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Delhi’s Food Gully

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Famed for its fashion stores, art galleries, and historic landmarks, Hauz Khas Village has also become Delhi’s culinary destination with its unique restaurant concepts and formats, rooftop cafes, quaint cafes, cakes shops, night clubs and bars. The Village accomodates start-ups as well as mainstream food outlets, and offers something for everyone. Visitors come here to explore the  fashion stores along its endless lanes and bylanes, and to seek out the many tiny eateries offering unusual dishes and ambience. Positioned as a relatively high-end commercial area, it attracts a lot of foreign tourists, and the well-heeled.

In New Delhi, a walk through the narrow haphazard lanes of an urban village, with overhanging electrical wires amidst close set buildings, would not be an exciting place to be in, unless one is in Hauz Khas Village (HKV) or the Village as regulars and its residents call it. For food lovers, the place is a veritable gastronomic map, riddled with eateries in its numerous lanes and bylanes, and on rooftops of homes as well. From Mediterranean, English, Oriental and Middle-Eastern to Indian, Nepalese and Anglo-Indian, there are over 50 restaurants and cafes.

It was from 2009 that the Village began to see new restaurants and cafes cropping up. One of the earliest was Gunpowder started by Satish Warier –  Proprietor and head chef, and erstwhile editor of a leading publication and a band manager. The 800 sqft restaurant situated on the fourth floor, with a cover of 34, has both indoor and outdoor seating in the balcony that offers an expansive view of the lake. It serves cuisine from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, and Maharashtra, and secialities like Karimeen fry (Mackerel fry), Idukki pork, Kotthu Parotha, appams, Andhra prawn masala, and Keralan toddy-shop meen curry (fish curry with grated coconut and fish tamarind).

Gunpowder is very basic in design: white cotton tablecloths, brick walls, and an open kitchen where diners can watch Warier cooking with gusto, define the place. But what it lacks in interior design and ambience, it more than makes up in its sumptuous dishes. It gets over 150 footfalls in a day, and there is usually a long queue of people waiting along the steep stairway, so Warier encourages making a reservation. He has opened another such eatery in Assagao, Goa, and has expanded to a catering/delivery service for Gurgaon.

The other earlier restaurants were The Village Bistro, Baoji ka Dabba, Duke Palace, Curry on the Roof, The Living Room and Kitchen (TLR), Park Balluchi, and Naivedyam. Though  some have closed, the ones that are still there are doing a thriving business.

In 2011, cafe started by Indo-Italian Raavi Chowdhary, ushered in the European style cafe. Bright reds and yellows, psychedelic drawings on walls, unpolished wooden chairs, and raw wooden flooring and countertops, complete its casual, cosy interiors. Free Wi-Fi and an occasional art sale draw a mix of youngsters and the arty set. Chowdhary, who started out waiting tables in London, has over 10 years of experience in the food service industry. Back in India, he worked for several five-star hotels before setting up his dream project. The menu is simple offering coffee, cakes, shakes, pizza by slice, and 18 types of crepes, which is also the cafe’s speciality. Chowdhary informs that all food is made in-house, and is, therefore, very fresh. Even the pizza dough is made in-house by the chef; and the cheese is home-made and sourced from a farm in Manali. Despite the attention to quality, pricing is relatively pocket-friendly; a slice of margherita pizza costs Rs 140, and cappuccino is for Rs 80 (minus taxes). Business is somewhat slower in the summer months with around 30-50 footfalls a day, and peaks in winters with the numbers going up to 60-70. got its golden moment when it was featured in David Rocco’s Dolce Vita (TV show); Rocco has even cooked in its kitchen.

Around the same time, Yeti-The Himalayan Kitchen opened to offer an experience in Himalayan cuisine (Nepali, Bhutanese, and Tibetan), and an understanding of their culture through its food, interiors and ambience. Brick walle, stone flooring, wooden furniture, prayer flags and bells, Tibetan artwork and antiques, and soft Buddhist music lend a feel of the mountains. It was started by Ardahun Pinky Passah and Tenzing Sonam, who are both in their twenties.

The 48-cover restaurant is crowded almost every weekend. Apart from the usual fare of momos and fried rice, it offers specialities like tingmo (Tibetan bread), shapta (Tibetan meat dish), Ema datshi (Bhutanese dish made of cheese), Gyuma (Tibetan sausage), and Nepali thali, and starters. The duo have branched out to a small delivery format called Yeti Express, located in the city’s Malviya Nagar. Suppliers come on a daily basis, bringing spices and other ingredients from north-east India, Darjeeling and Nepal.

A recent entrant that has already become a landmark is Elma’s Bakery, Cakes and Tea Room started by Cordon Bleu chef Shelley Sahay. The tiny bakery specialises in cakes, teas and breads, all of which are made fresh in-house. Floral wallpaper, wooden floors, chairs and tables, and a piano transport the visitor to an English countryside. But the Village was chosen more out of necessity. Despite the high price (a slice of red velvet cake costs Rs 203), Elma’s has people waiting for their turn, with weekends being especially crowded. Recently, they have opened Edwards (below Elma’s) – a deli that also has gourmet sandwiches on its menu.

Another bakery is the Maison Des Desserts, which specialises in French and  international desserts like profiteroles, tiramisu, roulades and pavlova (the most popular), besides coffee. Started by , Maison started as a home bakery from Gurgaon, before Mehta decided to open an outlet in Hauz Khas Village. Maison is more pocket-friendly than many cafes in the Village with an average spend of Rs 800-900 for two.

Crostini cafe started by , is 430 sqft in area and has a cover of 24. What sets it apart is the “only healthy” options on the menu like fresh fruit juices, whole wheat cookies and muffins, porridge, and thin crust pizzas made of whole wheat. Only olive oil is used for cooking, and there are no artificial flavours or white flour used. Prices are affordable despite the expensive ingredients. A Mediterranean Special salad with  zucchini, bell peppers, brinjal, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds costs around Rs 179,  and a whole wheat muffin around Rs 59. While the weekday footfall is around 10, weekends are busier with an average of 30-50 customers.

The 300 sqft The Grey Garden started by two fashion designers and a DJ is an eatery cum clothes boutique. It works on the concept of slow cooking, with a cuisine that ranges from the pizza to a pan roasted tilapia, confit potato’s and fennel. The owners plan to re-start it in a bigger format, and have, therefore, decided to close it temporarily.

In fact, new cafes and pubs are opening up at a steady speed, and some are shutting shop equally fast. Newcomers are Bootlegger, Thirty Nine, Elf lounge cafe, Faarsi, Out of the Box, Fork You, Pizzeria Rossa, The Pink Room, He Said She Said, The Leaky Cauldron, Bagel’s café, Fat Ninja, Caffechino, amongst many more.

Running parallel are eateries serving traditional fare from different parts of India. The two most visited are The Golconda Bowl (Hyderbadi cuisine) and Naivedyam (South Indian cuisine). The Golconda Bowl, which started in 2011, has two more outlets: one in Mumbai and an  express format in Noida.

While for long the Hauz Khas Village enjoyed a distinct character like no other in Delhi, where the life of the rustic resident juxtaposed with the urbane Delhiite, and the place appeared  almost metropolitan with people from different parts of the country and the world walking its streets, there is a visible change now. Mainstream and upmarket brands like Amici, Cocoberry, and L’Opera have opened shop here, with the result that the essential rustic nature of the place is losing its flavour and essence. The Village is also seeing the night coming alive with an increasing number of night clubs and bars that are catering to an age group of 20-35 who want to party at night.

With bigger players eying the space, the business dynamics of the Village are changing. Rents have tripled in the last 2 years – from Rs 20,000 or so, they are almost a lakh now.  Smaller outlets that are unable to pay such high rents are shutting down and giving way to the big pocket players. The Village will continue to thrive as big brands make their entry, but it would make better business sense if they were to mould themselves into the character and ambience of the place, and not replicate their high-street or mall models.