Tag Archives: Connaught Place

Espresso Grill

Rich flavours on pretty plates ♦

Delhi’s largest multilevel parking lot on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, which opened to much fanfare last year, is a desolate, glittering island between the hustle of Hanuman Mandir and the panoply of state emporia across the street. A digital display outside lists the impressive number of available spots, 1,408, less than a quarter of which are ever occupied. The fact that the lot is currently free should attract some traffic, as should Espresso Grill, a surprisingly swank little spot on one corner.

From the earthenware to the wooden furniture, straight black is the theme at this stylish open-kitchen restaurant, which, despite its unpromising name, has a fairly imaginative continental menu with appetising descriptions. The complete liquor and wine list wasn’t available when we visited, but if the mocktails were anything to go by, Espresso should make a strong showing in the drinks department as well. Prohibition was a peachy mixed-juice drink in a hurricane glass, while Baby Bellini was a snifter-full of slushy lemon and mint sorbet topped with ginger ale that inspired rude slurping sounds as it neared empty.

Mint is also a garnish on fresh tzatziki that comes with Greek flatbread with a crunchy topping of seeds and spices and hummus on the side. Another of the chef’s favoured ingredients is cracked black pepper, which pleasantly spiked a few of the dishes we tried. A creamy, olive oil-speckled tomato soup with a terrine of mozzarella, tomato slices and pesto daubs was weather-appropriate, though not extraordinary, and twice-cooked chicken wings with pomegranate molasses were sweet but not saccharine.

The ricotta and spinach tortellini with brown butter and slivered almonds was a bit dry, but stuffed with green and topped with crisped spinach. A slightly over-salted potato roesti came beautifully presented, topped with a tangle of zucchini “spaghettine”, a tapenade of olive and tomato and a pool of cream. The non-vegetarian mains cover the gamut from soy-glazed salmon to steak au poivre; slow-braised lamb shanks were a classy rendition of the standard, with red wine, rosemary and chilli glaze and leeks on the side.

The espresso itself wasn’t all that special, but a hot chocolate pudding with a scoop of intensely-concentrated coffee ice cream was one of the best fondants we’ve tried (and when every other menu has one, that’s something). A dense, chalky pavlova melted in the mouth, and went well with its topping of tiramisu cream and brandy-soaked prunes and figs, but was too big a portion for such a limited palette of flavours. Aside from a few flavour tweaks, Espresso Grill is an appreciated addition to the CP dining scene, and a good spot for lunch between emporia shopping too.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, January 2013.

Published: January 4, 2013

Sakura

Authentic, not atmospheric ♦

It’s been 11 years since Sakura first opened in Delhi. Since then, the city’s self-proclaimed “first Japanese restaurant” has opened a branch in Gurgaon, won every food award in its category and, recently, revamped its original location and menu.

The new Sakura at the Metropolitan Hotel remains fundamentally the same after its migration to the first floor. The hotel has preserved its Japanese clientele and flavour even after ending its association with the Nikko chain, and Sakura is still a locus for conducting business over sake. The aesthetic is Japanese contemporary; clean-lined, like the inside of a bento box. The (florescent) spotlight is on freshness and flawless preparation – at a hefty price, of course.

The short sake list is expensive (from R400 a shot), so we stuck to icy Kingfisher, which washes down the food just fine. A complimentary appetiser of bacon, potato, carrot and vermicelli stew took the edge off the stomach-rumbling that the 14-page food menu inspires. Sakura’s offerings are too wide-ranging for an exhaustive tasting in one meal. It’s better to by choosy and come back for more. The take moriawase platter is good value for the quality of fish, most of which is flown in fresh from Japan. The platter includes seven of the usual chef’s selection suspects (six nigiri and a simple daikon roll), but each is perfect: buttery sea bass, a fantastically fatty slice of yellowtail, and prawn so fresh and succulent it snapped apart with each bite. We chose a luscious prawn tempura roll to supplement the platter. The menu sprawls with dozens of variations on a few themes, but the chefs are happy to customise anything to your taste.

For our main course, we picked pork steak with teppanyaki dipping sauce. It sizzled its way to our table on a hot plate: tender, biteable pink-inside squares of meat nestled with broccoli, potatoes and carrots daubed with butter. A bowl of miso was gorgeously gloopy with softened seaweed. And the una-jyo donburi (barbecue eel in a box) was as good as we remembered: two thick, meaty cuts of eel, grilled to perfection in sweet sauce, the skin slightly blackened at the edges, on a bed of sticky rice. Accompaniments include a selection of pickled items, including addictive pickled plum. Scoops of grassy green tea and rough-textured red bean ice cream chased the lingering soy flavours from our palates, along with a free mug of jasmine tea.

Sakura is pricey and not incredibly atmospheric, but the food is really as good, and authentic, as everyone says. We’d suggest going often, but picking just a few items – a soup, a couple of appetisers, or just sashimi and sushi – to sample at a time.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, February 2012.

Published: February 6, 2012

Gargoti Mineral Museum

A hidden gem ♦

This article is part of a longer story on Delhi’s museums.

Dark, mysterious purple amethysts, spiky crystals of chalcedony, rheumy quartz and brilliant blue cavancite line the shelves. It’s not hard to imagine a sighting of the Virgin Mary or an Om within all this lustre (there are, in fact, many gods carved out of ruby or anthracite on display). What we didn’t expect was a Sheru calcite. The block of yellow mineral from Aurangabad was dolled up with plastic eyes, whiskers and a tricolour ribbon in honour of the Commonwealth Games last year. Far more dignified are the 65 million-year-old fossilised dinosaur egg and bones from Dahod, Gujarat. The region was home to Rajasaurus narmadensis (a T. rex-like dino) and it has one of the largest dinosaur hatcheries discovered anywhere in the world. Not that the display tells you this; nor the fact that that these eggs are often sold illegally.

Much is also up for sale at the Textile Ministry’s National Handicrafts Design Gallery & Museum, “curated” by Gargoti, a museum franchise owned by a mineral mining company. Rare gems and more common crystals are labelled “Museum Piece, Not for Sale,” but these cards have prices on the back. The rocks rub shoulders with handicrafts from all over India – mostly National Award-winning pieces. There are some beautiful and wondrous things: minutely-detailed cane weaving; a gorgeously life-like clay pumpkin with its stringy innards faithfully reproduced; a polished slice of a meteor; bits of the Moon and of Mars.

Gargoti Mineral Museum National Handicrafts Design Gallery & Museum (Earth Treasures), Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan, Third Floor, Baba Kharag Singh Marg (+91 11 6470 0053). Rajiv Chowk. Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun noon-7pm. Free.

Read more about Delhi’s museums.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 30, 2011

Mirdard Lane

Khau gali ♦

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(Photos: Paroma Mukherjee)

New Delhi gives way to the old city as you cross the railway line northeast of Connaught Place. A little before Shahjahanabad proper, however, the area between Ferozeshah Kotla, Gandhi Market and ITO already feels more like Sheher than Nai Dilli. This is where the balance of traffic switches from cars to cycle-rickshaws and pedestrians. Along Mirdard Lane, near Mata Sundri Road, there are innumerable barber shops and a masjid and kabristan called Takia Kale Khan. Mata Sundri gurudwara isn’t far, and the Aiwan-e-Ghalib auditorium is close at hand as well.

Watch for a little stretch of food stalls, with people and flies buzzing away with abandon, and meaty aromas you won’t find in your local adda. A number of stalls sell fried, griddled and flamed foodstuffs in the evening. In between are a few butcher shops selling poultry, mutton, and goat heads (the animals themselves are tied up outside the DDA flats just behind the stalls). The faint-hearted needn’t quail, however – the atmosphere of butchery is far tamer than the back-lanes of INA market on any given day. And the regular patrons make for a pretty cosmopolitan mix. In the evenings, you’ll find autowalas in their gray uniforms, neighbourhood families, children from a nearby madrassa in their dun-coloured kurta-pyjamas and a few hopeful cats and dogs.

The first food stall sells fried chicken: a golden ring of battered birds laid out around a giant kadhai. Next are stalls selling tandoori chicken, Changezi chicken, biryani, korma, fish tikkas and other kababs. The last stall, just before Maharaja Ranjeet Singh Marg, is an unmarked green-tiled kitchen with a photo of the Taj Mahal as its only ornamentation. The establishment is known locally as “Mumtaz tikkewala” and it serves meat seekhs and tikkas (Rs 3 each). The tikkas are small and soft little morsels, properly burnt around the edges. The seekhs are slender rolls of granular meat, flecked with little juicy bits of garlic. These are served with roomali rotis (Rs 2), a wedge of lime, a mass of onions and a salty, tangy chutney made of “khattai” (tamarind and other spices) and yoghurt. The stall’s speciality is a seekh-tikka combination roomali roll. The adjacent general store will supply you with a cold drink to wash down the grease and spice.

MirdardLane_2Top off these cheap thrills with an even cheaper one: a piping hot, juicy jalebi (Rs 1 each), from the cart across the road. An andawala, fruit-vendors and chaiwalas are also installed in the area. Best of all, these local delights are a mere two-minute drive from CP.

From Barakhamba Road, take Maharaja Ranjeet Singh Marg. Proceed over the flyover and take the first right at the signal (at Mother Dairy). Follow your nose to the stalls at your right. Daily 6.30- 11pm. Metro Barakhamba Road

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, May 2009.

Published: May 1, 2009

To the Manohar born

Help yourself to a slice of Delhi food history ♦

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Manmohan Singh at the Manor Hotel (Photos: Paroma Mukherjee)

On a walk through Khan Market’s intestinal middle lane the other day, we came upon a basket of bread, next to the imported strawberries and grapes. The smallish, dark square loaves nestled in the large basket looked impossibly old-fashioned compared to the fluffy white or fashionably grain-sprinkled varieties available today. We asked the man selling the loaves where the bread came from. “That’s Manohar bread”, he said, as if that were explanation enough.

That name would be, for anyone above 50 years of age, an instant nostalgia-trigger. Loaves of Manohar bread, each embossed with the company name, used to be a Delhi classic.

Like many good Delhi classics, Manohar bread has its origins in pre-Partition Lahore. Manohar Singh was a landowner’s son who – short on funds and advised against further study by his professor – opened a tuck shop in Government College Lahore’s New Hostel. He started selling chai, samosas and jalebis, “by default, almost by accident”, according to his son, Manmohan Singh, who we met over coffee at the familyowned Manor Hotel. Singh the elder became part of Lahore college lore. “My father’s nature was very different, very generous,” his son recalled. Eventually, Singh began catering for hotels like Nedoo’s and became the city’s biggest caterer. When Partition happened, however, he came to Delhi as a refugee in 1947.

DelhiBread_TimeOutDelhi_Shah1“There was a bakery in Connaught Place, which the government had listed as an evacuee property,” Manmohan told us. “It was given to my father as a refugee by Meher Chand Khanna, who was a minister. My father even lived there for some time, in a communal housing set-up, until he started baking there.” Manohar bakery, set up post-Partition, existed in the middle lane behind Odeon cinema – between B Block and H Block – for over 30 years until finally closing in 1981 or so. According to Manmohan, at its peak, the bakery would produce around 5,000 loaves a day. Manohar and other small bakeries existed alongside large companies like Britannia, and pre-dated even Modern Bread.

“We’ve never used preservatives,” Manmohan told us, “which means that the bread has to be eaten fresh – within a day or two. And the bread was wood-fired – as it still is today – on wooden bhattis. In most of the old bakeries, the bakers were all Muslims from Uttar Pradesh who learnt the art from their fathers and passed it on to their sons. It’s harder and harder to find people from that lineage today.” Singh did make one concession to modernity and bought a dough-beater in the 1970s, but before that, the dough was kneaded by these workers.

Singh managed to expand his business, mostly through the loose network of friendships and contacts in what was then small-town Delhi society. He began catering for Kota House (now the Naval Officer’s Mess on Shahjahan Road), and eventually met Ja D Fonseca, a Portuguese man who had come to Goa as a nine-year-old stowaway. Fonseca ran a hotel that was popular with foreigners, on the spot where the Taj Mahal Hotel now stands on Mansingh Road. Fonseca suggested that Singh open a hotel, where he could accommodate overflow guests. At the time, the cheapest and most spacious area available was Friends Colony, and the “Manor Country House” was built in the early 1950s.

“It was always called Manor,” Manmohan told us, “but people in the area called it Manohar because of the association with my father and with the bread.” Manmohan remembers his father holding court at the hotel. “He wasn’t really a businessman; his business was mixed with philanthropy, with friendship. Any widow who wanted to marry her daughter off would be given the hotel for free. My mother Roop was actually the brains behind the business – the one who kept things afloat.” A few years after her husband died in 1975, however, she closed the bakery in CP. “Now we only bake in small quantities for a limited number of customers,” Manmohan told us.

The bakery, which is now on the premises of the Manor Hotel, supplies their hearty, slightly nutty bread mainly to the Delhi Golf Club and small amounts to vendors in select markets, like Khan. Carrying on his father’s tradition, Manmohan also sends loaves over to family friends.

“I’m looking to revive the bakery somehow,” he said. “For emotional reasons, I’d like to carry it on, but it’s in an in-between stage right now.” The Manor Hotel itself (now leased by Old World Hospitality) is also undergoing a revamp, with new restaurants, a spa and service apartments in the offing. “For practical reasons, we might have to change some things,” Manmohan said, “but it’s something to look at reviving.”

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, January 2009.

Published: January 23, 2009