I had to take an unexpected side-trip from London to Delhi recently on account of a family emergency. Fortunately, everything went well and things seem to be returning to normal. I myself am now back in London (where we’ll be for another six weeks or so). I didn’t really have a whole lot of time in Delhi for things that didn’t rotate around hospital visits but did manage to find time to lunch with two old friends. The first was this meal, a quick lunch in Connaught Place. I was for some reason longing for idlis and vadas and the CP outpost of Sagar Ratna is where we went,
Sagar Ratna is an older chain of south Indian restaurants. It has outposts everywhere in Delhi now. Once upon a time if Delhi’ites wanted to go eat idlis and dosas there was a good chance Sagar Ratna was at the top of their list. These days if you ask Delhi foodies where you should eat this kind of food, they’re not likely to be mentioned. At the chain end of things they’ve been supplanted by Saravana Bhavan and for a truly excellent dosa you should probably go to Carnatic Cafe. That’s not to say that you will eat badly at Sagar Ratna. I certainly didn’t.
Why go to Sagar Ratna in CP over either of the two outposts of Saravana Bhavan? Well, for one thing you won’t have to endure a long wait and a very hectic meal—standing outside in the Delhi summer heat waiting for a table to become available is not fun and it’s hard to have much of a conversation once you’re inside: the tables are small, strangers may be seated with you and the focus is on getting people out fast. There’s also the fact that Saravana Bhavan is owned by a monster who continues to be at large after having served only a few months of a life sentence for arranging the murder of a man whose wife he wanted to marry. So, all things considered, we opted for a meal that would be at least 85% as good but with 0% of the hassle and the ethical hand-wringing. (Why didn’t we go to Carnatic Cafe? Well, my friend works in Daryaganj, in central Delhi, and it would have been a huge pain for him to come to Friends Colony in south Delhi for a quick lunch.) It’s also the case that second-tier south Indian food in Delhi is still better than the best in the US or UK.
By the way, you may have got the impression above that nobody eats at Sagar Ratna. That would be the wrong impression. It may not show up on people’s lists of the top places to eat at in Delhi but it is always almost full, with a steady turnover of tables. In many ways, stepping into Sagar Ratna is like stepping into non-hotel Delhi restaurants as they used to be in the 1980s and early-mid 1990s. That is to say, you shouldn’t expect much by way of ambience. It features functional tables and chairs and not much money or thought has ever been given to decor; the air conditioning is adequate but you’re not going to catch a chill. But it has a very nice atmosphere all the same and for a migrant nostalgist like myself it’s very nice to enter these kinds of spaces in Delhi that don’t share the aesthetic or milieu or demographics of the new, shiny, mall-ified parts of the city.
The same is true of Connaught Place as well. Once upon a time it was one of the places in Delhi to shop and eat. The elite have moved away to mall life, the old movie theatres and book shops are largely gone and no one has made much of an effort to give CP a new coat of paint. As a result it has gone from being one of the social hubs of elite Delhi to being an afterthought while itself having stayed more or less as it ever was. Again, for a migrant nostalgist such as myself this is a very good thing. It must be said, of course, that migrant nostalgists such as myself are a very tiny minority of those who frequent CP: it’s still a bustling, vibrant space, as you will see from the pictures at the end of the slideshow below (which could really have been taken 20 or even 30 years ago).
What did we eat? Idlis, vadas and a thali. They are currently flogging Chettinad dishes as well but we decided to stick with the basics. For details click to launch the slideshow below.
All of this food came to about $15 with tip. I would happily eat here again on my next trip to Delhi (maybe in the winter).
Next up, another thali-based meal, this time in Brighton and then next week it will be back to curry houses, in Delhi and London.