Tag Archives: Hauz Khas Village

Nox

Basic mixed drinks and loud karaoke at this casual HKV bar ♦

Nox, a long, sitting-room style bar thrust up the backside of Hauz Khas Village, is a likeable enough place, even if it does fall victim to the all-encompassing tendencies of most of the city’s drinking holes. This one literally aspires to a drinking hole aesthetic, with its wooden tribesmen and animal statues, bamboo fronds in pots and rustic wickerwork furniture. It also aspires to pure pop (solid-colour walls, retro movie posters), rock (the predictable, circa 2002, playlist) and a trip ’round the world (the itinerant menu covers everything from lobster thermidor to tandoori chicken momos).

All of this is par for the nightlife course. Unfortunately, the Saturday we visited happened to be karaoke night – always avoidable unless you’re the one singing. A couple of scraggly bearded dudes sucking on a couple of mikes were putting the Nox in obnoxious – belting Jay Sean and Linkin Park while their female friends tried valiantly to match volume. We had to write our order on a napkin in order to communicate with the rather embarrassed waiter.

The drinks menu is a basic list for now, with no cocktails. We were denied a request to spike mocktails (like “classic mojito”) – or perhaps our query was misunderstood. We wisely retired to the one outdoor table with our whiskey sodas (Teacher’s, R330; prices include taxes) and rum cokes (Bacardi, R200). We’d have liked a G & T to ward off the Hauz’s squadron of mosquitoes, but there was no tonic to be had, only soda.

Late happy hours for karaoke night are a plus, and the evening picked up significantly with a pizza Nox veg (R320). The thin crust pie was covered with caramelised onions and olives, spinach, corn and zucchini. The menu may be ambitious and speckled with oddities (“soothed mushroom” and “spared mushroom moo in wine”), but you might not go too wrong with dinner, drinks and hookah here. Just nix the drunken accompaniment.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, June 2012.

Published: June 8, 2012

Diva Piccola

Ritu Dalmia’s return to Hauz Khas  Village ♦

Restaurateur Ritu Dalmia has come full circle since her opening first restaurant in Hauz Khas Village, almost two decades ago, and Diva Piccola, her new café venture in that neighbourhood. Not only does Dalmia have the comfort Italian formula down pat, nowadays the mere fact of existence in HKV implies being too hip to fail. It’s not surprising then, that the food at this cozy eatery with an open kitchen, picture windows and quick service, is also excellent. The menu is succinct: appetizers, pastas, pizzas, paninis and three main non-vegetarian courses, and of course, desserts. Eggplant and haloumi wrapped in ciabatta crumb turned out to be three gratinated and reconstituted baingan and cheese tikkis, nicely spiced and served with a delicious scraped-up salsa of tomatoes and basil.

An order of six crispy prawns, each nestled in a brown paper cone, very lightly battered and fried, and served with a lemony rosemary olive oil and drops of caramelised vinegar was very snackable, though we found ourselves wishing we’d ordered the heap of mixed greens at the neighbouring table. The green quotient was easily filled by our pizza, an off-the menu recommendation from an extremely enthusiastic and helpful member of the staff (he described a Bailey’s mousse cake as “orgasmic”). All the pizzas sound brilliant, and we enjoyed our verde prosciutto hybrid: pesto sauce, mozzarella, high quality Parma ham, a salad of rocket leaves and a liberal garnish of pine nuts. Gooey and crispy in all the right places, this is certainly the best pie you’ll get in the Village – maybe even in the city.

We also tried the pork piccata, perfect for those with bigger appetites: a browned cutlet topped with cubes of fried pink ham, in a red wine reduction with white whole moons cut out of a potato for embellishment. We’d recommend sticking with pizza or pasta, but only because you’ll want to save space for dessert. The mousse cake was very good – thick with cream and solidly rich, though, we felt, a little too precise to qualify as “orgasmic”, as someone a table deemed it. A panna cotta with blue berry sauce was also well turned out, a small quivery mound flecked with vanilla, next to a streak of purple coulis. We might have liked the desserts a bit messier – they seemed more appropriate to a five star hotel patisserie than something from Dalmia’s typically personal kitchens – but that’s not a complaint. And “loosen up a little” is certainly not a suggestion you could offer most restaurants in the city.

Diva Piccola 30 Hauz Khas Village, First Floor (4053-6001).
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, April 2012.

Published: April 13, 2012

Hippies vs hipsters

The case for Paharganj ♦

DSC_0019For years, there’s been no stemming the southbound, outward drift of Delhi nightlife. The mega-clubs of Noida and Gurgaon first lured revelers away from the city with the promise of police raid-free parties. Then South Delhi got its own malls, complete with rooftop clubs: extravagant light-and-sound beacons of the lush life, outdoor dance terraces, imported ingredients and, inevitably, the popped-collar crowd.

The emergence of Hauz Khas Village as a nightlife destination was welcome. It’s not difficult to see how, in its contr­ast to the ostentation of other options, that neigh­bourhood acquired its alternative tag. But take out the new restaurants and music venues, and there are still a few core reasons – walk-ability, scale, safety, expat patronage – why HKV’s popularity was almost predestined.

But enough has been said about that urban village (not least of all by Time Out). It’s time to move on. In the past few weeks, we’ve heard murmurings about two other historic Delhi areas that make us want to start casting predictions about where the next scene will pop up. A couple of Dilliwalas (including original HKV restaurateur Ritu Dalmia) have recently touted Daryaganj as the next big thing. The neighbourhood bridging central and old Delhi certainly has the charm of other old world cities that have transformed into trendy destinations. The tea shop Aap Ki Pasand predates Elma’s by years, Moti Mahal has long been a low-key dining option, there’s art-deco elegance hidden in the bylanes, and the sexologist signboards on BSZ Road achieve kitsch more effortlessly than anything in HKV. The boutiques and cafés will surely come.

However, our money’s on the imminent gentrification of Paharganj. Most Dilliwalas treat a trip to that locale as a foreign journey, and it’s true that Paharganj is culturally a satellite state of India’s hippie trail nation. But that’s changing. First, one of the city’s most conveniently-located Metro stops deposits riders right into the market. Then, anticipating a demand for hotels during the Commonwealth Games, the city spent a couple of crores sprucing up Paharganj’s lanes. There are still open sewers and rubble, but besides kamikaze rickshaws, Paharganj is easily navigable and safe for women, buzzing with people until well after midnight.

And then there’s the foreigner quotient. They may be backpackers, not expats, but this international population gives Paharganj a cosmopolitan character. The budget tourists keep the area affordable, with business owners catering to a crowd that appreciates value-for-money rather than showy spending.

Paharganj already has more 24 hour joints in less space than any other Delhi neighbourhood. It’s just a matter of time before a game-changing venue will open: a restaurant that ditches the usual multicuisine mish-mash, perhaps, or a live music café. In the past few months, we’ve noticed several new places, including a Mediterranean hookah bar and a coffee shop promising Italian espresso across the street from each other. Connaught Place’s Outer Circle has a number of new bars too (including live music lounge Sura Vie), which could make rickshaw-enabled pub crawls a viable option.

Then there are the old establishments, like Ajay Guest House’s café, which recently rebranded itself as hip, organic Brown Bread Bakery. We were recently enchant­ed by the green rooftop at Fire and Ice, especially its view of the romantic domes of the sadly decrepit Qazi Wali Masjid from between its vine-covered trellises. At Dokebi Nara, the Korean den that’s been fermenting cabbage in its hallway for eight years, we eavesdropped as a table of Bengali intellectuals downed pints and smoked their way through packets of Gold Flakes. “Have you seen Ritu Dalmia’s new book?” one asked another, “the launch party was last night.” Listen up, restaurateurs and scenesters: Paharganj is calling.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, December 2011.

Published: December 23, 2011

The Grey Garden

Fabric of our lives ♦

To get to this Hauz Khas Village eatery, you first descend a cramped alley hung with fabric, reminiscent of the Katra Neel cloth market in the Old City. Once you pop out on the other end though, you’ll find less commerce, more conversation.

The Grey Garden, perched at the rear edge of the Village, has ties to a local hipster consortium of electronic artists and designers. Its interior decor compounds the impression that the owners are playing at restaurateuring: the rectangular room has only about six tables, and is defined by its loveliest feature, a ceiling of white fabric squares, lit up with a wash of neon light.

Found objects are sandwiched under the glass table-tops; dried roses hang in random bunches from the walls; and draped over a nail in one corner are the guts of a CPU. The overall effect is charming, if just a bit ramshackle (especially compared to the high polish of the sister shop next door). No doubt the atmosphere is elevated somewhat by the patrons – a mix of expats and well-heeled locals sipping fashionably shallow pours from large goblets.

We’re not sure why the Grey Garden bills itself as a slow-food venue. There’s no explanation on the menu of the commitment to local producers and regional ingredients that the slow food movement typically implies. (If ingredients like the rambutan and walnuts are indeed from around here, we’d love to hear more about it.) Thankfully, though, the slow food tag isn’t a reference to the unhurried but biddable service, nor the order preparation time.

The menu is to the point, with appetisers, a digestible selection of pizzas and a slightly more provocative list of main courses, which sound whimsical but not especially tempting. This might have been rectified with more poetic descriptions. Chicken with rambutan in red curry just cries out for a detailed account of itself, and the entry for a popular steamed fish in a banana leaf neglects to mention the type of fish. We started with an appetiser of zucchini fritters. These snackable zuke pakoras (R185, all prices tax-inclusive) would have been well complemented by the advertised accompaniment – “tzakzini [sic]”, a Greek yogurt dip – but were transmuted into iffy tempura as they came with salty, seasoned soy sauce instead. Still, the generous serving went well with chilled glasses of white from the short but site-appropriate list.

For the rest of the meal, we stuck to Grey Garden’s thin-crust pizzas, which are closer to flatbreads. The dough, rolled with herbs and tossed to an oblong shape, tasted fairly fresh and approached tantalising near-crispness when it first comes out on a wooden slab. Our slices got a little floppy eventually, but by then we were too buzzed to much care. Shreds of jalapenõ gave a good Indian Capsico kick to the olive pesto, tomato, basil and feta pizza ( R375). The pear, rocket, walnut and ricotta pizza ( R375), though trendy and short on rocket leaves, hit a sweet spot. Grey Garden’s desserts change daily. The banoffee pie ( R300) surpassed the oversweet Big Chill standard, and a lemon lavender cake (R300) was a slightly stale pound cake with tart lemon curd and inspired bits of dried lavender. A shot of bitter espresso (R70) was the kitchen’s crowning glory.

We’ll likely be back for more of it. As HKV inches ever-closer to an approximation of New York’s East Village, the Grey Garden fulfills a certain yearning for American-style democracy in dining (wear what you want, chat with the owners, linger for hours, be friends on Facebook, etc). Though local celebrities no longer man the kitchens, they do, along with friends, contribute to sporadic themed “supper club” dinners that we’re told are part performance art and part Social Happening (advance reservations required). Despite its shortcomings, the restaurant’s comfortable nonchalance won us over. A collection of wristwatches inside our table smiled brokenly up at us with their frozen faces and seemed to say, “You have time – take it slow.”

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 2, 2011