Bombay vs. Delhi is a subject best avoided, as it’s bound to invite the fieriest of debates between the two loyalist camps.
However, even this staunch Bombayite can concede to the convincing charms of the capital’s cacophony of cafés and cuisines, having inevitably extended a recent trip simply to explore more of Delhi’s burgeoning food scene! While I’m only just scratching the surface, gathered here are the most memorable highlights – from convivial coffee-cum-wine bars to fine-dining favourites… with a stop for all the toothsome street eats in between!
Coffee (and cakes) until cocktails…
The colourful patchwork of Khan Market is a good place to start, spanning the spectrum from ethnic Indian garment boutiques (including Anokhi and Good Earth) and lifestyle stores to vivaciously-vibrant cafés interspersed with street food joints.
The Town Hall comes highly recommended by locals for its medley of world cuisines; while its sister establishment Public Affair, offers a not-so-public, clandestine setting spread across a capacious terrace, private dining area and a quirkily-kitsch lounge kitted with vintage touches. It’s buzzy and buzz-worthy, yet proves surprisingly intimate – even for a group as large (and raucous) as ours.
Creative cocktails are matched by a well-curated wine list here, with the contemporary menu offering a number of spot-hotting dishes (from salads to handmade pasta), to see the evening through on a suitably satiated note!
Another evening in Khan Market has us cosily ensconced at Perch – an airily hipster coffee and wine bar with a low-key décor that’s lifted by potted plants and a Ficus tree growing within the staircase atrium! It’s not long before dusk turns into nightfall and we’re signalling for our second bottle of rosé as we nibble our way through an artfully well-assembled platter of cheese… leaving just in time to pop into The Big Chill Cakery on our way out of Khan Market.
This endearingly-homey café is distinguished by its detox-destroying display of desserts, with regulars flocking back for the zaftig pleasures of a fabulously-fresh blueberry cheesecake or the aptly titled “dreamy chocolate Viennese cake,” smoothly layered with five different types of chocolate. The colossally generous servings are enough to defeat even my insatiable appetite!
The real bucket-list visit is of course, Wenger’s – one of Delhi’s oldest bakeries, designed in 1926 in the landmark Connaught Place. Having endured the test of time, you’ll find this institution among institution still bustling with activity – the Swiss rolls and old-fashioned pastries literally flying off the shelves on a Saturday morning!
Other top picks for treats include impeccable scones and the iconic carrot cake at Elma’s Bakery – a quintessentially English spot established by the N.R.I founder’s desire to find a good cup of coffee in Delhi’s historic Haus Khaz Village.
Further adding to the city’s burgeoning café culture, the iconic leather goods brand Nappa Dori has recently opened the trendy Café Dori within its concept warehouse in Chattarpur; while the residential environs of Greater Kailash II has a laid-back yet cheery neighbourhood hangout in Fig & Maple, where brunch is an all-day affair. Creme brûlée or lemon meringue pancakes anyone?
Fine Dining Favourites
Delhi’s vanguard hotels continue to be faithful custodians of fine dining restaurants, with The Spice Route at The Imperial ranking among the country’s top restaurants for its South-East Asian cuisine, journeying along the Malabar coast, through Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia towards Thailand and Vietnam.
The sumptuous specialties here are mirrored by intricately-detailed interiors which follow the tenets of Feng Shui. Expect 24k karat gold leafing on the walls; Thai sculptures sourced from Chiang Mai; an ancient Thai manuscript of The Ramayana; and mesmerising murals hand-painted with vegetable and flower dyes in a tradition which dates back 3,000 years (with the painters themselves brought in especially from a temple in Kerala). There’s even a beautiful courtyard for lunch al-fresco, seamlessly integrating the architecture and design of a Thai and Keralan home! More about The Imperial Hotel, here.
Manish Mehrotra’s stunning fusion of traditional Indian flavours with contemporary, global influences still weaves a compelling experience at Indian Accent, which has seamlessly moved homes to The Lodhi Hotel (alongside running successful chapters in New York and London).
There’s also a much talked-about new Indian restaurant, Omya, at The Oberoi, helmed by a Michelin-starred chef from London, Alfred Prasad. Recently reopened after a mammoth multi-million dollar makeover, the iconic hotel also has brought on board Andrew Wong of London’s A Wong, as Mentor Chef at the contemporarily-fashioned Baoshuan. Whether these restaurants establish themselves as destinations in their own right remains to be seen… but in the meantime, the rooftop bar – Cirrus 9 – is already making waves as a buzzy spot to ballast a cocktail (or few) as you languidly drink in the night-time views too!
Of course when it comes down to it, there’s nothing quite like the simple pleasures of Dilli’s famous chaat. During the winter-months – you can find Shakarkandi ki Chaat at almost every street corner, the heffalump cubes of roasted sweet potato vigorously mixed with chaat masala, lime juice and a pinch of salt!
At GK II’s Prince’s Paan and Chaat Corner, there’s pure joy in biting into a colourful compilation of Palakpatta Chaat – impeccably-crisp, batter-fried spinach leaves festooned with lashings of thick yogurt, chutneys, mashed potatoes and masala, creating a vivid melody of salt, spice and crunch – balanced by a touch of sweetness!
The real highlight is a visit to Chandni Chowk, where recipes and culinary traditions have passed down generations – manifesting in all manners of temptations that are unique to Purani Dilli (Old Delhi).
Our journey begins with diabolically deep-fried parathas stuffed with a medley of fresh ingredients in Paranthewali Galli; continuing with dahi bhalla, creamy kulfi and cottony clouds of Daulat ki Chaat (light-as-air layers of frothy foam that is separated from continuously churning milk and cream).
Of course, we find time to follow the trinket trail along the way too, as the narrow alleys and gracefully-decaying havelis are burgeoning with all sorts of captivating shops… All told it’s this visit to the Delhi of old which proves to be a cultural and culinary adventure to top all others in the capital! Read the full guide to Old Delhi here.
Until next time, Delhi!