Cafe Lota VI (Delhi, January 2023)

As I noted in my review of Bhawan a couple of weeks ago, we’ve eaten at Cafe Lota in Delhi on every trip since right after it opened just about a decade ago. Indeed, it might be fair to say that in many ways it has been our favourite restaurant in Delhi over that span of time. This even though the original chef whose vision shaped the restaurant, Rahul Dua, left the restaurant a while ago (he’s now one of the people behind Bhawan, which is sort of in the Lota’esque mold). When our home base in Delhi was Noida, Cafe Lota was a fairly convenient place to meet friends. And part of our love for the restaurant does stem from the fact that we’ve eaten there with so many friends over the years. Now that our home base is quite a bit further away, in Gurgaon, you’d think we’d be less likely to choose it as a rendezvous point; but I ate there with friends on my solo trip to Delhi a year ago, and we ate there again with friends on our family trip this January. Herewith, the details of the most recent outing.

But first let me tell you about the perfidy of one of the people we ate with. For years she had been vaguely promising to invite us to her home in Patparganj for a meal. She had described the various things she would cook in mouthwatering detail but an invitation had never quite arrived. On this trip she finally deigned to issue an invite—replete with many terms and conditions that even one more thick-skinned than me might use the word “offensive” to describe. But we agreed to all of them as she is a Tamil cook of some repute (though some might say the repute emanates entirely from a single source—but enough of that). We were looking forward to this lunch and had purchased all the extra goodies she had asked us to bring. Then on the morning of she called to say that the lunch was off because she needed to take a nap (apparently she had stayed up late watching tv with friends the night before). Instead she proposed meeting us for lunch at Cafe Lota, a lunch that she said she would buy. Cut to a few hours later when I had to pay for the whole thing and she took all the leftovers home for dinner (because she had to take a nap in the afternoon too).

Anyway, best not to dwell on these matters. Let’s get to what we ate.

We were a party of six—four adults and our boys—and we did a fair bit of damage. Lota’s menu always has a mix of old favourites and new dishes and we find it hard not to try a bit from both columns. On this occasion we started with a number of small plates. These included the palak patta chaat (an old favourite); Sandeep’s prawn fry (not one of my favourites but ordered with the boys in mind); the lemon-ginger-pepper chicken (a dish I’d liked a lot in 2022); the mochar chops (new to us); and the ragi paneer dhokla (a new dish). I’m sorry to say that the palak patta chaat looked a bit tired this time compared to its past glory. The boys inhaled the prawns and the chicken, leaving the two other veg apps to the adults. We all liked the mochar chops (croquettes with a banana flower stuffing) a lot. And to our surprise we also liked the ragi paneer dhokla a lot, even though it looked like an abomination in conception and on the plate (why had we ordered it? morbid curiosity).

Larger plates were there five. That’s rather a lot, you’re saying. You are correct. As to whether this was engineered on purpose by the person who took all the leftovers, I don’t like to speculate. First up, the Bihari thali (which strangely was both on the regular menu and listed as a daily special). This came with a very good mutton curry and the inevitable litti and chokha; the littis were okay, the chokhas (tomato and eggplant) were excellent. We also got the Himachali Thali, which had been a major hit at my visit in 2022; then it was a special, now it’s on the menu. It was excellent again. We also got the Sindhi kadhi, made in a style I’d never had before and served with alu tuk (crisp-fried potatoes with a spice crust) and red rice. This was quite good. Two non-veg dishes to round out the mains: the khadey masaley ka gosht (mutton cooked with whole spices) and another old favourite: the toddy shop fish curry and appam. Both were very tasty. Some phulkas and paronthi with desi butter to mop things up with (the metric tonne of rice on the table notwithstanding) and an entirely superfluous order of Kumaoni raita on the side. Superfluous because we forgot that the Himachali thali came with some as well.

For dessert, another old favourite: the apple jalebi, which was excellent as always, served with rabdi on the side. And a newcomer to the menu: patishapta, a type of pithe or rolled crepe., here made with rice flour and stuffed with shredded coconut and jaggery. Also very good.

For a look at the restaurant, the current/recent iteration of the menu, and what we ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and for my thoughts on the meal as a whole.

Far too much food, of course. If I had to pick one superfluous dish to punt it probably would be the Sindhi kadhi—though I did like it. The cost for all of this plus some soft drinks and coffee was about Rs. 9000 with tip, or just about $110. We were the equivalent of five adult diners and at least another two could have happily eaten what we ordered. So, a fair value.

We were glad to see that Cafe Lota remains quite popular. We were eating early by Delhi standards and so it was not full when we arrived but most tables were occupied by the time we left. I would still recommend it to first-time visitors to Delhi, along with a visit to the excellent Crafts Museum in whose complex it sits. We’ll almost certainly be back again with friends on our next long trip to Delhi.

Okay, we are now on the home stretch with the Delhi reports. I’ll have another one on Sunday. In between, tomorrow I’ll post a report from either our visit to Goa (in the middle of our Delhi trip) or my solo trip to Seoul last week.



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