A walk down memory lane in New Delhi's Connaught Place

Connaught Place & its new addition. Farzi cafe

Caution: Long post ahead

Connaught Place, in the heart of Lutyen’s New Delhi, is a place full of memories for Delhi’ites.

I have some tenuous Delhi roots too. My mom grew up there as my late grandfather used to work in the Indian Railways in Delhi. At Shastri Bhavan when Babu Jagjivan Das was the Railway minister as Dadu used to tell me. I think Delhi was our first port of visit when we used to come to India from the UK when I was a chubby toddler. Connaught Place was where we used to head to then in the evenings.

As I did later when I visited my aunt who stayed on in Delhi even after my grandparent came to Calcutta after he retired. During my visit she had taken me to Nirulas and I remember having a huge sundae called Manhattan Mania there. I used to spend time at Connaught by myself when she was at work and would walk down Janpath and the underground market at Palika Bazar and then onto to the Jantar Mantar. This was my first trip alone just after high school and I was quite chuffed with myself. 

My then future uncle/ mesho, Somer Uncle, whose 50th birthday (21st April) it is today, and who was dating my aunt then took us to Bercos, a Chinese restaurant there where I had my first introduction to the American chop suey and loved it!

 Ketchup, crispy noodles, what’s not there to love about it. I remember my uncle and aunt quibbling over who got the fried egg on top of the noodles.

I returned to Delhi a few years later. Now not a student anymore but a market research executive who would come over to do focus groups for an American automotive brand. The hotel I was put up in was called the Connaught Palace. I don't think it exists anymore. Tiny room, chewy steaks in rooms service but a lot more fun than my Paying Guest digs where I was put up in Mumbai in those days. The bathroom in the room in the hotel was really small but I didn’t have to share it with anyone unlike in my PG where 13 people shared  the loos. During the day time I would roam around at Connaught Place of CP as locals call it. I remember going to a place called Silver Grill for a drink with one of my fellow trainees at work.

Then I stopped going to CP when work took me to Delhi again. Instead of the Connaught Hotel, we were kept at the Ambassador near Khan Market. My focus groups happened there. My uncle and aunt, when she was in Delhi, stayed with her family at GK2 and I would visit them there. So there was no need to go to CP and soon CP became a memory.

I went back to Delhi 2 or 3 years back and was put up at the Lalit Hotel which is very close to CP. I had stayed there at the beginning of my career too. It was called the Hilton then and was super cool compared to the hotels I would stay in at that time. The Lalit is very stately even now.

One evening I walked down to CP from the Lalit and I just loved the vibe. Connaught Place reminded me of the New Market in Calcutta. Unlike the manicured crowd in the posher Delhi markets of South Ex and Defcol, at CP you had people from all social classes and ages. There were groups of friends, families, courting couples…walking around…sitting and chatting…the place was dug up because of the impending Commonwealth Games. The vibe was very warm. I didn’t feel alone there though I was by myself. I went and asked people for directions to Wenger’s and Keventer’s. Places which my blogger friend, and Delhi Bengali,  Priyanka Mitra had told me her dad used to take her to. People were very helpful. As were the staff at the shops who were more than happy to talk to me about their establishments. I felt so at home. I took lot of pictures but didn’t end up blogging about the evening. I felt like I was truly in my mama bari’s (maternal grandparent’s) city which is what Delhi actually is for me. This clearly had to be my favourite part of Delhi.

The charm of Connaught Place

2016: Connaught Place with Food Sherpa Manisha Bhasin

I did go back to Connaught Place a couple of weeks back. This time with Manisha Bhasin, the senior executive chef of the ITC Maurya. I asked Manisha how it felt to be a rare women executive chef. She said, she had never looked at herself as a woman in the kitchen and that in the kitchen she was a chef and that’s all over the last 28 years that she has worked as a chef.

The ITC Hotels have a concept of Food Sherpa where chefs or trained folks from the hotel take you to local restaurants and markets in the city. The cost at Delhi is Rs 3,000 per person and Rs 4,000 per couple inclusive of the ride from the hotel and the food and is only for hotel guests.

I got lucky as Manisha herself took the time out to be my food Sherpa. I chose to go to Connaught Place over old Delhi which I’d been to twice recently.

Our first stop was Wenger’s, the 80 year old confectionery at CP. Originally started by a Swiss family just as Flurys in Calcutta had been. I had been to Wenger's before and felt like I was entering Merwan at Mumbai’s Andheri when I entered Wenger’s. The same sponge cakes, packed sandwiches (that my brother loves) and bakes that one sees at Merwans. The same smiles on the faces of all inside. The same aroma of baking.

The shammi kebab at Wenger's is the bomb

 I had the much recommended shammi kebab which was more a croquette than a kebab and was spicy, moist, meaty and the best thing I had that afternoon. 

Manisha Bhasin, the senior executive chef of one of Delhi’s most prestigious five stars giggled like a child and had her favourite chocolate ├ęclair. Her dad used to bring her here when she was little. She came here when she was in college. Comes here now with her husband and kids.

                                                                  Wenger's video

But that's the thing about Wenger's. Almost everyone I know from Delhi has tales of going there with their parents. Most still go there.

The 7 year old eclair loving Manisha Bhasin

I tried the lemon tart but Kookie Jar’s in Calcutta is way better.

We walked to Keventers where I had a milkshake the last time I was at CP. A Delhi institution, popular with families and college kids for their affordable prices as Manisha told me. The milkshakes are now served in paper glasses and not bottles. I remember the owner telling me that they were having legal issues with the name the last time I came here. This time I didn’t see any sign which said Keventer. I the people queuing up, what the name of the place was and everyone said ‘Keventer!’.

                                                    Keventer's Video

I had learnt the last time then I was here that this 60 year old milkshake shop was apparently set up by a family that ran a dairy and has nothing to do with Keventers in Darjeeling. While I didn't have the milkshake this time, I remember liking the light and sweet and chilled strawberry milkshake in a bottle at Keventer's the last time I was here.

The crowd outside the ever popular Keventer's.
There's no sign with the name though.
It's located beside Wenger's

Manisha told me that there is now someone who retails milk shakes in bottles in Delhi’s malls under the Keventer name. Intriguing!

For our lunch we walked into the United Coffee House. This too is a 60 year old place and has been recently renovated. With its high ceilings, grey and blue tapestry and grand chandelier, it was straight out of the Princess Diaries. It is privately owned and has nothing to with the government run Indian Coffee House at Calcutta. They even had free wifi and I did a Periscope video from there!

                                                United Coffee House video 

The fare was eclectic – Mughlai, Old Delhi, British club food. We chose keema roti, butter chicken, old Delhi alu dam and Lahori gosht. The last, goat meat cooked in whole channa dal was the standout dish as were the light and frothy lassis (lot lighter than Mumbai). The meal for the two of us cost Rs 3,200 and would have fed 3 to 4.

The view from our table at United Coffee House

3 Colours Red at the United Coffee House. The lahori gosht, where you can see the pulses (slightly brown)
was superb

It was a hot afternoon and I declined Manisha’s offer to feed me ice creams at Nirulas as I wanted to get back to the air conditioned comfort of my lovely room at the Maurya. The best thing about the room was the view of the greens outside which I am told is maintained by water recycled by ITC as a part of their Responsible Luxury initiatives and supplied to the local ridge.

Honestly, the heat was bearable at CP thanks to all the shade around.

The greens outside are watered with recycled water supplied by ITC Maurya
The view from our room

The room at ITC Maurya

On the way back we passed Kwality (recommended for chhola bhatoore, the most sought after Delhi touristy dish according to a Twitter poll I did) and the Kake Da Dhaba where I had once had some pretty ghee laden, over the top Punjabi fare with a former boss of mine on an earlier trip to visit the Auto Expo in Delhi.

This time too, I felt like I was at home at Connaught Place as I did in my earlier trips in Delhi. Plus this time I was not alone. I had Manisha Bhasin with me who was more like an indulgent elder sister that afternoon than the highly accomplished, super achiever, chef of a landmark hotel that she actually is.

Chilling out with my food sherpa Manisha Bhasin
over some light and frothy lassi at the United Coffee House

I know that everyone makes a beeline to Old Delhi at one end and Haus Khas Village or Khan Market at the other when visiting Delhi to eat but don’t write off good old CP yet and, if you are Indian, then the huge Indian flag there will make you really really proud.

Jai Hind
The trip to Delhi was courtesy ITC Hotels

The ITC Maurya meals

We had lunch at the legendary Bukhara the day we checked in including the very famous dal Bukhara. The kebabs were ever so succulent and not a single one was teekha or hot. One could understand why foreigners love the Bukhara so much. The food there is packed with flavour and yet light on the palate and on the tummy. We were hosted by the very helpful Bindu Panicker. from the corp comm team and the very attentive Zubin Songadwala, GM of ITC Maurya.

The tasting platter of kebabs at Bukhara
The Legendary Dal Bukhara

Bukhara was special to us as its Mumbai outpost, Peshawari at ITC Maratha, was one of the first 5 star meals K and I had as a couple more than a decade back and we had gone there for the dal then. It was good to visit the original Maurya this time.

Bukhara Nostalgia
Plumper and with less hair than when I went to Peshawari a decade back

We had dinner at the Pavilion at ITC Maurya where I had some chaats (Delhi street food) as a part of the ‘Local Love menu’ and a most delectable Old Delhi inspired goat meat curry with chubby khameri rotis. We also tried a couple of steamed sole fish dishes where the fish was really juicy. I later learnt that the ITC Hotels has a fishery in Calcutta where sole is reared and supplied to al ITC Hotels.

Lovely Old Delhi Home styled mutton
Local Love at Pavilion at ITC Maurya
Love the presentation
Read: My mother, Rekha Karmakar's blog post on our meet at ITC Maurya

Family reunion courtesy ITC Hotels
Mom, the Delhi girl, flanked by her daughter in laws

My mom and brother and sister in law joined us the next day and chef Vikramjit Roy mesmerized us with an Asian dinner at Tian where each dish was extremely pretty and I wondered how one should eat. 'Shove it all with a fork at one go' said the chef and the flavour explosions in our mouth were amazing. My mom did miss her chilli chicken and fried rice but the chef more than made up by personally explaining each dish to her and she really enjoyed herself.

This genre of cooking is not my favourite as I prefer food which is more simple and uncomplicated but I must admit that of all the examples of arty moren food that I have had, the one at Taian's was the most pleasing on the palate.

If the Bukhara takes pride on having an unchanged menu over 30 years, Vikramjit loves to keep experimenting for his tasting menus (starts at Rs 2,500 plus taxes pp).

Chef Vikramjit Roy's mesmerising work at Tian


rita roy said…
How I miss those CP days! Impressed that you remember the name of the sundae!And yes Bercos!It's not the same anymore! Loved this post! Nostalgia! Thanks!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Mashi I have the memory and waistline of an elephant
Neeru Singh said…
My parents work for the Indian Railways and I live very close to CP. I can relate to so many things in your post. So many new eateries have opened up in CP, after it's renovation. However, I still love going to Wengers, Nirulas and Embassy. I also like Fa Yian, a 25 years old Chinese eatery located right opposite Bercos.

Wengers Shami Kebab is my favourite. What a nice post. :)
Pinku said…
Lovely long post...I think posts like this one are trademark Kalyan :)

Rekha Karmakar said…
Very interesting. Good u blogged about CP. Not many people know that the renovation of CP is complete and it is all spruced up. CP has a class of its own like Park Street of Kolkata. Newer places cannot compete with it.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Glad you liked it ma. Yes, old Delhi gets all the attention when it comes to Delhi and food these days but CP has its own charm
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey thanks Pinku. I remember going there the day I met you both. You had told me to go to Wengers and Keventers and I did
Kalyan Karmakar said…
So glad you liked it Neeru. My dadu used to work in Shastri Bhavan when Babu Jagjivan das was the Railway minister
I was in delhi over the past week for two days with my mother who spent her college days in Delhi..and we went for chana batura at Kwality's CP!! :) and yes it was soo soo good and yes despite the heat, CP had its charm.. including bangle shopping at the hanuman mandir!!

I think wengers is all about the memories..as an outsider..to be honest..the place did not awe me too much!! I believe Keventers..the brand has been bought over and they have specialised keventers outlets all over delhi where you still get their shakes in those trademark bottles..but we couldnt make it to any of them!! loved the post.. Cheers, Sarvani.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey thanks, Sarvani. I remember the Hanuman Mandir from my first visits to my grandparents house and the prasad they had got for me