One measure of how much India is changing is the vast expansion in the restaurant sector. Till about four years ago, you either had proper restaurants or fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.
Now, mall dining has become the rage in our cities. Such brands as Asia 7, Punjab Grill and Spaghetti Kitchen will soon have an all-India presence because they are ubiquitous in the new shopping malls. At Select Citywalk mall in Delhi’s Saket, the eating options abound (including branches of such Khan Market favourites as Amici and Mamagoto) but I was drawn to the food court on the grounds that malls and food courts are meant to go together.
Though the Select Citywalk food court has ice cream, doughnuts, etc., I was intrigued by the chaat corner. As far as I know, only Rohit Khattar has managed to provide decent chaat in food court-type surroundings (at Eatopia at Delhi’s Habitat Centre) so I wondered whether Rohit’s success could be replicated in a fancier location (and Select Citywalk is very nouveau fancy Punjabi).
I ordered a dahi batata puri (Rs53), a bhel (Rs53), a raj kachori (Rs57) and tawa aloo tikki (Rs57). The process was complicated by the reluctance of my order-taker, a short man in a baseball cap, to take much interest in what I wanted. He repeated my order at super-speed, forgot the bhel, and then looked surly when I pointed this out.
As is inevitable when there is one chef executing four orders, the dishes came sequentially. I asked the man at the counter if I could take the bhel while the tikki was being made. No, he said, all the food goes together or not at all. As I had already paid (you pay when you order), I saw no reason to listen to him and collected the bhel anyway. He retaliated by refusing to hand over the plastic spoons with which I was meant to eat the bhel. In his view, I had to wait for the bhel to become soggy before he would let me collect it.
Finally the order was ready. The aloo tikki was a little under-salted but was fine apart from that. The dahi batata puri was acceptable if unmemorable. I had problems with the other two dishes. My companion, who is from Kolkata, loved the bhel with its crunchy peanuts (!) because it reminded her of the jhaal muri of her childhood. When I protested that bhel should never taste like jhaal muri, she said sniffily, “There’s no one recipe for bhel. Why should it taste like the stuff you guys have in Bombay?”
It was a silly question (bhel is the quintessential Mumbai dish, stupid!) but the name settled the argument. The bhel/jhaal muri was described as “Bombay Bhel Puri” on the menu—which it was clearly not. The raj kachori, on the other hand, would not appeal to anyone who ate the Kolkata version (tasteless mush for filling) and more important, was impossible to eat with the cheap plastic spoons provided because the spoons could not break the outside of the kachori.
Rohit Khattar can rest easy; this place comes nowhere near Eatopia.
I wandered around the other stalls at the food court. Despite the surly attendant at the chaat counter, the rest of the service was helpful and efficient. The chaat guy said he had no Diet Coke so I went to the pasta counter. Though the order-taker was busy, a chef stopped what he was doing to serve me. At the coffee counter (Georgia), the Americano (Rs40) was thin and disgusting but the service was excellent.
If mall dining is a recent development in India, then the concept of a deli-restaurant is even more novel. The Oberoi runs a massively successful deli and, perhaps inspired by its example, Ploof, a one-time fish restaurant in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, has turned itself into a deli too.
I never worked out why the restaurant was called Ploof in its original avatar. Ploof sounds like the sort of thing a Chinese detective would look for while solving a crime. But this was never a Chinese restaurant. When it first opened, Ploof was part of Sudha “Dolly” Kuckreja’s empire (Blanco, Chilli Seasons, Kitchen, etc.).
Perhaps Dolly is still involved but the manager acted as though he had never heard of her (“the owner is Mr Rohan Gupta”) and it transpired that the first floor, where the original restaurant was located, had been sealed by the municipal corporation (you can’t run restaurants on the first floor in Lodhi Colony by law) so the deli format offered a chance to use the small ground floor space creatively.
I liked the vast range of hams and salamis on sale and was impressed with the selection of ready-to-cook meats on offer. New Zealand lamb chops are Rs2,250 per kg, premium pork chops are Rs620 per kg and steak is Rs600 per kg. I bought good quality chorizo at Rs1,450 a kg and saw that the options included scallops (Rs2,800 per kg), lobster (Rs1,450 per kg) and crab (Rs1,300 per kg). The sauces were less impressive. A pesto rosso was terrible and the basic pesto was curiously feeble.
On the other hand, the deli sandwiches were good. I had the Don Corleone (Rs360), a large sandwich packed with cold meat and peppers and the others on the menu also seemed worth investigating. The problem with the sandwich was the bread. Though Ploof sells bakery products, the baking is God-awful. A lemon cheesecake had the consistency of partly solidified toothpaste with too much lemon and the bread they put on the tables had a nasty maida and sugar taste.
I applaud the idea of a deli-restaurant. But Ploof needs to get the baking right, especially if it hopes to sell bread and cakes.
Food Talk, Second floor, Select Citywalk mall, Saket, New Delhi; call 011-42658431.
Ploof Deli, 13, Lodhi Colony, Main Market, New Delhi; call 011-24634666.
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