Haleem and roti and passing other food between them. We wait for a cup of tea which comes in after 7.00 p.m., the staff making us a cup after they have broken their fast, and S drinks the rest of her coke, and then its time to go. Our bill comes to somewhere around 650/- and for the three of us, its a very reasonable sum. I leave you with the menu card of New Aliah that we ordered from.

New Aliah Hotel (AC)
31 Bentinck St.
Kolkata – 700069

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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