The mental image of an airport restaurant, particularly in the smaller cities and provincial towns, is grubby environs, sub-standard food, perfunctory service and largely avoidable unless one’s hunger is dire. But this particular one, at the gateway to north Bengal, Sikkim and even Bhutan, comes with generous recommendation by those who have done it before; so one had to give it a try. And one didn’t come away disappointed.
The Bagdogra Airport Restaurant Workers Co-operative Society Ltd, a name that is a throwback to a more socialist era, leads one on the first floor of the airport to a large, airy, clean dining place, an approximately 150-seater, with a wide-angle, glass-fronted view of the runway that kids love. But one doesn’t come to a restaurant only for the view. It is the food here that comes as a pleasant surprise — matched only by the prompt and courteous service of its waiters, some of whom have been reportedly there for three decades.
The food is nothing fancy. The signature dish at this restaurant is no doubt the chicken cutlet. It’s soft, meaty and tasty and a pair of them leave you with a satiated feeling of having eaten something worthwhile – quite different from the over-fried, chewy and indigestible variety that you get at most such places. The evidence of its popularity and renown was that it was among the mandatory orders at the majority of tables.
There are mutton, fish and vegetarian cutlets as well, served with non-oily potato fingers, but the vote goes to the chicken cutlet which even a non-chicken person would like. Even the vegetarian cutlet is a cut above its peers elsewhere.
Besides the continental variety and the sandwiches, the restaurant has its Indianised Chinese dishes in the form of chicken/vegetable fried rice, chow mien, sweet and sour chicken, vegetables, chicken wings, vegetable manchurian, etc., which are also a big choice for hungry diners, especially children. It has also its eastern Indian curries that are quite filling.
But what is unique about the airport restaurant is that each and every member of the staff, including the alert and solicitous supervisors, kitchen staff, waiters and the cleaners, have a stake in its success and profitability and do their best to maintain its spiffy appearance, quick service and, above all, good, wholesome food for transit passengers.
Passengers who have been transiting through this airport for a long time know many of the waiters by name – some of the younger waiters are children of the veterans – and swear that the quality of the food (and menu) has largely remained unchanged since the eighties. And even passengers who have homes in places like Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok make sure to pick up some cutlets from the restaurant before they hit the road.
Due to the liberal alcohol rules in eastern India, the airport serves alcohol and its drink menu at lunch caught the eye. On the top of the list was He-Man 9000 (ultra super strong beer), followed by Hit-super strong beer and then the local favourites of the hills, Dansberg lager beer, a brand owned by former Bollywood badman Danny Denzongpa.
Prices at the restaurant are reasonable and pocket-friendly for average middle class families who throng to the restaurant in large numbers and keep the large place packed at meal times.