Sagar Ratna (Connaught Place, Delhi)


I had to take an unexpected side-trip from London to Delhi recently on account of a family emergency. Fortunately, everything went well and things seem to be returning to normal. I myself am now back in London (where we’ll be for another six weeks or so). I didn’t really have a whole lot of time in Delhi for things that didn’t rotate around hospital visits but did manage to find time to lunch with two old friends. The first was this meal, a quick lunch in Connaught Place. I was for some reason longing for idlis and vadas and the CP outpost of Sagar Ratna is where we went,  Continue reading

Punjab (London)


Here’s my fourth review in a row of an Indian restaurant in London. After south Indian meals at Quilon and Malabar Junction and two rounds of the Cinnamon Club‘s take on contemporary pan-Indian cooking, here now is a meal featuring the north Indian food that most people outside India think of when they think of Indian restaurants. Yes, my friends, we’re at a classic curry house this week: Punjab. Located in the Seven Dials area, at the border of Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, Punjab is not, however, merely another curry house: established in 1946, and at the current location since 1951, it pre-dates iconic places like Tayyabs (opened in 1972) and Lahore Kebab House (a similar vintage); indeed, it claims to be the oldest north Indian restaurant in the UK. We walked by it after an outing at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago, and remembering a friend’s recommendation of it as a solid place, we decided to stop in. You’ll never believe what happened next!  Continue reading

The Cinnamon Club (London)


In the past decade and a half or so, London has seen a big upsurge of more ambitious (and more expensive) Indian restaurants, taking the cuisine and the aesthetic—both of the food and of the rooms it is served in—far beyond that of the curry house. Many of these restaurants have gained (and some have gone on to lose) Michelin stars. One that has not yet been so favoured, and which receives far less praise than others of its ilk in the London food press, is the Cinnamon Club in Westminster. For this reason it wasn’t originally on my list of fancy Indian places to eat at in London. However, it is more or less around the corner from where we are putting up in Westminster and when, a week after arrival, we wanted to eat a nice meal without going too far or spending too much we decided to take a chance on their set lunch menu. And we liked it a lot. In fact, we thought the quality of the cooking (and ingredients) was up there with Quilon (which does have a Michelin star and a strong reputation) and that the dining room was much nicer. We liked it so much that we went back a second time the following week to try the next iteration of their set lunch menu (it changes every month)—and we liked that meal even more. Here follows a report on both.  Continue reading

Malabar Junction (London)


I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid and teenager in India (1970s and 1980s) south Indian food—outside of south India—really meant the idli-dosa-vada complex. Served in small towns all over north India in restaurants with names like Madras Cafe or Kerala Cafe (just as almost every Chinese restaurant was named either Nanking, Golden Dragon or Kowloon) this subset of south Indian cuisines was one of the three national cuisines of India—Mughlai and Chinese being the others. It wasn’t until much later that I became aware that there was a lot more to south Indian food beyond the vegetarian cliches and that in fact south India is more non-vegetarian than vegetarian. For many of us in Delhi in the early 1990s a restaurant in Hauz Khas named Malabar was our introduction to much of this food—it specialized in the food of Kerala and the southwestern coast. Later, restaurants like Coconut Grove and Swagath expanded Delhi’ites horizons further. Continue reading

Quilon (London)


My American friends are sick and tired of hearing me moan about the state of Indian food in the US. Thankfully, there’s far less cause for moaning on this score in London. On my visit last summer I ate at a few of London’s better reviewed Indian/South Asian restaurants and liked them all a lot: from the Michelin starred Trishna to the ever-popular Dishoom to the far more informal Hoppers. It is our plan during our current, much longer stay in London to explore the Indian/South Asian food scene far more thoroughly across different parts of the price spectrum. I know from past experience that even curry houses in London are a world apart from most of their counterparts in the US. Our first outing, however, was not to a curry house but to Quilon, the posh restaurant at the Taj hotel on Buckingham Gate in Westminster.  Continue reading

Dishoom (London)

Dishoom: Okra Fries
While in Delhi in January, we ate at Sodabottleopenerwala, a restaurant that packages Bombay’s Irani cafe kitsch and Parsi food to (largely) non-Parsis. I was somewhat bemused by the experience and not particularly enthused by the food. What I failed to mention in my description of that restaurant’s maximalist aesthetic—what I called “Irani restaurant as theme park—is that it represents not merely a simulacrum of Bombay’s fading Irani cafes but also the return to India of a template that had already become a huge success abroad. There was a time in India when the diaspora was culturally and politically suspect. Now, of course, it is both culturally and politically a source of ideas (and money). The location of this particular set of new ideas, perhaps predictably, is London, and the restaurant that is the source material is Dishoom. Continue reading

Trishna (London)

Trishna: Hariyali Bream
A quick report today on a meal at Trishna, one of London’s higher-rated Indian restaurants; in fact, it has a Michelin star. I’ve always been a little suspicious of Trishna’s acclaim, as it is affiliated with a Bombay restaurant of the same name, an acclaimed coastal seafood restaurant whose far greater acclaim than its peers among foreign visitors has long been a mystery to my food obsessed friends in the city. Nonetheless, I was going to eat one fancy Indian meal on this London trip and when I was figuring out where to go the facts that they offer an attractive four course lunch tasting menu and that they are located very close to the Cadenhead’s whisky shop overcame my irrational bias. And so off to Marylebone I went (in an expensive and inefficient cab—I learned my lesson and got an Oyster card for the Underground right after lunch). And I was quite glad I did. Continue reading

Café Lota, Two Years Later (Delhi, January 2016)

Cafe Lota: Do Gajar Halwa
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 (Delhi, January 2016)

murgh-sirka-pyaaz2
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 (Delhi, January 2016)

Coast Cafe: Red Snapper Chilli Curry
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

Mahabelly (Delhi, January 2016)

Mahabelly
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

Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu (Delhi, January 2016)

menu3
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

Punjabi by Nature (Delhi, January 2016)

Punjabi by Nature: Tandoori Chicken
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

Dakshin (Delhi, January 2016)

chutneys
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