A well-known Chandigarh restaurant unsheathes weapons of mass degustation. ♦
At a time when Indian modernism is threatened from every angle—from the demolition of the Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan, to the final blow to Nehruvian geopolitics with Modi’s mushy embrace of Israel—WD House is an unlikely but welcome throwback to the robust, idealistic internationalism of the past. Appropriately, then, the restaurant—a four-story building incorporating an “all-day club” with a live performance space, two formal but unstuffy dining rooms, a cozy rooftop terrace and a basement shop (not yet open)—comes to Delhi via Chandigarh, the planned city of Nehru’s dreams, and the architectural pinnacle of mid-century modernism.
WD’s precursor in Chandigarh is the café and performance space, Whistling Duck, the cream of the butter chicken capital since it opened in 2014. Somewhat reminiscent of Café Lota, the Chandigarh restaurant serves innovative Indian dishes in a relaxed setting. WD is far more ambitious; but friends reported some hiccoughs at its launch. We go over for weekend lunch to take a gander.
Could be Corboozier
WD is poised to be an instant unfussy classic, along the lines of Basil & Thyme or Indian Accent. We like its clean white walls, simple lattice windows, green marble, beige china, and Indian Railway-blue accent lamps. There’s even an elegant menu in a sarkari-style string-tied file folder.
The liquor license isn’t in place yet (the staff estimates it will take another three weeks), but when it is, the airy performance area, with the market’s lush park as a backdrop, will be an inviting space. Judging by our beverages, the drinks should be pretty good too. We savour tangy khubaani and adrak soda, flecked with red apricot skin, and spicy jamun and dill mattha spiked with green chilli. Cha yen, lemongrass and coconut milk iced tea, evokes mixed opinions — this reviewer found it tasty, but too close to Thai curry for comfort.
Considering we’re almost the only diners present, our appetizers take just a shade longer than we’d expect—but otherwise excellent service more than makes up for this. A densely flaky crab cake encrusted with singed almond flakes arrives, daringly petite on an oversize dish, but delicious. Darsaan—the ubiquitous honey noodle dessert of Chinese restaurants across the country—has never tasted better than in our salad, a Thai inspired toss-up of sliced duck, shredded turnip, candied ginger and sprouts. Clay oven morels are beautifully presented, like seekh kababs, studded with peas and topped with a flower. (Note: Pretty much everything arrives sprinkled with micro-greens, daubed with foam or floating in a reduction.)
Several meaty inches of caramelised eel on gooey shitake rice is more deliciously filling than it looks. Our other main course of koldil aru manxo plays with tradition, placing a whole quail in rich Assamese gravy of banana flowers and spices on a pedestal of awan bangvi—a rice dish with cashews typical of Tripura—with mustard oil-infused pomelo salsa to the side. Phew. Our lunch covers a range of flavours, but barely scratches the surface of the long, inventive menu. Chef Richa Johri comes out for a chat; with Ritu Dalmia at Diva and Radhika Khandelwal at Fig & Maple, hers is the third kitchen led by women in the market that we know of.
We finish with beautiful orange crème brûlée and a fresh, summery mango and passion fruit verrine. The coffee is good enough to make us hope a section of WD will be open to co-working.
Everything about the establishment feels refreshingly down to earth until we’re presented with a stratospheric bill. We realise only later that a couple of items are listed with different prices on the menu, which strikes us as rather unfair. There’s no soft cushion for the 18 percent GST addition either, but we can’t blame WD for that one. Indeed, WD ought to give its swanky neighbours Diva and Artusi some friendly competition, provided it gets all its ducks in a row.
Getting there: WD House, 80 M-Block Market, Greater Kailash-2. A meal for two costs approximately Rs 5,500 (without tax).
This story was originally published on Brown Paper Bag.