Café Lota was one of our favourite stops on our last trip to Delhi, silly name and all. We ate there twice and liked the food so much that it was the one place we knew for certain we would eat at again on this trip. And we did so, twice again. Neither meal quite rose to the heights of our 2014 experience but I still stand by my claim that this is one of the best and most important restaurants in Delhi. Alas, its future is not bright. This is not because of any problems with the restaurant itself but because the future of the Crafts Museum complex, of which Café Lota is a part is not clear. Nor is it entirely the extent to which this is a political matter. Continue reading
Varq, at the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi, is said to be one of the most important restaurants not just in the city but in all of India. The force behind it, Chef Hemant Oberoi, is considered one of the most important and influential figures in Indian haute cuisine in the last 20 odd years. He retired last year but his newer restaurants Masala Art and especially Varq remain at the forefront of the movement to re-articulate classic high-end Indian restaurant food in a contemporary/modern idiom. Personally, I am not convinced of the need for this sort of thing because usually when people say “contemporary” or “modern” in this context they mean “Western” and I’m never quite clear on why that should be so. It’s not as though in fashion or film or even non-high-end food Indian modernity is reliant on Western cues. Continue reading
Coast Cafe is the restaurant I referred to at the end of my review of my quite good meal at Mahabelly. It is, unfortunately, located in the hellhole that is Hauz Khas Village but presents a good argument for going there during a weekday. (There is, however, no argument for going to Hauz Khas village on a weeknight or on the weekend; and especially not on weekend nights.) It is a small restaurant operated by Ogaan, a company I’d always thought was entirely in the lifestyle magazine racket but apparently now also has a range of clothing stores and at least one restaurant. Coast Cafe is that restaurant and is situated on the two floors above the Ogaan shop. Oh yes, another point in Coast Cafe’s favour is that it is located at the very entrance to the hellhole that is Hauz Khas Village and so you don’t have to go very far in. I met another old friend there for lunch and despite my hatred of Hauz Khas Village and reservations about aspects of Coast Cafe’s menu I enjoyed the food very much indeed. Continue reading
I met an old friend at Mahabelly in Saket just a couple of days after our dinner at Dakshin. As it turns out, Mahabelly is located right behind the Sheraton that houses Dakshin, in the service lane at the rear of the DLF Place mall, one of several monstrous malls in a row in Saket.
Mahabelly serves the food of Kerala and the focus is on classic, often rustic preparations. It’s an altogether more easygoing affair than Dakshin: lighthearted decor, no heavy brassware in sight, no overwrought menu book etc. One long wall of the restaurant features playful cartoons which spell out the English alphabet via various self-deprecating Malayali stereotypes. The other wall sports a striking mural of a kathakali dancer—I believe performing the role of Mahabali. Yes, it’s true: the name of the restaurant is a terrible pun: Mahabelly/Mahabali. Continue reading
Once upon a time Delhi had no Parsi restaurants (that I knew of or anyone talked about, at any rate), now we ate at two of them in the course of three days. The first was Sodabottleopenerwala, a meal, you may recall, I was unenthused by; the second was Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu. This was a much better meal in every way. Now, I should reiterate that I am in now way an authority on Parsi cuisine. I’ve eaten at a couple of Parsi/Irani places in Bombay and at the homes of friends but none of this has added up to a basis on which to opine in any confident way on the “authenticity” of the food served at these places. I do have some sense though of when food is made well, and the food at Rustom’s was superior, the distinction most marked in the dishes we ate at both meals. Continue reading
In my review of Dakshin yesterday I mentioned the rise in Delhi in the last decade and a half or so of what I called upper/middle class Indian restaurants: restaurants that filled the space between affordable places that were low on ambience and the super-expensive name restaurants in five star hotels. Much of this has coincided, as I noted last week, with the proliferation of restaurants specializing in regional cuisines. It is likely though that the restaurant that could be said to have led the way is one that serves the Punjabi cuisine most associated with Delhi—tandoori chicken, butter chicken, dal makhani etc.: Punjabi by Nature. Continue reading
Once upon a time in Delhi, restaurants at five star hotels were pretty much the only option if you wanted to go out for a fancy meal. The pre-eminent restaurants in the category were the Maurya Sheraton’s Bukhara and Dum Pukht, and through the late 1980s and 1990s they set the tone for similar restaurants at the other five stars: meat-centric North Indian food with either a Northwest frontier or nawabi focus. The hotels usually also all had Indian Chinese restaurants (each of which pretended to be “authentic” Chinese) and 24-hour coffee shops, and some had one outlier restaurant: the Meridien had a French restaurant, for example, (Pierre, I think its name was—for all I know, it still exists.) and the Oberoi had an excellent Thai restaurant for a while: Baan Thai. Continue reading
Sodabottleopenerwala, which opened two years ago in Gurgaon and has since expanded to other locations in Delhi and elsewhere, may well have been named MaximumParsiSignifiers. Irani restaurant as theme park, it represents a weird yet representative moment in the packaging of regional cuisines for hyper-consumerist India in the early 21st century. Unpacking all of this properly is beyond the scope of a quick meal report written on the fly but I’ll give it a truncated shot.
First up, a little recommended reading for those who don’t know their Parsi from their Paris (all from Another Subcontinent): start with this brief essay by the late, great Sue Darlow that sketches the history of the Parsi community in India; then take a look at the first three links in this feature on a Parsi cookbook; finally, go take a look at Sue’s wonderful series of photographs, “Scenes from Parsi Life“. That should give you enough of a context to get started here. Continue reading
As I noted in one of my write-ups of meals from our last trip to Delhi a couple of years ago, perhaps the major shift in the food scene in Delhi over the last decade and more is the proliferation of restaurants serving a larger range of regional Indian cuisines. It’s a different world now than when I was at university in the late 1980s and then working in advertising in the early 1990s. Then the options were largely south Indian vegetarian and, starting in the early 1990s, a few places offering food from Kerala. (I am not, of course, counting Indian Chinese here as that stopped being a regional Indian cuisine a long time ago—it’s now a pan-Indian thing much like “Mughlai” food.) Now, there’s a lot available: a lot of Malayali restaurants, Parsi/Irani restaurants, Goan restaurants, Rajasthani restaurants, Bengali restaurants, even Bihari and Oriya restaurants. The most pleasing development though in many ways may be the growing number of restaurants serving food from the states of the North East. Continue reading
I apologize for not having a whisky review on International Whisky Day, which marks the birthday of the late, great whisky writer, Michael Jackson. I do have news that will delight the majority of my whisky-focused readership: this is the last of my food reports from our Delhi trip earlier this year. (You could, of course, skip this and instead read the Aberlour A’Bunadh vertical I published last year on this day, when my blog was still very new.)
Anyway: this is a report on a very nice and very casual meal at Carnatic Cafe, a small restaurant in the Friends Colony shopping center in South Delhi that serves what has been for many decades now one of the most popular cuisines in India, and the only one that could rival the reach and popularity of Mughlai and Indian Chinese food. I refer, of course, to familiar South Indian vegetarian food: idlis, dosas, vadas and so forth. I apologize for being so geographically inexact–I am just trying to give a sense of the view from the not very culturally sensitive North. It is only relatively recently and still not particularly pervasively that this food has been identified in North India with more specific South Indian locations, and most specifically with the name “Udupi”. In my youth all of South India was contained in the descriptor “Madrasi” and this food generally had that or some other recognizable signifier of South Indianness slapped onto it. Continue reading
This is my penultimate food report of our recent Delhi trip. And this may be the first one that covers food generally very familiar to the majority of my readership in the US and Europe: what in India is roughly known as “Mughlai” food–though what relationship many of the dishes that fall under that umbrella have to actual Mughal royal cuisine is not very clear. These days Mughlai refers to a pastiche of cooking styles and dishes from the the nawabi cuisine of Awadh, and that of Punjab and what used to be called the Northwest Frontier (Pakistan, Afghanistan)–and the Muslim food of Hyderabad is often thrown in for good measure as well. The names of many of the most famous dishes will be instantly recognizable: butter chicken, malai kofta, shami kabab, naan, korma etc. Continue reading
You will be pleased to learn that unlike my Chaat opus this Delhi food report will not require you to set a few hours aside to read it. This is largely because this is a review of an Assamese restaurant and I know almost nothing about Assamese food. In this I am not very different from the vast majority of Indians who live west of Bangladesh. I don’t mean to suggest that this is a satisfactory alibi. The general indifference/ignorance of Indians from the rest of India to/of the peoples and cultures east of West Bengal is somewhat deplorable. Though it must be said that Assam is not as badly off in this regard as its neighbours even further to the east, who in addition to ignorance have to contend with flat-out racism and discrimination when they venture into the rest of India, and a fair bit of political and military repression when the central government ventures into their territory. Continue reading
There are few genres as tedious as that in which a middle-aged immigrant waxes nostalgic for the food of their youth/home country and tells you that you can’t get good versions of it where they live now. So I hope you’ll excuse this post.
I left India in 1993 to come to graduate school in the US. Through the 1990s Indian food in the US was an unmitigated disaster: like a bad analogue of Olive Garden’ish Italian food or airport Chinese food. Pretty much all that was available was a bad copy of North Indian Mughlai food made for the most part with pre-fabricated sauces and substitutable meats; with buckets of cream and nut pastes masking the lack of actual experience or care in the kitchen*. None of this was much of a loss for me. This genre of food is restaurant food even in North India–no one eats it at home; and what I mostly wanted to eat I could make for myself at home. I was a decent enough cook when I arrived in the US and necessity made me much better. The ingredients for home-cooking–in my case, Bengali cooking (Indian food is intensely regional)–at any rate were available in Indian stores in Los Angeles. Continue reading