Why 2023 Is A Breakout Year For Kolkata’s F&B Industry

The City of Joy is seeing a renewed renaissance with restaurant openings becoming the talk of town after a long gap.

Published On Dec 08, 2023 | Updated On Feb 22, 2024

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In June this year, I broke a 12-year record and visited Kolkata—not to visit relatives as my last name might suggest, but to check out the bar scene in India’s metro city that finally had people from the industry saying positive things instead of dismissing it as a has-been place as they usually did.

A slew of openings by restaurateurs from Delhi and Mumbai and outlets on the best bars and restaurant lists, followed by the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) convention held in September in Kolkata for the first time was the final confirmation of just how vibrant the metro city’s food and beverage scene had become. 

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APMP, Park Street, Kolkata

The renaissance of restaurants in Kolkata has been led by a multitude of factors–all coming together at the right time. From a young generation that has started going out more frequently and the lockdown-induced revenge dining phenomenon to access to better experiences, all of these have made Kolkata the toast of the F&B industry in 2023.

For Rajan Sethi, who runs AMPM in Gurgaon along with Ikk Punjab, The GT Road, and Omo Cafe said that people outside the city thought that the locals in Kolkata were conservative and didn’t spend much on eating out. Sethi says he changed his mind when he went to Sorano, an Italian-inspired restobar located on Ho Chi Minh Road that opened in 2021. “It felt like a dam had broken. I saw people spending INR 1000 on a cocktail and all my negative thoughts came crashing down,” he recalls.

Sethi, along with two college friends, opened AMPM in Kolkata early this year with a jaw-dropping capex of INR 6 crore, making it the most expensive restaurant to open in the city with an imported kitchen, premium Italian marbles, and the first Martin Audio installation at any outlet.

When I visited in June, AMPM was full both the times I went and the live music was on par with any club out there. The place isn’t cheap; the pouring whisky for the Old-Fashioned cocktail is an Aberfeldy 12YO, for example, and the lowest cocktail is priced at INR 995++ but every table had a cocktail and people were having fun.

“We realised there’s a huge gap between demand and supply to the extent that we were taken aback when we saw the crowd numbers since opening AMPM Kolkata,” Sethi says. 

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The El Diablo at Sorano, Kolkata

Saket Agarwal, the man behind Sorano, is a seasoned F&B player in Kolkata having started his first venture in 1999 with a coffee chain called Aqua Java. He has seen the local crowd evolve and turn upwardly mobile to the point where people do not stay at home and drink as they did until 10 to15 years ago. The uptrend in F&B has led Agarwal to open the city’s first Mexican-themed restaurant called Mehico that’s slated for launch soon.

Some other places that have seen rising interest from diners in the city include Soba Sassy, Olterra, Little Bit Sober and The Salt House—all of which offer something unique and different. For example, Olterra is a Greek-themed place with the city’s longest bar while Little Bit Sober is a cocktail-forward place with award-nominated mixologists in a city that loves its food.

Indeed, new and old are now competing for attention from the eager to splurge new audience. Manu Gulati, who opened Effingut Brewpub in Kolkata two years ago, says that it is tough to bring in people from their regular hangouts. “People here have a high-brand loyalty and want to be seen in places where everybody is seen. It’s inherent in every city, but in Kolkata it’s a little more compared to others,” he reveals. 

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One of the many treats at Effingut, Kolkata

Some older establishments are beginning to feel the pinch too. When Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality opened Social Park Street this month after a six-year wait, it took over from popular Trapeze Bar and Restaurant at Russell Street. Still, loyalty towards older establishments will take time and concentrated marketing to wean customers off.

“Kolkata has been on fire since the pandemic. Drinking out is no longer taboo but a requirement for the new generation. With a little more support and understanding from the state government, there will definitely be a bigger boost to the industry,” Gulati says.

Not that the government isn’t doing anything. In fact, one of the major drivers for the current boom has been lower alcohol prices brought about by the reduction in taxes by the state government. Newer brands are also pouring into the city with Passcode Hospitality’s Maya Pistola Agavepura being the latest entrant. 

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The Aam Shotto Whiskey Sour at LMNOQ, Kolkata

Almost every new place in Kolkata that’s spoken about opened after the pandemic. Rajiv Nathani, owner of LMNOQ Skybar says that post-Covid, people did not want to be indoors and the sky bar concept caught the attention of the young generation.  
City resident Johanne Mantosh, who runs the upscale Miss Ginko at Ballygunge, feels diners came with a we-only-live-once attitude after the pandemic. “Everybody wants to live in the moment now. It’s like go big or go home. The new entrants are making everybody pull up their socks and its wonderful to see the culinary explosion happening in Kolkata,” she says.

Indeed, it’s a lesson that restauranteurs are learning in Kolkata and taking to other cities. As Sethi says, “The success of AMPM Kolkata has injected confidence in us. The city has taught us that diners are looking for ‘premiumness’. They want a five-star experience even in a standalone restaurant and they are willing to spend for it.”

With more launches slated in the coming months and owners and diners both happy—the City of Joy has much to be happy about when it comes to dining out.


Photo: Featured restaurants and bars

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