Over the last few years&mdashits ghost town days a fading memory&mdashKolkata&rsquos New Town has blossomed into a residential, corporate and, hold your breath, entertainment hub. Some of the credit for that has to go to the Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences, which has catalysed action in the areas of hospitality and F&B. First, with its own offerings, filling an obvious void, and, second, by showing the way forward. It has set the bar high too for its sister brand, ibis, which opened recently next door in its most upmarket avatar ever.
The folks at Novotel aren&rsquot resting on their laurels either&mdashinnovation is a constant. The excuse for my visit was the launch of Le Jardin, a leafy, innovatively landscaped, 18,000 sq ft open-air banquet space which is perfect for the numerous weddings and events that Novotel organises (being one of the largest hotels in eastern India helps). With this addition, they can host several big weddings or events simultaneously. The only thing it is overshadowed by is its own entrance, which is up a grand staircase cocooned by greenery. Going by the number of selfie opportunities it was providing guests, it&rsquos definitely a showstealer.
The other great stride is in F&B, under the quietly passionate gaze of executive chef Neelabh Sahay, who provides the bass note to this culinary orchestra. He hosted a meal for me at Studio, the hotel&rsquos stylish Pan-Asian restaurant. The unusual amuse bouche, made with a watermelon ball, set the tone for the meal. Next up was avocado sushi, a pleasant surprise. Kolkata is still conservative when it comes to a few things, and this is one of the few places in the city where you can get sushi (I guess Bengalis just like their fish cooked).
Assorted dumplings followed, including a standout one with water chestnut. It turned out that the scrumptious potato gnocchi that followed was created by accident, but is now a favourite with diners. Numerous fritters and dishes of mapo tofu&mdashand a superlative tom kha soup&mdashlater, a trio of desserts was rolled up. I won&rsquot be forgetting the chocolate rolls with wasabi in a hurry.
Square, the hotel&rsquos all-day diner, is a lively space at breakfast time. There are enough options for the health freak, live South Indian and paratha stations, juice bar, and quirky concepts, like the railway chicken curry served straight out of a pressure cooker. It was at Square that sous chef Deepankar Paul served me a proper Bengali dinner (available on pre-order), unflustered by my demand for vegetarian fare. Appetisers consisted of postor bora (poppy seed fritter), beguni (batter-fried brinjal), and beetroot chop. The chhanar paturi was as buttery and flaky as any fish version. That&rsquos when the main course appeared chholar dal, ghee bhaat, luchi, jhuri bhaja, korola, doi begun, dhokar dalna and alu&rsquor dom. A meal like this could only be rounded off with mishti doi.
New Town itself has become a destination to contend with, ginormous Eco Park being the top attraction. Everyone at the hotel recommended the Mishti Hub here highly. There are museums too, and New Town&rsquos latest offering&mdashthe stunning Biswa Bangla Gate&mdashhas taken the town, quite literally, to new heights.