LMNO_Q is a new Sky Bar in Kolkata that has all the makings of an upbeat hangout for the denizens of City of Joy, and it’s setting a new trend by focussing on familiar food rather than gimmicks.
A single word that has played a key role in our evolution. It was curiosity that led Vasco da Gama to come to India. It was the same curiosity that made us adopt chillies and potatoes, which today are an integral part of our culinary heritage. And it is curiosity that will first draw you to LMNO_Q, the culinary debutant on Kolkata’s food horizon.
Short for Love May Need Ones’ Quest, LMNO_Q not only scores with its interesting name — one which according to co-owners Raajiv Nathany and Sreevardhan Asopa, “was inspired by the famous jingle LMNOP and then reworked to become the conversation starter it is today” — but proliferates into every nook and cranny of this charmingly put together Sky Bar occupying the entire rooftop of Magma House, one of Park Street’s prime locations, and easily with one of the best skylines.
Take the design, for instance. While LMNO_Q prides itself on being a Sky Bar, a segment of this predominantly al fresco eatery is enclosed, housing the kitchen, the well-stocked bar and the live section that often plays host to some of the best musicians and DJ artists from around town (and the country). But visit the place in the daytime and you will be easily surprised with the high ceiling and the roof design which is a jugalbandi of mud and mirror akin to what would one find in the erstwhile Sheesh Mahal in Lucknow or any of the forts in Rajasthan. Fascinatingly, this design element plays the same role as it did in the forts — keeps the enclosed area cool while allowing enough sunlight to come in during the day. With the temperature controlled as per the weather, this design element along with the height of the ceiling — which is twice of regular places — gives it a feeling of sitting beneath the sky. What adds to the feeling is the clever lighting that ensures that you have a good view of the stars as well, and the retractable glass doors that can wind up to allow an unrestrained view of the sky and turn the entire place into one big hall.
The reason for the design, explains Nathany, “is Kolkata’s weather, which has longer summer months than winters. And having a design that allows for small tweaks and modifications as and when required allows us to be in business round the year with a good view of the sky.” The idea could have been commercially driven, but the cleverness of the design, which includes a living room, informal seating that can be redone with ease and the use of cooling and eco-friendly materials throughout the space, ensures there is optimum utilisation of each resource.
Take the doors, for instance. “Given that most of them can be retracted allows us to air the restaurant completely. Also, the high roof, the generous use of mud in our design and the bright upholstery festooned with plants and wooden furniture gives the place this nice, cosy feeling of a restaurant in the countryside — without the need for extra lighting or air-conditioning,” says Asopa.
This blend of a modern concept executed with traditional techniques gives LMNO_Q its unique appeal. “Often,” says Nathany, “you will find diners exploring different areas of this Sky Bar till they find their perfect spot. It then becomes their favourite spot to hangout till another side lures them.”
It is this eye to detail and thoughtfulness that has found its way into the bar and food menu as well. The bar menu has been designed by the legendary Shatbhi Basu. In keeping with her style it boasts of drinks that are not only an ode to Kolkata’s drinking topography but use local produce to give it that made-for-the-palate ace. A fine example of this is their bestselling Bengal Princess, a blend of dark rum and locally grown guava juice with strawberry and orange bitter. Another popular favourite is the Pomegranate and Pomelo Coupe, a gin cocktail that uses fresh fruits instead of crush with gondhoraj lemon giving it that amazing palate play, aroma, and distinct palate memory. A master revivalist, Shatbhi’s menu also boasts of old favourites like the East India Old Fashioned made of bourbon, date palm and cinnamon; and Smoked Marmalade and Thyme Old Fashioned which teleports you back to the 1930s. Of course, the high point is the recreation of Spiced West India. A spiced rum cocktail with coffee and coke was once a popular coming of age drink for men and is an interesting take on Cuba Libre.
It is this sense of the familiar shaken with a little snoopiness and garnished with a dollop of nostalgia that makes the food menu of LMNO_Q. A brainchild of Nathany, the only serial restaurateur among the four, extremely well-travelled owners of this Sky Bar, the food menu is an interesting blend of the familiar, the interesting and the curious — a part where Nathany’s penchant for giving interesting names (sample: Oo Emm Gee Fries, Dal Kali Hai, and Whistling Paneer which is this spice-dusted crumbed fresh cheese) comes into play.
Talking about the food menu, which has been put together by compiling some of the owners’ common favourite dishes from around India and the world, Nathany says, “We created a familiar global menu not only because it makes business sense but because these dishes are a perfect platform to introduce interesting products and produce, which is the core food philosophy at LMNO_Q.”
Like, adds Asopa, “our pizza selection has the regular pizza but with an option of it being made with whole wheat, rice flour and bajra, which gives one the option to try newer things in a familiar format. Likewise, for our noodles and pasta, we have the classic flour-based as well options of buckwheat and beetroot flour as well as sweet potato gnocchi.”
In fact, continues the youngest associate, “the beauty of our menu is that each of the dishes is so well standardised that most of it can be tweaked to fit into any dietary needs. And even with the produce used, we have been careful to choose the best.”
The four owners — the other two being Sandeep Goenka and Sanjeev Nahata — have spent a good amount of time on the menu. “The thing,” says Nahata, “about a good restaurant is that it has to fire all cylinders, especially on the food front. That’s the one offering that will ensure how well we do and for how long.”
It is one of the reasons, says Nathany, “why we decided to keep things familiar and focus on getting the taste right. The LMNO_Q menu has everything for everyone and every mood, including few foreplays like the Americano Jhalmuri made with cheeselings rather than puffed rice. It evokes the time when one had to travel outside Kolkata and wanted a familiar taste and only had cheeselings to play with. Likewise, with the Trutti Frutti, which is the original sundae I was treated to as a kid. The Gul-E-Jahaan is a classic phirni flavoured with litchi and rose water served in a terracotta bowl. In fact, the rose water we use is the same that was popularised by the Oswal Jain merchants in the early 18th century. Similarly, are classics like the Park Street Paneer Tikka, which is an ode to the extraordinarily creamy and lip-smacking paneer tikkas that were once the high point of Park Street vendors.”
Curiously, the familiar menu, instead of making LMNO_Q offerings seem jaded, has added to its charm, reminiscent of an old countryside inn, only upscaled a notch or two higher. It is down to the careful way the food is prepared. So, for instance, the noodle segment is an ode to the Tangra culture where Indian Chinese cuisine originated and flourished. Depending on who eats it, it reminds them of Tangra or Delhi’s old Chinese lane. Likewise is the case with North Indian offerings like the delicious Kishtwar Zafraan Murg Shorba served English Tea style in a pot. While the dish gets its flavour and taste from the masala used in this goat-rearing district of J&K, the bone broth used is an ode to the cooks of Metiaburz. The Rajasthani Murg Parche is made in traditional Dunghar style.
Of course, confesses Nathany, “Each dish’s spice and tanginess level have been adjusted to suit the city’s palate and weather, else we have stayed true to the flavours and that includes the rethought Tiramisu which is presented in a cookie format instead of the wedge that most of us are used to.”
Not too fond of gimmicky food or presentation, the four founding members of LMNO_Q believe that the future of the dining space isn’t in theatrics, which has a short life, but in making a place that is familiar, balmy and which serves food that helps the diner discover and understand good quality produce.
For a restaurant that is barely a few weeks into its famous debut early last month, but two years in the making, clearly the owners know what they want and are doing it exceptionally well — till now.