On Friday I posted a report on our most recent lunch at one of our new(er) Delhi favourites, Cafe Lota. New(er) in the sense that it opened only a decade ago. Today I have for you a report on a much older Delhi favourite, Kwality, located in the Regal Building in Connaught Place. Often said to be Delhi’s oldest restaurant—though this doubtless depends on how you define a restaurant—Kwality opened in 1940 as an ice-cream shop. The ice cream, of course, went far past the shop and the borders of Delhi. Indeed, Kwality ice cream—and the men selling it from hand-pushed carts—was a major part of my childhood and that of many other Indians in cities and towns far from Delhi. The iconic ice cream business was sold off in the early-mid 1990s but the original location remains, if not in its original form.
Patronized by American soldiers, Kwality’s original clientele would have not been very Indian. In the post-independence era this shifted, particularly with the opening of the company’s second Connaught Place restaurant, Gaylord, which was for decades the group’s standard bearer. Known for its Continental cuisine, swinging western music and European dress code, Gaylord was for a long time one of the premier restaurants of the pre-globalization westernized Delhi elite. Along with restaurants like Volga, United Coffee House and the Standard, Gaylord was an exotic place in my eyes in my college days in the late 1980s. This was a time when Connaught Place, or CP, was still the center of westernized Delhi life, and old Delhi families and people with aspirational money alike ate at places like Gaylord. I had aspirations but no money and so all I ever saw of these places were the spectacularly mustachioed doormen that guarded their entrances.
Over the course of the 1990s, Connaught Place yielded its position as a social destination to various South Delhi enclaves. And as with the liberalization of the Indian economy more and more five-star hotel restaurants became the venue of choice for spending aspirational money, the stars—and facades—of these restaurants slowly and then quickly faded—nostalgia not being enough to keep them going. Gaylord finally closed its doors in the last decade (though its Bombay and London branches are still on the go). The Standard and Volga are also gone. Kwality, however, remains (as does United Coffee House). Though, as I said, not in its original form. It was closed for most of 2018 and reopened in early 2019 with a very luxe makeover that very unashamedly hearkens back to a “Days of the Raj” club aesthetic. Think lots of leather, cane and dark wood panelling, and a decor that seeks to preserve memories of the 80s years of the history lived by the restaurant—there are lots of old photographs of Delhi and of white and brown sahibs and their families (and also for some reason, of colonial shikaars).
The menu after the renovation has some new dishes on it but the core is still the mix of Continental and North Indian food that was a hallmark of Gaylord. The Anglo-Indian dishes that were once the sign of sophistication for westernized Delhi are still on the menu, but so are the signs of the restaurant’s founders’ Punjabi origins, down to their iconic channa-bhatura. Indeed, the North Indian dishes lead off the menu. It would be interesting to know how/if their clientele’s preferences have changed over time and whether it’s the North Indian or Continental fare that now drives the restaurant’s business.
There’s no dance floor here as there was at Gaylord but there’s music. At dinner a grand piano accompanies the food and I think there might be a band on weekends or special occasions. We, however, were there for lunch on a weekday. The grand piano was silent and the restaurant was not close to full either (of course, we were eating early by Delhi standards). The few other patrons who were there seemed all to be very well known to the house, however, suggesting that old loyalties remain in place.
We met an old, dear friend from my college days and ordered a fair bit more food than we probably should have—and were prevented from ordering even more by our server who pointed out we already had more than enough for three adults and two young boys. What did we get? We stuck entirely to the North Indian end of the menu. We began with some kababs: the chicken tikka, the mutton tikka and the mutton burrah kababs. All were very good and were eaten mostly with naans (butter and garlic). And, of course, we got the iconic channa bhatura. You will not see it listed as such on the menu. The channa is listed by itself as Kwality Channa. You order it and get bhaturas on the side from the breads section of the menu. There’s a lot of great channa/chhola-bhatura available in Delhi but I think this has to be up there with the best of them. We also got an order of the chicken bharta—rich and tasty—and their dal tadka which was very good indeed. I could not stop myself from ordering a missi roti as well (this is the point at which our server put his foot down when I considered getting some more food to go with it). A few orders of fresh orange juice rounded out our order.
For a look at the restaurant and what we ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. (I apologize for the poor quality of the photographs. We were deep in conversation and so rather than bust out the camera I took quick pictures on the fly on my phone.) Scroll down for thoughts on service, to see how much it cost, and to see what’s coming next.
Service was very good. Our server answered all our questions well and accurately (our boys are both allergic to cashews and pistachios, which makes eating luxe North Indian food a bit of an adventure) and, as I noted, curbed my instinct to ordering excess. My friend was going back to work and my mother would not have been happy if we’d brought leftovers home and so this was a good thing. With tax, included service charge and an additional tip the total came to about Rs. 5600, or just about $70. Not cheap, of course, but not inappropriate given the quality of the food or the setting. I should add that this price includes an unexpected discount I received for making a reservation online.
Well, my misgivings about the decor choices aside, I quite enjoyed this outing. I’m not sure if we’ll return on our next trip to Delhi but perhaps I’ll finally check United Coffee House out (hopefully, they won’t close before then).
What’s next on the restaurant report front? I’m afraid there won’t be a Twin Cities report this coming week. I’ve had a hell of a time shaking jet lag since I got back from Seoul and we’re unlikely to make it out of the house today. Instead, I’ll have another Seoul report, the first of my Goa reports and another couple of Delhi reports (I think I only have three left to go).
Bhatura looks delicious, hard to find that around the Cities’. How do you find the flavor and quality of the chicken you eat in India, as compared to here; and other proteins, like beef?
Yes, I am yet to encounter a non-farcical bhatura in the Twin Cities.
Chicken in India is generally on par with most chicken in the US. Pork and beef (in the states where you can get it) are not as good.