The Pot Belly, a three-week-old eatery at Shahpur Jat in south Delhi, the hub of Delhi’s designer clothes factories, introduces Bihari cuisine to the Capital. The printed two-sheet menu is somewhat limited (we are told items will be added) and the fare reminds one of home-cooked meals served by a friend’s mum or a long-time household help rather than a gourmet chef. It is a charming space—on the fourth floor with large French windows, the roof covered with green chatai(cane mats), white-washed walls, bright cushions and a view of treetops and buzzing dragonflies.
The good stuff
A bowl of lightly salted makhanas (fox nuts) is placed on every table as you order and wait for your meal to arrive. We were dying to try the Litti Chokha (Rs190), a Bihari staple. Two perfectly rounded littis (baked dough balls stuffed with sattu flavoured with cumin, finely chopped chillies and coriander) were served with two types of chokhas (aubergine-based side dishes) and a bowl of chana dal. The crusty littis were dipped in ghee (clarified butter) that added flavour and softened the dough. The first reaction on seeing those greasy dough balls was to ask for a paper towel.
Of the two chokhas—aubergines and potatoes in tomato gravy, and aubergines in a yogurt base—we preferred the latter. The sting of mustard oil and chillies was evident in the latter and it offset the slightly bland taste of the litti.
The Vegetarian Pakora (fritters) Basket (Rs110) had two pieces each of sabudana (tapioca) pakora, mini potato cutlets, and aubergine and potato chakka. The surprise in the sabudana pakora was the crunchiness of peanuts; the potato cutlets were coated with semolina and not the usual breadcrumbs.
The Gol Mirch Chicken (Rs260) served with two mirchi (green chillies) parathas, sabudana poha and salsa, was essentially chicken cooked with cracked black pepper in a yogurt gravy. The use of spices was minimal, highlighting the flavour of the key spice, black pepper.
The surprise on the menu was egg halwa and while we were disinclined to order it, the dilemma was resolved when we found that it was on the house (as were the makhanas and lauki kheer). One spoonful led to a second, the khoya, cardamom and saffron subtly masking the taste of egg yolk.
The table attendants are not informed about the cuisine. At present there are eight pre-plated meal options (three vegetarian and five non-vegetarian) within which there are many repetitions in side dishes. The mirchi parathas accompanying the Gol Mirch Chicken were much too thick in the centre and hence remained uncooked. Also, a 1/2 tbsp sabudana and aloo poha with a main course meal is a waste. Either increase the portion or avoid it. Why serve Apple Cinnamon Iced Tea (Rs80) when it just means adding chunks of apple to cold tea? Finally, how about some Bihari drinks such as sattu lassi or sherbet?
A meal for one with a starter and two main course dishes as well as a glass of iced tea costs Rs704. Currently, it levies no service tax.
116-C, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi