The classiest new Indian restaurant in town in Delhi is 79 years old! On encountering the legendary channa bhatura at New Delhi's Kwality Restaurant.
|A marvel of slow cooking. The slow cooked channa at the Kwality Restaurant, New Delhi. A restaurant that was established in 1940 according to the signboard outside its door|
Let's hear it for the golden oldies
As you probably know, I am a bit of a sucker for vintage places when it comes to food. Which is why I didn’t think twice when my young friend and food blogger, Amit Patnaik, suggested that I go to the Kwality Restaurant at Parliament Street for dinner after I landed at New Delhi on Friday night. It was located 50 m away from my hotel, The Park New Delhi, he added.
This was perfect given that I had checked into the hotel at 9.30 pm, barely in time for dinner. Turned out that the restaurant is located literally in the building next door to The Park. I had flown that night in to conduct the Delhi edition of the Times Kitchen Tales Indian Food Lover’s Meet the next day. This was my second stay in the hotel in 4 months and I was impressed by how brightly lit the room was. Something that hotel rooms often fail on.
|The bright and chirpy room at The Park, New Delhi|
Memories of a bygone era
People from my generation might remember Kwality as an ice cream brand. The brand was jointly owned by two families, the Ghai and the Lamba families, from what I gather. They sold the ice cream to Unilever in 1994. Unilever then launched the Kwality Walls ice cream brand when I was in college. The restaurants were owned by the same families it seems and the Lambas owned the rights on the brands in the north. To know more about this, do check out the ET article that I have referred and which I have appended at the end of this piece.
Being a former Kolkata boy, I was familiar with the world of Kwality restaurants of course. I had been to the Kwality at Ballygunge Phari (which is now shut) and the one at Park Street too. I had been to the one at Mumbai too. It was located near Kemp's Corner and is now shut I think.
|The new look Kwality Restaurant at Delhi|
I had been to the Kwality restaurants in Kolkata and then Mumbai in the early 80s with my father and in late 90s with my college and work friends. I remember the restaurants as being old fashioned places, which were dully lit and smelt of pickled onions, whiskey and cigarettes, and where one ate rotis and heavy curries. My aunt Rita, who had grown up in Delhi, had similar memories of the Kwality at New Delhi. That of a dank and fuddy duddy place.
That is what I expected when I went to the Kwality at Delhi on Friday night. I was in for a surprise!
When the next generation takes over
|The new look Kwality at CP, March 2019|
What I stepped into that night was possibly the classiest Indian cuisine restaurant that I’ve been to in India and I have been to quite a few of them including most of the top five star hotel places. The Kwality at Delhi that night reminded me of Angelina and Laduree, two heritage restaurants in Paris, that we had been to a couple of years of back, and which are famous for their hot chocolate and macarons respectively.
The only difference between them and Kwality was that the menu in the latter featured the sort of classic Indian and continental fare that we have grown up on. In my case, in the Park Street restaurants of Kolkata.
|Feeling at home at Kwality, New Delhi, March 2019|
I was in my ‘airport look’ that night as I had not changed after the flight and felt a bit under-dressed at Kwality when I walked in. The surrounding would make you expect everyone here to be in dinner jackets and tuxes and bandgalas sherwanis; as the famous personalities in the black and white photographs adorning its walls were. People who had eaten here in the past. In the restaurant which was stablished in 1940, before India's independence, as the signboard outside claimed it was.
|Kwality, New Delhi. Estd 1940|
Reborn in 2018
Fear not though, even the other diners that night, Indian families and foreigner tourist groups, were casually dressed that at Kwality that night. And the service was warm and meant to put you at ease.
It was clear that the new avatar had retained the 'family values' that the Kwality Restaurants stood for.
When I shared pictures of Kwality on Twitter, learnt that the restaurant had apparently been shut for renovation last year and that what I had just experienced was post the makeover that the restaurant had. Kwality had re-opened in its new avatar on 26th November 2018, the manager told me.
The next day, at the Times Kitchen Tales meet, Dr Pushpesh Pant told us that the renovation initiative had been initiated taken by the descendants of the founder of this legendary restaurant. It was the way the new generation chose to move ahead, said Dr Pant.
|Dr Pushpesh Pant weighs in at the Times Kitchen Tales meet. Flanked|
by chef Manisha Bhasin and Ms Pritha Sen in a panel discussion on
the food culture of Delhi
Well, they had done a great job with the transformation at Kwality is what I felt as an outsider. I wonder what what the regulars of yore felt.
Food with soul
How was the food you ask?
I had a shikhanji, a masala spiced nimbu pani, which was extremely refreshing.
|The bhatura was thin & airy and perfect to mop|
up the epic channa with. That's the shikanji
on the side
On Amit’s recommendation, I ordered the channa bhatura that night. Each, the channa and the bhatura, exist separately on the menu and you can order them by themselves and not as a combination if you so want. The young manager at the restaurant kindly and patiently explained to me that channa and chhole is the same when I insisted that I wanted chhole bhature. These crazy Mumbaikars, he must have been thinking!
To cut a long story short, the channa bhature at Kwality that night was the best channa bhatura that I have had in my life so far. The channa was soft, ghee soaked, melodiously spiced and came with a chubby potato cube in it which was the cherry on the top. Cooked overnight according to the menu and the recipe kept constant since 1947. The fried chilli in the channa and the pickled onions on the side, so typical of Indian restaurants as we knew them, completed the masterpiece.
The bhatura (puffed fermented white flour fried bread) was very thin and delicate and was the perfect foil for mopping up the the channa with.
I have had many of the famous chhole bhaturas of Delhi myself before and there were many on social media who wrote to me saying there are places that often better chhole bhatures in Delhi. I am sure that there are, but the channa bhatura at Kwality touched my heart that night and I was not going to lose any sleep about what could have been. It is all about living in the moment after all! Plus, I did not say it is the best channa bhatura in Delhi. Just that it is the best that I had ever had. It finally comes down to personal history after all, as Dr Pant said in the Times Kitchen Tales meet.
Mind you, the channa bhatura of Kwality has some heavyweight fans indeed. Kunal Vijayakar of the Foodie told me on Twitter that he was well acquainted with its fame. Food historian Dr Kurush Dalal responded and said that he loved it too. I am told that ad legend and die-hard Indian food lover, Piyush Pandey, makes a beeline for the channa bhatura at the Kwality in Kolkata when he goes to the city.
I am now happy to stake my claim as an extra in this league of legends.
|Chicken bharta and garlic roti at Kwality|
I ordered the chicken bharta too at Kwality that night on Amit’s recco and some garlic rotis to go with it. Perhaps I was too full by then, but I did not take to this dish to be honest. It was not the creamy, yellow tinted chicken bharta of the Moghlai restaurants and Punjabi dhabads of Kolkata, and which has pieces of boiled egg in it. This one consisted of finely chopped chicken pieces, served in a fiery red thick gravy instead, and which made me perspire and look more drenched than the Liril girl in the waterfall thanks to its high levels of chilli heat.
But you know what, there was so much more in the menu that caught my attention... the akoori, mutton cutlet, the lobster Thermidor, the dahi kebab, the brain masala, that I knew that I had to come back to Kwality, and the best part was that on seeing the pictures I posted, K said that she would love to too.
I have often said that I am in awe of the hedonistic love for food that the people of Delhi have.
Well, if there’s any city in India that could spawn a restaurant like the Kwality of Connaught Place, as it stands today, then it had to be Delhi!!!!
|Delivering an ode to the food of Delhi at the Times Kitchen Tales Meet|
the next day at The Park
My bill came to Rs 1,450 but I could have eaten in about 900 had I not over ordered. Way more than the average channa bhatura place in Delhi but then this is not an average channa bhatura place in Delhi
Address: Address: Regal Building, 15, Sansad Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Chhole bhatoore blasts from the past: