Tag Archives: Ritu Dalmia

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