Bhawan (Delhi, January 2023)

We’ve been following Chef Rahul Dua around for a while. We first encountered his food as relatively early adopters of Cafe Lota at the Crafts Museum. This was back in early 2014. We loved the approach there of bringing dishes from different regions of India together, sometimes in traditional, sometimes in less traditional guises and preparations. We’ve stuck with Cafe Lota ever since. I think it may be the only restaurant we’ve eaten at in Delhi on every single visit since. Chef Dua, however, had left Cafe Lota by the time of our next visit to Delhi in 2016. Along with his partner, Kainaz Contractor, he was now operating Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu in Qutab Enclave. From there we lost sight of him for a bit as Rustom’s moved to the Parsi dharamshala near Daryaganj. We were hoping to finally eat there on this trip but it shut down last summer. But during the pandemic they opened Bhawan, a delivery operation centered on sweets and snacks. And then in the summer of 2022 it opened as a sit-down restaurant in Gurgaon, just about a 15 minute drive from my parents’ place. It was a cinch that we were going to visit. And so it came to pass. Herewith, the details.

Bhawan is located in an upscale outdoor complex called 32nd Avenue, right off National Highway 8. I have a vague recollection that in my misspent youth this was the general location of a nightclub by the name of Fireball that we sometimes visited. I could be wrong: my memory is hazy on account of the misspent youth part. At any rate, it’s now a fancy conglomeration of upscale eateries and maybe a few shops as well. We didn’t explore very much as we needed to get home quickly after the meal.

We did explore enough of Bhawan’s menu though. Based on what I’d read last year, I was expecting the focus to be largely on snack foods. I’m not sure if it first launched in that incarnation but now the menu is very similar to the kind of thing Chef Dua introduced at Lota—and which Lota is still doing. There are a number of chaat and other snack dishes on the menu (in more or less traditional forms) but there are also a large number of small and large plates from which you can assemble a more traditional meal. And the desserts in particular are a throwback to his Cafe Lota days, with the do gajar ka halwa and the malpua with rabdi represented.

The restaurant itself is divided into an indoor dining room and a large patio area. We were there on a rare sunny January day and so chose to sit outside—as did most of the diners while we were there. The downside is that in Delhi you are quite likely to have heavy smokers sitting not too far away from you but it’s hard to say no to the sun in Delhi in January. Decor, inside and out, is of the kitschy variety now de rigueur at contemporary Indian restaurants like Bhawan, but not excessively so a la Sodabottleopenervala (is that still a going concern?).

What did we order? I could not resist beginning with the gol gappa platter. As it was going to be just me eating them, I picked the 6 pc option and got 2 puris each made with aata/wheat, sooji/semolina and ragi/millet. You are supposed to pick two out of three types of fillings and two out of three types of piquant water but they were kind enough to give me two of each so I could try them all. I can tell you that I was not particularly taken by the Gondhoraj lime and mint water but quite liked both the pomegranate and cumin and the green chilli and tamarind. As for the puris themselves, I liked the aata, was neutral on the sooji and did not care very much for the ragi. While I was eating this, the missus ate most of their not-very traditional avocado sev puri. I regarded this with some suspicion but quite liked the couple of pieces I ate. On the whole though, none of it was quite as good as eating regulation gol gappas and chaat at far less trendy places for a fraction of the cost. Still, it’s nice to try this kind of thing once in a while.

On to hotter fare. We got three non-veg “short snacks”: the crispy coconut prawns, the tandoori Andhra prawns, and the pathar ke kabab. All were tasty—the boys inhaled the coconut prawns—but none really got us very excited. We liked our larger plate of the Malabar mutton roast much more; and really liked the Malabar paratha that came with it. The boys predictably got a butter naan and they also asked to try the chilli-cheese naan. Of course, after one bite each they abandoned it. We were too full and not very enamoured by it either but my parents were only too happy to finish the leftovers we took home.

To end, an order of the malpua with rabdi. Yes, we didn’t get the do gajar ka halwa. I find this difficult to believe myself but the truth is we’d been eating superlative gajar ka halwa at home on a near-daily basis as well. But the malpua and rabdi were both excellent, separately and together.

Rounding out the meal were a selection of fruit juices with silly names for the missus and the boys and a masala Thums Up for me. We were all happy with our selections.

To take a look at the restaurant, the menu and what we ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for thoughts on the meal as a whole, for the price, and to see what’s coming next.

With the included service charge the total was just short of Rs. 6000 (or about $73). This is not a cheap meal in Delhi. Our dinners at Matamaal were almost half the price. The meal also did not quite live up to our memories of the original heyday of Cafe Lota. None of this is to say it was a bad meal. It would very easily be one of the best Indian restaurants in the US, for what that’s worth. It just wasn’t as good as we were hoping it might be. But that might be a matter of distorted expectations. All that said, I think I liked the meal more than the even more expensive Comorin, where I ate twice in March 2022, and would not in fact object to returning here again to try more of their food. As I said, it’s very conveniently located for us.

Alright: coming next will be another report from Southern California. That will be tomorrow. On Monday morning I am off to Seoul for a week on work. While I’m gone a report on a Twin Cities metro ramen place will post on Tuesday. And on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday the last two Southern California reports and another Delhi report will appear. If all goes according to plan, that is.


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