Originally published in Brown Paper Bag Delhi, January 18, 2017.
Hidden in a quiet gully off Kalkaji’s main market, L’Amour Fou Afghan catches our eye for its location and its extraordinary name: Afghan eateries usually call themselves Balkh or Kabul or Mazaar, and cluster in neighbourhoods with settled patron populations, such as Lajpat Nagar and Bhogal.
The Fou Network
In place of the cafeteria-style tables or carpeted seating and equine décor of the standard Delhi Afghan, L’Amour Fou boasts a cabin-like room of white walls hung with framed acrylic landscape and still-life paintings (for sale). The kitchen, busy preparing food for delivery, is visible behind a counter, and a young owner takes orders while keeping staff on their toes.
The menu is a familiar run-down of Afghan dhaba staples, from ashaq (leek and spring onion dumplings) to sheer yakh (rose and cardamom flavoured ice milk), but with slight fancy tweaks to the boilerplate descriptions, and a small bump in prices, about Rs 20 over average across the board.
An explanation of sorts for the subtle differences emerges over a chat with the owner, who reveals that his family named the restaurant L’Amour Fou Afghan in keeping with their Srinagar restaurant, L’Amour Fou Koshur. The paintings are by his father, Zargar Zahoor, whose work showed recently at the Lalit Kala Akademi. (Mr Zahoor also runs a drawing center in Kalkaji, the motto of which is “Add a pinch of salt”.)
As we’ve come to expect when ordering dinner from Lajpat’s Little Kabul, the dumpling and bolani (turnover) dishes are finished; dessert isn’t available either. The Afghan naan—advertised as being topped with poppy, sesame and nigella seeds—is the usual seedless version. Fou-caccia?
Fried fish, bronzed and crisp, whets the appetite with hints of cumin and crunchy salad vegetables on the side. Yakhni murg with tender bits of chicken is a fragrant balm against the winter, as is a big dish of Qubuli Uzbeki or lamb pulao. Minor differences from the Afghan diner fare become apparent as other dishes appear, one by one. Eggplant in the borani banjan is cut into smaller pieces, and perhaps less oil-stewed. Qorma kofta is tasty but a bit more sour and tomato-heavy than we’ve had before. And are the meatball minced just a grade finer than at our go-to takeout?
Regardless of who’s running the kitchen, when push(tun) comes to shove, L’Amour Fou Afghan has changed the food and drink landscape in its stolid neighbourhood, it’s a welcoming addition. We leave singing along (with the owner) to “Comfortably Numb” -also a change from the 90’s Bollywood loved by most Afghan restaurants – and wouldn’t Balkh before visiting again.
Getting there: L’Amour Fou Afghan, 31 Krishna Market, Kalkaji, a meal for two costs Rs 800. Home delivery available. Accepts Paytm.
Accessibility: The restaurant has about five steps, with a railing, going up to it.
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