When you’re as obsessed by food as I am and also happen to blog and write about it, one of the questions you get asked most often is “What is your favorite restaurant?” The reason I rarely have a name to offer in answer is because sadly it has closed down a quarter of a century back (before you do the math in your head yes I am sounding rather old!). Let’s rewind a bit to a time when Kolkata was still Calcutta and Park Street was dazzling and famous for its nightlife and merriment. In 1957 a star was born …. Sky Room. Unlike most of its Park Street siblings there was no cabaret or crooner and certainly no alcohol, the focus was just on seriously good food. And till 1993 when this gem closed down it dazzled its patrons including three generations of my family.
One of my most treasured memories of Sky Room was visiting for lunch on the day of my Navjote ceremony. I am a Parsi Zorastrian and this is our initiation into the faith so a huge day in my young life. My Grandpa and Granny took me there for a very special lunch. Gramps was a major foodie and he loved to feed people and did to his last days. I firmly believe that I got my foodie DNA from him. I remember walking in holding hands with him into the thickly carpeted Sky Room and being ushered to our table. As I was seated in my plush armchair which I almost sank into I remember looking around and looking up to see the artificial “sky” that gave this place its name. The only sound was the whispered conversation and the muted clink of crockery and cutlery. The menus were distributed and I felt very important to be given one too.
But I get ahead of myself! Once the Prawn Cocktails were ordered for the adults and yes a meal here was incomplete if you started without one, the Pistachios were served in little plates, not too many possibly about five per head but it was a special treat. The turbaned bearer would come around with what could be referred to as Sky Rooms take on the Biscotti, one for each dinner and then the very creamy Coleslaw Salad served in a freshly scooped cabbage. By now my little eyes were as big as saucers and I was totally enthralled. That day I ordered a drink called Orange Blossom made with some kind of orange squash but in later years I would always order the house lemonade that was served in a “banta” bottle and opened with a loud pop on the table and this never grew old for me and it was what I ordered on every visit.
The Prawn Cocktails arrived and I was given a spoon to taste. My lifelong love for this dish was born and till date I am a sucker for a good Prawn Cocktail though few places do a good one now. I don’t really remember what my family ordered for the main course but I remember a Chicken Steak being ordered for me. The flattened almost square chicken breast with the delicious reddish barbeque sauce pored over it. The sides of French beans and Potatoes served to every diner. Still the tastiest and only French beans I ever ate by choice. The Chicken Steak went on to be my most ordered dish at Sky Room till it closed down but by then it seemed flatter and smaller or maybe my tummy grew bigger.
However our luncheon party had not ended and it was time for the dessert to be served. A trolley laden with individual servings of plated dessert offerings that all looked heavenly to me was offered up for selection, while my folks looked at my glee indulgently. I was steered towards a caramel custard which I shared with my Granny who had a sweet tooth and was referred to as “pudding basket” by her family because she loved her desserts. I don’t remember how the custard tasted that day but in later years the cherry stuffed Black Forest was usually what I would end my meal along with the Baked Alaska a crowd favorite at Sky Room.
As I went from being the seven year old who remembers that special day with surprising clarity, even today, to a perpetually hungry teenager, Sky Room was always a very special treat. Some other favorites which we ordered regularly were the Pork Chop which was sinfully good and perfectly cooked and the sublime Smoked Hilsa. I remember my parents recalling the Prawn Patties and High Tea in Sky Room but they were discontinued before my time so sadly I never experienced the pleasure of eating those. I also developed a taste for the Bangers and Mash loving the texture of the sausages with the creamy mash potatoes. They made the best Cream of Tomato soup I have ever had and miss to this day. The gratins and baked dishes were equally popular and my mother loved them with special preference for the white-sauce based ones. Bhekti Mayonnaise and Chateaubriand Steaks also had a huge fan following and were excellent. What worked was that the food was made with the best quality and freshest produce and that made sure its popularity never diminished. The legendary Prawn Cocktail was apparently flown in freezers to Delhi for our former Prime Minister Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s dinners, such was its fame.
Sky Room shutdown in 1993 and while one heard rumors on and off that it would reopen, it never did. For a number of years every time we walked or drove past I would check hopefully to see if it had opened but sadly it did not. Now only the memories remain not just culinary ones but also deeply emotional and sentimental ones. There is now an entire generation of grown-ups who have no clue about the gastronomic marvels this once shining star of Park Street served up. And for those of us who had the good fortune of being fairly regular patrons it’s a very special and cherished memory that gladdened our bellies and touched our hearts.