Chef Shashvat Dhandhania on his favourite Italian Restaurant in Kolkata
From the Author:
As a loyalist, I would be prejudiced to write any meaningful critique of the food. It would also be unfair, as no single visit was planned with the same intention. In that process, I have further lost the objectivity that I would normally consider the foundation for any such review. Nonetheless, there is still enough to comment on the food and service of a restaurant that has been a part of some of my fondest memories over the years.
Imagine walking through a glass door into a loud dining room crowded with wooden-top tables, wrought-iron chairs, red cushion covers and walls full of photographs and posters. With Italian opera music playing in the background and laminated single-page menus typed in comic-book-esque font, the pizzeria sets the tone for the meal well before you have taken a seat at your table. Fire and Ice represents everything I reminisce about going out for a meal: well-levelled white noise, animated interactions, spirited sense of community, and being spoilt for choice of good food and drink.
Fire and Ice first opened in Kolkata in 2005, and this month (July ’20) they complete fifteen years of service- no mean feat! I had had the good fortune of visiting the Kathmandu branch a year or so before they opened in my city, and knew that their opening meant access to good Italian food in the City of Joy. It was, arguably, one of the first of a few places that helped change the culinary landscape in Calcutta. At the risk of being extremely careless, I’d say that Fire and Ice brought continental cuisine out of hotel coffee shops and the carpeted dining rooms of Mocambo and Peter Cat (where I’d still line up to eat, even on a weekday.) There was also the quaint Blue Potato that presented nouvelle cuisine, and the busy Jalapenos that is extremely informal, but Fire and Ice struck a balance between the two. Fire and Ice also spearheaded the movement away from the culture of multi-cuisine restaurants, and their instant success was probably aided by the widespread appeal of Italian cuisine. Either way, the people of Kolkata responded: herds flocked here regularly, discovering their favourites on the menu.
To start with, I’d like to say that I’m now old enough to drink their Long Island Iced Tea, as compared to the Homemade Mint Iced Tea I would order when they first opened, which in return reminds of the long nights spent at the restaurant with thick friends through the years. I must also mention that the variety Fire and Ice holds for a vegetarian is more than commendable. In fact, there have been many a time that I have dropped by with my carnivorous friends, and have noticed how they did not order any meat throughout the meal. The menu is also a celebration of carbohydrates (in so many different ways.) Their selection of Antipasti is the best way to start any meal – be it lunch or dinner. The olive oil marinate exemplifies the sweetness of the tomatoes in the Bruschetta al Pomodoro and the tenderness of the mozzarella in the Caprese Salad highlights the quality of produce they use. Both of these, along with the other marinated vegetables, especially the artichokes, come together in the Antipasto Misto.
Most Bengalis, or Marwaris, are sold on potatoes, and when they’re fried, no one needs to say any more: Rondelle du Potatoes, crunchy fried potato chips served with pesto and tomato sauce. There are a number of occasions I can recount – walking in for a late dinner with my father and fighting over the end of this massive platter of chips. Though I must say that the pesto they serve along with the chips has always been the highlight for me. I shamelessly ask for a second helping, every single time. It is undoubtedly the hallmark of any half-decent Italian establishment to dish out a sharp pesto.
My favourite pizzas at Fire and Ice have changed over the years, even though they have always had the same pie and sauce and are always the usual twelve inches round of a thin crust (not the wafer-thin crust that is trending these days.) Unlike their Kathmandu location, they do not have a traditional wood-fired oven here. This makes for some changes in the crust- as the thermodynamics of a deck oven is different in comparison to the wood-fired one- but not something they should come to repent. In its only fault, the crust tends to get charred, making it lose the doughiness it could afford. However, the tomato sauce is flavoured delicately and sits well on the crust. The mozzarella works in harmony with the sauce in the Margherita, where the fresh basil adds enough zing. I have perpetually gone back to one of two pizzas: the Napoletana Cheese Pizza and the Funghi. And while I enjoy the marination of the button mushrooms (other varieties would also be welcome) that are generously topped on the Funghi, the olives used for the Napoletana are a letdown. The Arlecchino and the Pizza di Casa Mia are the others that I tend to favour.
Even though the menu mentions that the pizzas are big enough to share, we’ve had fights for not having ordered enough, just because we’d get greedy once the staff would bring it to the table while offering to crush fresh pepper on top. If you’re visiting for the pizza, (or thinking of ordering it) I’d suggest getting one for yourself, and asking to split the toppings in two, for more variety. They are always kind enough to cooperate.
I cannot but stress the importance of the Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino. I say importance, and not the beauty or the perfection, as it has had a grave impact on its diners. Yes the pasta is cooked well, and yes, the flavours are prominent, but Fire and Ice managed to make it a staple choice for pasta. So much so, almost every restaurant started serving it, and if I were being brutally honest, some were even finding ways to replicate it. I’m in no way saying that it comes close to some of the best pasta I have eaten, but their Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, with copious olive oil, thinly sliced elephant garlic, whole red chilli and parsley has become sacred, so much so that for many any other version seems insipid. A plate of pasta to be so popular at a pizzeria is a statement in itself. What I have looked forward to at the end of the plate, is to dunk the focaccia they serve- along with all their pastas and risottos- in the remaining garlicky oil. To have this soaked hard-crusted flatbread has brought me immense joy.
The desserts are presented without any frills. The Vanilla Gelato served with different seasonal toppings is light, yet creamy. I’ve dug into the warm Apple Pie with Gelato on winter evenings, and been reminded of an uncle – who’d ensure we’d get separate portions when we visited the restaurant together. Crepes are served in pairs on a white plate-like all their other dishes- and are dusted with icing sugar, and the Crepes with Nutella Chocolate have been the object of several quarrels I’ve had with my brother when we were young and had to ask our parents before ordering seconds. The Chocolate Mousse they serve, in a glass cup, is reminiscent of a Raymond Blanc recipe with egg whites, dark, well-aerated and melts in the mouth like crème fraiche. I remember, on one of my most recent visits before the lockdown, a friend got into a brawl with everyone at a large dinner party over the last portion of chocolate mousse available as she refused to share any of it. Their selection of coffee (read espresso) goes well with the desserts.
A mention must be made for the staff at the front of the house, of which many faces have become familiar. They are friendly, prompt, and recognize their patrons. They set the tone for the service with their speediness, without making you feel rushed. Being able to provide such comfort makes their customers feel at home. This, I believe, is integral to the success of any restaurant.
As I glance through the menu writing this, and I must admit, I have not had the need to do so on several visits, one has to note that it is now uninspired; it has barely changed over the years. Yes, they do serve specials, and some may say that a pizzeria need not offer much more, but fifteen years is enough time to give their patrons something different. I would go one step further to add that, given the reverence they command, forward-thinking to pioneer changes in the culinary landscape of the city should partially be their responsibility. At the other end of not doing so, they’d risk becoming just another heritage location of the city.
Fire and Ice may not serve food that is revelatory, but they certainly are honest about what and how they serve. If one still needs more reason to visit, the vibrancy of the restaurant ensures for a great evening. Hence, I would highly recommend Fire and Ice if you are looking for an Italian affair in Kolkata.
Fire and Ice is currently open from 5pm – 9pm daily, for takeaway or delivery.
You can call them at +91 9674747405 for further enquiries.