Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 7, Issue 21, Tuesday, May 22, 2012




London Diary

By Neeman Sobhan

While packing my overnight case for my weekend trip I check the weather forecast for London. Unsurprisingly, it says: rain. But when this Roman lands at Heathrow, a few rays of smuggled sunshine from my bag escape into the city, and by the time I am outside the airport, the sky is an Italian tenor belting out: O! Sole Mio!

My girlfriend picking me up in her car and driving me to her flat near Finchley Road shakes her head in disbelief. It was overcast this morning, she says. You brought….this, she looks at the sun suspiciously.

I accept all responsibility, and looking around I find that in spite of the Georgian townhouses we pass and the iconic red Double-Decker buses (even if they are not the old Routemasters) plying the road around us, there is something un-English about this weather. And we know we will be punished tomorrow for today's golden gift.

Sure enough, next day we are plunged into a gloom worthy of Dickens' dreariest chapters on London. From my bed I can hear the downpour and try to recall in which novel he said “the rain ran wildly, and beat at the great door, like a swift messenger rousing those within.”

I rouse, and wish I had time today to go see his house on Doughty Road in Bloomsbury now turned into a museum. Outside, the outpouring simmers down and merely drizzles companionably on my way to Swiss Cottage Tube station. Thank God, I am catching the Jubilee line straight to Southwark.

It is said that Shakespeare and Marlowe may have lived around this area, working with theatres in this neighbourhood. But that's not why I am here, sniffing their trail. I am here to attend a writer's workshop at the Jerwood Space, well known for its gallery and art related events.

I am a bit early, so walking down Union Street I stop at the brightest looking café I find in the neighbourhood. The name pulls me. It was fated! The Charles Dickens Freehouse. It has nothing to do with Dickens, I am sure, but it makes me feel closer to literary London, however ersatz!

The workshop, organised by 'Spread the Word' is time well spent. I enjoy meeting the Bridport and Fish award winning short story writer Vanessa Gebbie, and the other writers. Although I learn little that I do not already know (my soul instinctively sceptical about some of the dos and don'ts of craft discussed) some valuable insights are shared and reinforced making the workshop worthwhile.

Above everything is the feeling of solidarity and community generated; and I for one sorely need the company of other English writers like an opened can of coke needs fizz. I return to my friend's flat with my inner batteries recharged and my hair damp from the damn drizzle.

So what does one do in London when one has only a day and a half left and when one has been to this city many times? Well, one…Oh! For crying out loud, will someone please ask this chap to step off my column? I mean who cares what Mr. One does? I'll tell you what I do with my remaining time.

I spend a luxurious morning at the nearby Waterstone bookstore; walk the high street and lunch at a pub. Making plans for dinner, we pass Hampstead's or Golders Green's famous Spaniard's Inn (once frequented by Dick Turpin, the infamous highwayman) but I've been there before so we dine at the charming Little Bay restaurant on Belsize Road.

On the way back we drive through Keat's Grove near Belsize Park past the house where the famous poet lived for a while, engaged to his neighbour Fanny Brawne, composing in the back garden “An Ode to the Nightingale” and other famous poems before going to Rome to die uncured from his Tuberculosis.

I sigh, not just for Keats but also because I wish I had the time to do a literary London pilgrimage one day, visiting homes and places associated with various writers. Henry James at Mayfair and Kensington; George Bernard Shaw in Bloomsbury (later the home of Virginia Woolf and the 'Bloomsbury Group'); Arthur Conan Doyle's rooms on Baker Street, birth place of Sherlock Holmes, etc. But that will be another trip.

Meanwhile, I make time to meet some real life friends in town and see two films. Both relax me. One is the India-based 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and the other 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'.

After hours of reading the over-stimulating Ali Smith on my Kindle; perusing miles of book blurbs at Waterstone; and the day before at the workshop, analysing a brutal award winning short story that starts with rape and ends on such an unflinching yet bravura black note, that by the time I settle down in the cinema seat with a tub of popcorn, I want nothing more from life but to be entertained and comforted.

I don't care that Salmon Fishing director Lasse Hallström (of 'Chocolat' etc. fame) gets short shrift from some Highbrow reviewers in the Guardian. I am unrepentantly unabashed to be Middlebrow about my film viewing and recommend these feel-good films. Come on, one can't be serious all the time. Well, perhaps, tiresome Mr. One can; I don't have to, especially since my short and sweet London weekend is already over.

Next time, instead of a page from my diary, I hope I can give my readers impressions of my visit to Seething Lane Garden, near Fleet Street, the site of the home of the great English diarist, Samuel Pepys.

I end with this heart warming excerpt from his diary:

To the King's Theatre, where we saw "Midsummer's Night's Dream," which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.

Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine of Fridays.


A piece of Punjab

By Kaniska Chakraborty

My dear friend Annu is living her dream. She and her business partners have recently started a franchise of Chawla's in Calcutta.

So what is Chawla's, right?

It is an old institution that started in Ludhiana and has now spread across India. Butter chicken, tandoori chicken, fish tikka, roti and naan are some of their specialties. And something called cream chicken.

Annu was kind enough to invite my wife and me to the opening dinner of Chawla's. It is a lovely place near Golpark, on Fern Road, above Arambagh general store. A residential apartment turned into a cosy little eatery. We walked up narrow stairs that were made of red cement, a testimony to the age of the house. You do not see red cement any more.

A modern glass door opened to welcome us to a colourful, warm eating area. A short walk ahead, was a lovely glass enclosed balcony which has also been converted and the two-seater by the window is by far the pick of seats.

Large glass jars full of powdered colour was a nice nod to the colourful state that is Punjab. Soon enough food started coming.

The opening act of the evening was starters. Vegetarian in the form of the quaintly named Fifty Fifty. A mélange of creamy soft paneer and whole button mushrooms. Spices, mango powder and bold use of oven elevated the ordinary paneer to a rhapsody of contrast.

Soft, sweet texture coated with overtly spicy marinade with a distinct smoky overtone. Salty, spicy, sharp. It was everything paneer cannot be. And the whole mushrooms soaked in the spices to transform their meaty blandness into street food level deliciousness.

That was followed by Murg Malai Tikka. Soft pieces of chicken, expertly marinated in cream and done to near perfection. Just the right amount of char on the outside, although the inside was a little dry. I will put that down to the little kinks that first serving can throw up.

A fish tikka followed. And this just took the experience to a whole different level. While the Chawla's of North India are used to the firm fleshed surmai or rawas, here they had the famed bhetki to work with, which need much more TLC than the surmais and rawas.

The fish had the bold top note of ajwain (akin to thyme but much stronger), a strong support of flames that made a nice crust. And as the fork pierced, the fish effortlessly flaked into smaller pieces. Freshness personified.

Chawla's tandoori chicken is a nice diversion from the tried and tested ones in the sense that they serve a brown chicken and not a red one. The realness shines through.

After all these, just as we were contemplating calling it a night, out came the main course.

I'll skip over the malai corn as I find cream laden vegetarian dishes to be cloying and characterless. My problem, not the restaurant's.

The obligatory kali daal was also there, but sincerely, not outstanding. It lacked the boldness and the balance of the fish or the Fifty Fifty.

After a butter chicken which was nicely cream laced and thick gravied, out came the piece de resistance.

The cream chicken.

A beautifully balanced dish with black pepper spiked cream gravy. Nice juicy chunks of chicken studded the gravy. The chicken definitely benefited from what I thought was a long simmer. The creaminess of the meat nicely mirrored the cream in the gravy.

And it would be unfair if the fantastic rotis (flatbread) are not mentioned. They came, almost brown as much from the whole wheat flour as from the nice roasting on open flame. Butter-smeared, they were some of the best I have had. Soaked up the gravies and the juices and yet were sturdy enough to be wrapped around the pieces of meat. Did not have a chance to sample the dessert as we were in a hurry and left early. That aberration will be corrected on our next visit, which should be soon enough.


Iced temptation Ice cream tales

With the heat wave making life miserable and the impending threat of more to come, this is the ice-cream industry's time to thrive. From the tricycle riding sellers to the small general stalls, ice cream has become a staple item for many. But a change in dining culture has suddenly seen a rise in ice cream parlours. One of the pioneers of ice cream in Bangladesh, Igloo, a concern of Abdul Momen Group, know more about the business than anybody else.

With the recent inception of the company's new brain-child, Ciao Bella, an ice-cream parlour, Igloo has become the first local company to enter the premium ice cream market. Although, this high end avenue still has a handful of customers, Igloo's determination for quality and providing something new, has seen them taking this bold step.

“Although profitability isn't high, Igloo's commitment lies with quality, as should be the principle of one of the most trusted brands in Bangladesh,” says Shah Mostaq Ahmed Sohel, the Head of Parlour Operations at Ciao Bella. “People expect a certain high standard from Igloo and we strive to deliver just that.”

Since its establishment in 1964, Igloo, then with a different name, saw a change in ownership after independence. The company quickly rose to becoming the number one ice cream brand in the country, outselling its sole competitor Baby Ice-cream, which catered to the low income market while Igloo's quality made them a bit pricy for the time.

Back then, vanilla and chocolate were the only flavours sold but that all changed soon. Numerous ice creams came about and Chocobar, till now, remains the most famous impulsive ice cream product.

Before Ciao Bella, Igloo had exclusive branches selling their product in Gulshan and near Press Club among other places. That Igloo's history and impact on the ice cream scene was significant is an understatement.

Presently, Igloo's heritage in Research and Development and desire to modify for the better, brings about Ciao Bella. Reasonably priced frozen delights start from Tk 90 to a maximum of Tk 380 only.

The menu is extensive but the deal maker is the effort that goes behind producing each flavour. For instance, the mango flavoured ice cream is derived from real mangoes which are procured from Igloo's own Mango Pulp Factory.

Pista and almonds imported from Spain, chocolate from Belgium and other ingredients gathered from various places in Europe, promises the best quality possible. The strawberry and cream in particular is a delight, with strong hints of presence of real strawberry and slight bits of strawberry seeds along with a creamy taste.

The top selling Belgian Chocolate, self styled as “smooth Belgian chocolate ribboned with chocolate fudge”, the “Ambrosia” containing real fruits with ripple sauce, French Vanilla with real vanilla seed and extract are all examples of the exquisite taste Ciao Bella offers.

Four new flavours: Mixed Fruit Yogurt, Low Fat Yogurt, Hazel Nut and Mascarpone are all expected to hit the outlets exclusively. Furthermore, ice cream cakes and boxes are also to be made available to chosen outlets soon. For those wanting something different, the highly popular Waffles, Parfait Parade and Floats offer other chilly options.

With every flavour having a different identity, Ciao Bella offers something unique. Technical help from Denmark and Dubai and continued support and consultation, makes the production process better and more efficient. The packed Dhanmondi Branch of Ciao Bella is a testament to the franchise's rising popularity.

Franchise owner AKM Kamrul Hossain's investment has been wise indeed. “People want more than different flavours. They want an environment,” explains Sohel. Thankfully, Ciao Bella provides just that.

Beautiful presentation, delicious experience and a wide array of options that are easily affordable, drop in at your closest Ciao Bella for the tastiest way to take your mind off the sun.

Ciao Bella is located at Dhanmondi Road # 27, just ahead of HSBC bank and also on the 1st Floor, Jabbar Tower, Gulshan -1, Banani and also at two kiosks at Cineplex and Cantoment CSD junction. Two more branches are planned for Chittagong and one at Japan Garden City.

By Osama Rahman
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Shah Mostaq Ahmed Sohel and Ciao Bella for helping us do the photoshoot.


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