Friday, 11 May 2012

On eating out: why some restaurants can have my heart

I love small, independent ideas. I’m the kind of person who’d watch an indie “arty” movie just because it’s been shunted aside at theatres to give more visibility to a blockbuster that’s already made most of its money back. And if I like it, I’ll go watch it again, and will plug it relentlessly to family and friends, just to help it along in my own tiny way. Call it activism, call it joblessness – but I get a kick out of seeing a David top, or at least equal, a Goliath. And no, I’m not against Goliaths at all (I confess, I watch every blockbuster movie too – but only after I’ve seen the arty movie). There’s just something comforting about the fact that a good idea can win even without hype and marketing and loud fanfare. Which is why Delhi’s recent growth in restaurant culture is a source of comfort and joy to me (and yes, okay, the happy tummy isn’t complaining either).

In the last couple of years, Delhi has seen a multitude of new restaurants –  mostly misses, it’s true – but some absolute gems as well. In particular, Yeti (Hauz Khas Village) and Chez Nini (Meherchand Market) top my list of repeat-value places. Yeti, with its Nepali-Tibetan focus, is a lovely, unpretentious establishment that has quietly made a name for itself over the last year. It not only serves the best momos I’ve had in Delhi, but also stars excellent Bhutanese ema dachi, and makes eating goat lungs a very pleasurable experience. All this while making one feel like they’re sitting in the land of mountain kingdoms, what with the thangkas and mandalas on the walls and the strains of Tibetan chants in the background. And the biggest win for me – the quick, cheerful, and efficient service.

Chez Nini, on the other hand, serves up homestyle, hearty Canadian-French food under a gorgeous lit-up tree canopy – which instantly takes me back to the Faraway Tree, and who wouldn’t want that? The food is truly soul-satisfying, from the rich poutine to the bacon-wrapped dates with parmesan, to the tender duck legs. And I could write a poem about the desserts. I’ve never much cared for carrot cake because I’ve found it too dry, but this one made me want to cry for joy. The chocolate caramel tart is another winner, and the red velvet cupcake is, to quote a Friends reference, a little piece of heaven. But even more than the food, it’s the service that has won my heart – super-quick, warm, and always cheerful. The proprietor, Nira Singh, is friendly and honest – she came round to chat with me while my companion was outside smoking, and offered advice about what dishes to avoid because that day’s batch wasn’t up to scratch. Who does that anymore?

And this is the reason I go back to these places. There’s no shortage of good food in Delhi, but to consistently get such good food with so much love and attention to detail – that’s rare. Small restaurants they may be, but they have big hearts. 

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