FnB columnist Riccha Grrover meets Restauranteur Pritha Mukherjee, the creator of Kolkata Kitchen in London, to know more about her authentic Bengali food brand and restaurant Posto London.
An entrepreneurial journey that started for now Restauranteur Pritha Mukherjee was with her first supper club at her flat in north-west London. News of her delicious home-cooked meals and her passion for cooking spread quickly through the Bengali-Indian community in the UK. To keep up with popular demand, she started “Kolkata Kitchen”, and began cooking for larger events and festivals.
Pritha’s dream was always to open a restaurant with a Kolkata vibe. A group of her Bengali friends loved the idea and joined hands with her to start her restaurant venture ‘Posto’ not so long ago in 2018. Their collective passion is to make ‘Kolkata food’ and culture more famous in the UK!
Columnist Riccha Grrover caught up with Pritha Mukherjee.
What does the word posto mean? What regional cuisines of India does your menu offer? Is your menu ala carte only or do you have seasonal specials too?
PM- Posto in Bengali language means ‘poppy seeds’ and is a key ingredient in some of the quintessential Kolkata dishes which is where our restaurant cuisine takes its influence and inspiration from hence it was a befitting name for my brand. Posto or poppy seeds go well in both comfort food like traditional Bengali ‘Aloo Posto’ as well as Mughlai dishes like ‘Chicken Chaap’.
Interestingly Posto in Italian also means ‘a place to hang out’.
Our intention was to create a meeting place kind of restaurant where people can indulge in authentic regional flavours and spend endless hours catching up with loved ones (adda – another favourite pastime of ‘Bongs’!) So we thought this is the name that captures our ethos as well as establishes the specialised cuisine we stand for. Of course we do Calcutta cuisine with perfection and passion! And other regional Indian cuisines like Punjabi, Awadhi/ Mughlai, Delhi, Hyderabadi too form a part of our menu. We do a la carte and have seasonal specials focussing on specific regions/ festivals of India.
What are the top dishes you would recommend a first time diner to try ? How would you describe the food at Posto?
PM- Some of the top dishes I would recommend would be Bertroot veg chops, Shami Kebab, Fish cutlet, Hari matar puri with aloo Dum, Murg Malai Tikka, Mutton Kosha, Kolkata Mutton Biryani, Delhi Butter Chicken, Kanthal Kalia (jackfruit), and to end it all on a sweet note with Malpua Rabri!
The food at Posto is all about ‘authentic regional flavours’
What makes posto unique as compared to other Indian restaurants in London?
PM- Posto is unique with its differentiated menu. While we do have some of the usual North Indian and curry house dishes, we ensure we have a good representation of unique, regional Indian flavours. And we are one of the very few restaurants in London/southern England which brings East Indian/ Calcutta cuisine to the cosmopolitan London food scene. Another differentiator is our focus on freshness where everything including condiments and desserts are made fresh on site.
Have you always been into FnB career in a planned career path or did you dabble into it as an extension of your passion? What advice would you give budding restaurateurs?
PM- I am trained as financial analyst. Food has always been my passion but I was dealing with accounts professionally at a big firm. Once I shifted to London I started thinking I wanted to do something different from what I was doing. My friends encouraged me to do supperclubs. So I started in 2016 in my drawing room with 4 guests. And then things expanded to regular supper clubs with 50+ guests and large scale catering. And then the restaurant Posto happened in 2018.
Seemed like a natural progression! But it was and is a lot of hard work and huge support from a close group of friends who believed in my dreams and invested has helped me take my passion and convert it into my entrepreneurial profession. During lockdown times I’ve started home delivery nationwide with Posto at home dining experience.
I would like to suggest budding restauranters to do a lot of research about what you want to stand for in the food industry. And to do proper financial planning and budgeting with a robust business plan.
Tell us about the decor, art, interiors, drinks selection, music- how does it compliment the meal experience at posto?
PM- Posto was about a passion of presenting a slice of our food, culture, traditions to Londoners especially Calcutta food specialities and steady favourites that have stood the test of time.
So our Decor mainly made of antique style wooden furniture to give an Art Deco feel. The place has photos of iconic buildings, familiar buses & trams, streets, food stalls, film posters on our walls that transport our guests to the heart of Kolkata. It gives them a feel of an Indian city scene. The music is generally Bollywood instrumental along with regional classics sometimes being played on weekends.
Even our drinks has a Aam panna Mojito, Mango chilli punch, spiced Apple Monk which is based on seasonal Indian fruits and to take a trip down memory lane we have Old Monk Rum, VAT69, which we would drink as youngsters in college. Like a classic Bourbon ice tea goes very well with our saunfiya lamb chops, or Spiced apple monk pairs well with Shami kebabs or beetroot cutlets, or dry chilli chicken.
How has the pandemic affected the meal experience at posto ? How have you kept the restaurant going and what changes do you need to incorporate in your restaurant safe and enjoyable for diners in a post covid era?
PM- The Pandemic has hit us hard at Posto as like many other hospitality businesses. But we have tried to adapt accordingly with promoting contactless takeaways/ deliveries. Also for people to dine-in in non lockdown times we have 3 sanitizer stations, table spacing has been increased.
From 60-62 seater we have reduced to 38-40 seater to cater to a post pandemic world safety measures of social distancing. To keep with Govt guidelines we use disposable sachets, cutlery, menus, so that nothing is re-used. Proper track & trace system is in place along with mostly online reservations for when things reopen too. All our staff are Covid trained and keep sanitizing the tables & chairs and other areas after every customer leaves. So making sure everything is safe for next set of customers to come in even for takeaway. We also have Posto at home nationwide delivery in place during lockdown while diners can come back in.
What keeps you inspired in your business? What is your vision for your restaurant in the times to come? Do you have any more ventures for expansion in the pipeline yet?
PM- Hospitality industry is tough and it’s tougher for women entrepreneurs in a male dominated kitchen. What has kept me going is the appreciation that I get from my customers, the smile of satisfaction on their faces- some of them used to come from quite far. My goal is to make regional flavours especially Kolkata cuisine popular in London and other parts of UK. No expansion plans right away but hopefully starting in more locations after a couple of years is my vision.
Signing off the interview restauranteur Pritha Mukherjee said “I have always been passionate about food, history and travel. Marriage bought me to London.
From a corporate career in the finance sector to managing substance misuse after-care charity projects to doing supperclubs to becoming a food entrepreneur and a restaurateur – my journey has been rich and incredible! I grew up in a family of avid foodies and got married to one. Shaping my passion into ‘Posto’ where I can bring forth subtle flavours of regional Indian cuisine to the London food scene has been a dream come true.”
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