Sacrebleu, it’s pink! ♦
This story was originally published in Conde Nast Traveller India.
Last summer, many of Khan Market’s restaurants closed during the first lockdown. So I was somewhat surprised by the surround sound of hammers and drills filling the lanes of this seventy-year-old market on a recent visit. Things seem to be in a post-second-wave upswing now.
One perennially full restaurant that hasn’t bounced back is Smoke House Deli, which is sad mostly because of the loss of its beautiful interiors, covered with heartfelt Delhi-themed drawings by Kriti Monga‘s Turmeric Design. The visual references were snippets of history and nostalgia and included drawings of stores — like Empire Stores and Sovereign Dairies — that had shut in the years before, as Khan transformed from a useful local market to one of the world’s most expensive retail real estate locations.
With the churn of new eateries and designer brands almost constant, one of the world’s most famous luxury food brands has now arrived where Smoke House Deli used to be. Parisian macaron-specialist Ladurée’s first outpost in India occupies three levels in the market’s prime front entrance, with a walk-through ground floor that exits into the middle lane.
Chandni Nath Israni, of the developer group CK Israni, will be bringing more outposts to India soon. During a press preview ahead of the first opening, she and Ronan Le Mestre, the brand’s international director, described the synergy between their companies as ‘a Bollywood story.’
Inside Ladurée in Khan Market
The ground floor has display cases with the twelve currently available macaron flavours, viennoiseries and teacakes, and pastries — including brand signature Ispahan, a pink macaron with rose petal cream, raspberries and lychees. The first and second floor are modelled on the brand’s international salon de thé template, based on its original location on Paris’ Rue Royale, with décor ‘adapted’ to local aesthetics, as Le Mestre explains.
There is a lot of pink. Floral cheent pattern creepers wind up the salmon walls and woven cane panels on the ceiling are another Indian touch. The rest is velvet banquettes and marble-topped tables, laid out with full silver service, more in tune with the pastel glamour of Ladurée’s 100-plus locations around the world.
The café menu too has a bit of local adaptation, with a chicken tikka club among the sandwich offerings. Much of the rest is comfort food for adults: brunch and high-tea items like avocado toast, croque-monsieur, and versions of eggs Benedict with brioche toast—all overseen here by executive chef Godfroy Leinekugel who has been with the brand for nearly five years, most recently in Russia and Kazakhstan.
There’s plenty of attention to detail in the preparation and service. Perfect little rolls and seed bread are served hot, and each leaf of romaine in a Fattoush salad is coated with pomegranate molasses dressing. A vol au vent arrives with much ceremony: one waiter serves the cylindrical puff pastry filled with seasoned chicken breast, while another opens a tureen, stirring the mushroom sauce within before ladling it over. The puff is buttery, the sauce rich, the chicken well-cooked and pearl onions provide pops of sharper flavour. This is the signature dish, based on Ladurée owner David Holder’s grandmother’s recipe. In an inadvertent local twist, it is rather reminiscent of our indigenous buy-’em-by-the-dozen mushroom and chicken patties. The ingredient justifying the Rs2,295 price tag (a shade lower than the price in France) is the morel mushrooms in the sauce. Fun fact: India actually produces these pricey fungi, which can be exported for up to Rs. 40,000/kg. Compared to images of the dish at other locations though, the morel ratio looks a bit low.
For dessert, a strong shot of espresso pairs well with the Medovik pastry, inspired by Russian honey cake, but with a range of textures, from soft to crunchy, in its honey-infused layers.
Ladurée’s macarons vs Delhi’s humidity
On my way out, the staff — all perky and sweet if a bit nervous ahead of the big opening — box up six macarons for me. The airy little pastries (shipped ‘in hibernation’ to India from the company’s central factory in Switzerland), are indeed perfect, just the right balance of crisp and chewy, despite Delhi’s challenging humidity. The flavours range from perfume-like floral and citrus to indulgent chocolate and caramel.
There are other places in Delhi that make credible and less pricey macarons (L’Opera just around the corner for one). At the end of the day, the value of Ladurée’s ephemeral treats is more about the box they come in. And, as the plentiful mirrors imply, stopping there for a bite or a drink (the alcohol license is still pending) is more about being seen to eat here than actually eating. No doubt South Delhi Instagram will be flooded with pink posts soon (check out the selfie-friendly mirror near the loos.)
Like Khan Market, Ladurée has reinvented itself several times. A bakery founded in 1862, it burned down during the razing and rebuilding of Paris under Napoleon III and reopened as a pastry shop. The Holder Group bought it in 1993, giving it the luxe fashion brand makeover and driving a worldwide macaron craze in the mid-2000s after contributing to the set design in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
A small part of Ladurée’s early history—a cherubic ‘Pastry Angel’ painted on the ceiling by a fin-de-siecle artist—inspires the brand identity. Le Mestre tells me it is the ‘art de vivre’ of France that Ladurée wishes to bring to India. Thinking of the old and familiar drawings that used to adorn Smoke House’s walls, I wonder if a little bit of the spirit of Delhi has vanished in the process.