Can we please go somewhere that just serves good food and does not have all the bells and whistles for the Gram!,” exclaimed my husband just as we pondered where to dine this Sunday. It was a hilarious outburst, but one that got me thinking.
You see, owing to my profession, we end up trying out a host of new restaurants in the city, but very few resonate with us and make us want to go back for a meal. When it comes to the recall value, we typically stick to our handpicked favourites.
Typically, each of our favourites are places that do not need the added social buzz—which makes you think, is all the hoopla surrounding the ambience of a restaurant really worth it?
Case in point: Last week, while we were in Central Delhi for a meeting, we decided to go to the iconic Pandara Road Market for dinner. Every Delhiite will tell you their pick of the lot in this tiny market, so for us, it is Pindi. Established post-Partition in 1948, Pindi reminds you of the classic Indian family diner from the early ’90s. You have the faux brick-patterned wall—an early attempt at acceptable decor.
Then, there are framed photographs from their early days, and the kind of chandeliers that you would not miss in a ’70s Bollywood movie. While this may sound quite fancy, none of this is a forced aesthetic. Instead, it is purely functional.
Our order here is a staple of Dal Makhni, Kadhai Paneer, Butter Chicken, and Naan—and never a different variation. That, perhaps, really defines a true, unfiltered dinner.
Cut to Sunday, and my husband’s plea reminded me of a place that I have always loved, but have not particularly frequented. As the rain gods played spoilsport on a planned excursion to Purani Dilli, we landed up at the fantastic Cafe Lota, within the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy premises in Pragati Maidan.
This is a place that always reminds me of Mumbai’s iconic Prithvi Cafe. It is where you sit and talk to your friends, or even co-diners. With a natural skylight and seating built around the trees of the venue, Cafe Lota is a far cry from a lot of modern establishments—and yet, is an establishment that is hard to rival.
Delhi resident and Cafe Lota regular, Pawan Hora, said that what draws him frequently to the cafe is “the honesty with which they serve their food.” For him, it is the earnestness behind maintaining the sanctity of the experience that makes it stand out.
Then comes the lofty reputation of the last places with fancy decor—Delhi’s myriad state Bhavans! Beckoning a regular audience every week, these Bhavan canteens are beacons of consistency in a world where food ventures teeter on the edge of peril within weeks. As Chef Anahita Dhondy puts it, “I love Andhra Bhavan for its flavourful food and its bustle!”
From the office-favourite Andhra Bhavan Biryani to Bihar Bhawan’s decadent Litti-Chokha and Banga Bhavan’s Kosha Mangsho and Mishti Pulao, this is right at the top of Delhi’s best food corners.
I am not alienating the ef-forts put behind beautifying the eatery. But, these eternal classics offer a blueprint that we see less and less nowadays—that of putting the food front and centre of their business, above all else.