For years Bangladeshi restaurants in the UK have served food, calling it authentic Indian or Bengali cuisine. Though the taste has been far removed from anything Indian-Bengali, in last 70 years no one has challenged it, which now, youngsters from Kolkata are determined to do. Prabir Chattopadhyay is one of such talents who have taken up this mission to grow a palate for 'real' Bengali food in the UK.
Robi, as Prabir is fondly called, is doing pop-ups in London since years, the next one being on 10 September 2017 at 299 Borough High Street, near London Bridge in London. Prabir's brand known as 'Little Kolkata' this time comprises of a pop-up including 9 course Bengali dishes, which is very similar to the French tasting menu or Spanish Tapas.
But is Prabir competing with Shrimoyee Chakraborty's restaurant 'Calcutta Street' or Asma Khan's restaurant 'Darjeeling Express' in London? Speaking to Asian Voice, Prabir said, “I am in the initial process of setting up my own restaurant 'Little Kolkata' in Central London. London has a huge market for displaying what Kolkata or Bengali cuisine is all about. Calcutta Street's focus is on home style Bengali food. Whereas my brand Little Kolkata is different. It will be canteen style, quick, freshly prepared, tapas style offering.”
Prabir started his journey at the age of 18 with a scholarship to train as a merchant navy engineer. After travelling 11 countries, trying various cultures and their cuisines, he decided to pursue something more homebound. He was a shy and docile boy in the head priest clan of the 15th-century Kalighat Kali Temple, Kolkata, India.
Like any other Bengali child from a modest upbringing, he grew up seeing his mother cook various Bengali dishes for the family and for the temple. The yearning to learn cooking began early and he and his little sister would watch their mother for hours, sometimes helping and relishing the different aromas that arose, at different stages of the cooking process.
Prabir moved to the UK in 2006 to complete his Masters in Operations and Supply Chain. As a student, he started working as a kitchen porter with Pizza Express and within a short stint worked his way through to becoming an assistant manager for Bella Italia. This helped him to experience and acquire a robust first-hand understanding of the operations within the food hospitality industry.
Scoring exceptionally well at his masters and having worked across forward and backward integration of different product value chains in UK’s blue chip companies such as Costa Coffee, Argos, Co-op Foods, up to his present role as Logistics Manager - UK & Ireland for Arcadia Group, Prabir believes that “logistics” and “operations” are the key ingredients to a successful business. Knowledge of products, quick and cost efficient sourcing of raw materials, negotiation with vendors are skills he has learnt over the years.
In 2008, Prabir moved to Kilburn, in North London and organised his first large dinner party to celebrate the confluence of Diwali and Halloween, the party was a resounding success, which ended with him making impromptu Indian breakfast for his loving guests next day.
This sheer love for cooking and nostalgia of his motherland ushered him to launch his own brand “Little Kolkata” in 2016. After years of rigorous preparation, tastings sessions and innumerable supper clubs, Prabir, showcased his brand “Little Kolkata”, formally through a completely sold out supper club in July 2017, introducing recipes from his grandmother’s kitchen, street food and delicacies inspired from the Mughal and British invasion of Calcutta, and the age old Kolkata patisseries such as the famed Flurys. The launch was a huge success with raving reviews from renowned bloggers, industry influencers and critics. He has already been invited by various pop-up organisers to be part of bigger food festivals.
Little Kolkata’s plans for opening a permanent site are already at its initial planning stage. His ultimate vision is to open “Little Kolkata” in every major city in the world so that every family can enjoy the real flavours of Bangla food in their own city.