Cafe Lota may be my favourite restaurant in Delhi. I’ve eaten there on every trip since we first ate there in 2014—in some cases more than once. Part of our affection for it is that it is attached to the Crafts Museum, one of Delhi’s less visited treasures—and the restaurant itself is beautiful. Part of is that we’ve eaten there with so many good friends over the years. And a large part of it is the food, which is always excellent, always interesting and always an object lesson in the fact that a restaurant specializing in contemporary Indian food does not have to run away from “tradition”. One of the still remarkable things about Lota is how easily and seamlessly they present traditional dishes from different parts of India—sometimes in traditional guises, sometimes in updated presentations—alongside more mod’ish takes. As I noted at the end of my review of my meals at Comorin on this trip, the kind of thing Comorin is doing was really pioneered by Lota, and I think I prefer Lota’s version of it. You can go eat a Himachali thali and you can go eat bhapa doi cheesecake or apple jalebis—all of which I ate on this trip with some of my closest friends and fellow Lota aficionados. Between the laughter and the food, it was a wonderful meal and I can’t wait to do it again in January.
The situation of the Crafts Muesum has been somewhat precarious for a while, with the BJP government at the centre threatening to overhaul it completely. I’m not sure where things stand with all of that right now. I did notice that the lovely Crafts Museum shop right alongside Lota was closed but that may be a pandemic thing, I suppose. At any rate, Lota still seemed as we’d found it in on our last trip in 2020: still a lovely oasis just off the bustling traffic of the Pragati Maidan area. We were a group of four and arrived for an early lunch by Indian weekend standards, getting there just after noon. We had our pick of tables and chose one I’d never sat at before, alongside a tree growing out through the roof of the restaurant. The restaurant began to fill up as we were there but there’s just something about the atmosphere of the place that makes it feel tranquil. But what of the food?
Like most of Delhi’s restaurants, seemingly, during the pandemic, Lota has gone to a QR code-only menu. A number of their greatest hits remain on it—the palak patta chaat, for example, which we duly got to start; as well as the bhapa doi cheesecake and the apple jalebis, which we duly got to end the meal. But there were also a number of new dishes. Among these were two listed as “festive specials”: a platter featuring Himalayan trout and a Himachali thali. We got both and both were excellent. The trout was cooked perfectly and I loved the posto/poppy seed-crusted potatoes served with it. The Himachali thali’s highlights included the sido (steamed bread stuffed with a walnut paste), the urad dal vadis in a tomato curry, and the Himachali kadhi with potatoes. Before that, in addition to the always excellent palak patta chaat, we got two more starters, both of which were rather good: bajre ka chilla (millet crepes stuffed with lightly seasoned crumbled paneer) and the lemon-ginger-pepper chicken. Another main rounded out the meal: chicken mokul, a Rajasthani chicken curry cooked with yogurt and nut paste. This was a little under-salted as presented but once that was fixed it was very good indeed.
To drink, kokum sharbat, nimbu pani with mint, and kombucha. Sometime between 2020 and 2022 kombucha seems to have become very big in Delhi. Well, maybe it was big in 2020 too and we just didn’t notice.
For a look at the restaurant, the current menu and the food, launch the slideshow. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and what’s coming next on the restaurant front.
Service was pleasant and present as always, and our server was very good at describing the components of every dish (though on account of the loud, demented screeching of the person sitting to my right, I did not catch every detail). With tax and tip the total came to just under Rs. 1300/head or just about $17/head, which is a very good deal for the quality (and quantity) of the food. My only complaint is that the selection of teas on the menu seems to have shrunk dramatically. They list a number of single estate coffees but for tea there’s now only masala chai. Ah well.
Alright, my next restaurant review will be of a Thai meal eaten yesterday in St. Paul. That will go up on Tuesday. My next Delhi report will go up next weekend and will likely encompass the fancy and expensive meal I forced my nephews to feed me not so very many hours after this Lota meal.
What a beautiful menu. If only we could find something that had a third of the vibe in an Indian restaurant in the US. Having returned from a trip myself, with some very good eats, I am in this phase of bemoaning the state of Indian food we find here.
Is there no place in the Bay Area doing anything like this?
There are perhaps a few around, but I haven’t dined out much in the last couple of years. Hope to change that slowly, but even so, I bet the depth and breadth of options will lack, given that even the creative places try to balance a clientele of Indians and those not familiar with Indian food.