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Ace chef Ritu Dalmia reveals her Delhi delightsfrom the biryani she dreams of to her go-to Italian restaurant (no, its not Diva), and everything in between
A meat dish at Al Jawahar in Old Delhi. Photo: Tom Parker
Ive been running restaurants in Delhi, on and off, since 1994, and much has changed in the last 20 years. A decade ago, I would travel to London just so I could eat well. Today, I get to eat the cuisines I like right here in Delhi, and that too, of world-class quality. Feel like sashimi? Go to Megu. For authentic Italian, head to Artusi Ristorante e Bar; the fare is equal to what youd get anywhere in Tuscany. And the dim sum trolleys at Royal China could compete with those at any restaurant in Hong Kong. Foreign food is just one thing; to me whats more exciting is the emergence of amazing regional cuisineBengali, Tibetan, Kashmiri, Chettinad, Bihari, Naga, Parsi. I think this alone makes Delhi the most happening food destination in India. Whether youre looking for a place with a great atmosphere or a fancy restaurant to impress your date, a quick bite before a movie or amazing street food to fill that hole in your belly, my beloved Delhi is the city to eat out in. Heres my pick of its top 50 meals:
The perfect place to get your fix of all the Indian street food youve been cravingfrom chaat to pav bhaji to samosas to, yes, vegetarian kathi rollsyoull find it all. The hardest part will be looking at the array of choices and deciding what to order. I usually get around that by ordering just about everything. (Website) ?
This dhaba in Sundar Nagar does the regular chaat and vegetarian tandoori fare, but I go there only for the stuffed chaap or soya chaap. My meat-eater friends call it the vegetarians cheap-thrill dish because of its meaty texture. Be that as it may, it tastes very good! (+91-11-24358735) ?
3. Moolchand Parathewala
There are no boards to indicate where this stall stands, no neon signs, no valets on call. Youll know youre at the right place when you see a huge crowd in front of a paratha stand, especially post-midnight, when your body needs a greasy paratha to soak up all the alcohol. Most of us who live in Delhi have been here at some point or the other. Moolchand features on my list not only for nostalgia value, but also for its great egg parathas. (Under Moolchand flyover) ?
If an eatery has served only two items since its opening in 1940 and is still packed to the gills, you can bet they are both fantastic. This street corner stall only makes magically soft dahi bhalla and impossibly crisp aloo tikkiand both will be the best youve ever eaten. ?
5. Bille De Hatti
The queues at this street stall in Kamala Nagar begin forming at 8am and by lunch, the star dish, chhola bhatura, is all sold out. You wont understand the craze till you try it. (+91-11-65808227) ?
6. Al Jawahar
Tradition is a lovely thing, especially when it allows culinary secrets to seep down the centuries and gives us 21st-century folk an opportunity to dine like the Mughals. Standing across the gate to Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, this eatery carries secrets of how to char kebabs to perfection, create the most flavourful nihari and prepare a soft, yeasty, heartwarming sheermal. Even Akbar would approve of the finesse and skill displayed by the cooks here in manipulating meats to create the stuff of legend. You can even order a whole stuffed goat, if you order in advance.(Opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid) ??
(L) A meat dish at Al Jawahar; (R) Jalebis at Old Famous Jalebi Wala. Photos: Tom Parker
8. Tewari Bros Confectioners
As a Kolkatan at heart, I will always claim that the original Tewari Bros has the best samosas, but I have to concede that the Chandni Chowk branch matches up to the original quite well. After youve suffered many limp casings and bland fillings, your faith in the humble snack will be restored with these flaky, hot pastries with perfectly spiced stuffing. (+91-11-2391 8326) ?
9. Amritsari Lassi Wala
How good can a glass of lassi get? Drink one here to find out. After all the stomach-burning spicy food of Chandni Chowk, it is absolutely essential to let one of the cooling milk-based drinks here soothe your very happy tummy. Many Dilliwalas swear by the malai lassi, but my favourite is mango-flavoured. (Fatehpuri Chowk, Chandni Chowk) ?
(L) Amritsari Lassi Wala; (R) Mithai at Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners. Photos: Tom Parker
10. Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners
Indian sweets are truly an art mastered by very few. And this city institution deserves every accolade that has been thrown its way in its many decades of existence. First-timers are encouraged to try the famed Karachi halwa. But really, every single mithai here is a stunner. So my advice would be to work your way through the offeringsfrom milk cake to balushahison every subsequent visit. (Fatehpuri Chowk, Chandni Chowk) ?
11. Siddiques Kheer Shop
First, you must read the book Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms to understand why the kheer here is so special. [The shop and its owner are featured in it.] Then, trek over to Chandni Chowk one morning and savour the best kheer you will ever eat. (Close to Chawri Bazaar Metro Station, Chandni Chowk) ?
12. Indian Accent
Peanut butter and beetroot tikki with wasabi caper chutney at Indian Accent. Photo: Tom Parker
Im sure youve heard enough people sing paeans to chef Manish Mehrotras food. But for me, eating here is heartbreaking, because I have to accept that my home-cooked food is no longer the best Indian meal I have eaten. Dont believe me? Try the dal Moradabadi here, which puts every other dal in the country to shame. (Website) ????
About a decade ago, chef Hemant Oberoi steered Indian cuisine into new waters with this restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Bringing refined flavours, elegant presentation and subtlety to Indian dishes was, and is, no easy task. While critics denounce this Frenchification of Indian food, I personally believe it increases the diversity and richness of our cuisines. The seafood dishes are especially worth a try. (Website) ????
14. Dum Pukht
The biryani here wickedly haunts my dreams, taunting me with its aroma of spiced saffron, ghee-moistened rice grains and melting chunks of lamb. In my dream, I lift a heaped spoon of this perfect biryani towards my mouth. I become giddy and faint. Then, I wake upin the middle of the nighthungry, drooling and with no hope but to wait patiently for the next day until the restaurant opens. (Website) ????
This restaurant has broken all sorts of myths about restaurants. Despite its uncomfortable seating and never-changing menu, more than 25 years after it opened, it is packed night after night. Try the excellent dal, raan and tandoori prawn. (Website) ????
Move beyond the tried and tired idli-dosa and embrace the diverse cuisines of the southern states at ITCs WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi restaurant. From delicate appams with seafood curries and rich stews to excellent vegetable preparations, every dish in this extensive menu will change how you look at southern cuisine. Dont miss out on the array of chutneys and pickleseach one will be a revelation in itself. (Website) ????
(L) A fish dish at Dakshin; (R) Compressed scallop carpacio with rock salt ice at Tian. Photo (R): Tom Parker
Chef Vikramjit Roy shows off his expertise in molecular gastronomy through his modern take on Asian cuisine. But the real stars of the meal are the simpler classic dishes, which showcase a perfect balance of flavour and mastery of technique. Go for a simple Thai curry or for the crazy dessert eat off your tableeither way, you wont be disappointed. (Website) ????
18. Neung Roi
The place offers some truly spectacular Thai fare. Be it the delicately balanced curries, the fresh, crisp greens or the perfectly cooked noodlesthe flavours in every dish are spot on. While the service leaves a lot to be desired, the food more than makes up for it. (Website) ???
19. The China Kitchen
All hail The China Kitchen for freeing Delhi from the shackles of Chinjabi food. When this trendy, modern Chinese restaurant opened in 2007, it came as a breath of fresh air because it served authentic Chinese cuisine. You can never go wrong with the Peking duck, and my nieces always order double portions of the vegetable pot stickers filled with mushrooms. (Website) ????
Dishes at (L) The China Kitchen and (R) Megu. Photos: Tom Parker
The Delhi outpost of the eponymous NYC restaurant that closed doors in October 2014 may not be authentic Japanese cuisinerather a hybrid Americanised-Japanese versionbut every dish here is expertly prepared with the best possible ingredients. Yes, the restaurant is opulent, expensive, showy and designed to impressbut who said thats a bad thing? Ultimately, the freshest fish in town makes it worth the splash. (Website) ????
21. San Gimignano
Tucked inside the Imperial Hotel, Delhis most charming residence, this restaurant promises an elegant, luxurious experience. The intimate courtyard setting, excellent Italian specialities [signature dishes here include the spinach and ricotta gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and crispy basil] and wine list, along with the attentive service ensure that the place is visited by a steady stream of regulars. (Website) ????
22. Orient Express
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am biased towards this restaurant because it is here that I had my first taste of Champagne. But having said that, ask anyone whos eaten here and they will assure you that the double-baked Normandy Camembert soufflé is still the best in the city. Its a super-romantic restaurant with serious old-world charm. (Website) ????
23. Le Cirque
The Leela Palace New Delhis modern Italian restaurant ticks all the boxes as far as food, service and décor is concerned. Its always a lovely (though expensive) treat dining here, but you only live once, so order the risotto cooked with Champagne. (Website) ????
(L) Yellowfin tuna tartare with caperberry at Le Cirque; (R) A chef prepares a salmon dish at La Piazza. Photos: Tom Parker
24. La Piazza
The inventor of Delhis Sunday brunch culture over two decades ago, this restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Delhi has stood the test of time as one of the citys best Italian joints. The faux trattoria ambience might seem faded now, but focus your attention on the superb wood-fired pizzas. (Website) ????
When youre treating yourself to a PVR Directors Cut movie, youd do well to make an event of it by booking a table at Yauatcha, before or after. I love the variety of dim sum here, and the stir-fried beef. (Website) ????
26. Guppy by ai
Playful, eccentric and cute are extremely apt adjectives to describe this modern Japanese restaurant. Careful, thoughtoo many of the excellent drinks (like the Wasabi Cocktail, which consists of gin, lime juice and wasabi) and you might end up imagining yourself as a character in an anime. Luckily, the extensive menu offers some great twists on classic dishes, like miso-marinated black cod, to help you return to reality. (Website) ????
27. Royal China
Its easy to see why this is Delhis favourite Chinese restaurant. Located in an office building in Nehru Place, it offers sweeping views of the city along with an extensive range of Cantonese dishes, each with measured competency. The highlight of any meal here: the dim sum, which are truly some of the best in the city. (Website) ???
28. Artusi Ristorante e Bar
This tiny restaurant in Greater Kailash 2 is where I go when I need to get away from work and yet want to eat Italian. The handmade pastas are superb, and the panna cotta with stewed figs is just perfect. (Website) ???
29. Yeti The Himalayan Kitchen
Tibetan cuisine may be limited by geographical constraints, but it is delicious nonetheless! The steaming bowls of spicy thukpa are supremely satisfying in Delhis chilly winter, but if you feel adventurous, order the offal. (+91-11-40678649) ??
30. Maa Tara
This hole in the wall is the eatery Delhis Bengalis flock tothey swear by its authenticity. The food is as traditional as it gets, engulfed in the aromas of fish being cooked in mustard oil. Sometimes I go because I miss hearing the loud lilt of Banglabut mostly I go for the food. (+91-11-26277029) ?
31. Rajdhani, The Vegetarian Thali Restaurant
The Rajasthani thali here takes me back to the food I ate as a child. Of course, no restaurant could ever match up to the Rajasthani food served in homes, but whenever Im craving some dal baati churma, I show up at the Saket outpost.??
32. The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe
A bohemian café serving Bihari cuisine sounds strange, to say the least. The food of Bihar is rarely ever placed on restaurant menus, let alone considered a cuisine. But one visit will change your view completely, and you will be sold. A visit to Potbelly is both academic and hedonisticdont miss the litti chokha and tehri. Theres also a range of thalis on offer. (+91-11-67773589) ??
33. Kashmiri Kitchen
Run by a mother and daughter duo, this small restaurant in Ghitorni specialises in Kashmiri Muslim cuisine. The goshtaba and the yakhni are outstanding, and the good news is that if you dont want to trek that far, you can get food home-delivered. (Website) ??
This establishment does great Pandit food from Kashmir. The ambience is really not much to write home about, but the food more than makes up for it. The rajma, nadur churma and kabargah are a must. Bonus: the booze is dirt cheap. (+91-9654666795) ??
It is rare for an establishment with an unchanged menu to survive for more than 60 years. Embassy is one of those vintage restaurants that opened in Connaught Place in a newly independent India and continues to serve the popular cuisines of that dayclassic north Indian dishes, bastardised Chinese (at the Civil Lines branch) and Continental cuisine. But leave everything else aside and just order the chana bhatura. I guarantee you, it will knock your socks off. (Website) ??
Delhi cant get more Punjabi than this little square of Pandara Roadgaudy lights, a kitschy fountain and restaurants with huge neon signs. But if you live in Delhi, you need to have your fix of Havemore and its tandoori classics. And if you are visiting, you ought to make a visit just to get Punjufied. (+91-11-23387070) ??
37. Moti Mahal Delux
It is said that the original Moti Mahal in Daryaganj is where butter chicken was first invented. That may well be true, but my favourite Moti Mahal is the obscure one in the Malcha Marg market, where the butter chicken, kaali dal and butter naan just hit the spot. (+91-11-26118698) ??
38. Carnatic Cafe
New Friends Colonys neighbourhood secret serves the best South Indian snacks in the city. The food retains the essence of simple home-cooked food. The signature Malleshwaram 18th Cross is everything a dosa should becrisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, with a generous smear of spicy gunpowder. The amount of ghee might give you a heart attack, but its worth the risk. Okay, I confesswhen Im on a diet, I order the ragi dosa. (+91-11-41008630) ??
39. Andhra Pradesh Bhavan Canteen
Follow the crowd, buy a token and patiently wait your turn at this legendary Delhi canteen. There is no fixed menu hereit changes daily. Be prepared to face a lavish, unending meal with several vegetable preparations, meat curry, sambhar, rice, puris and more. If you are brave enough, attempt the Sunday lunch queue for the famed Hyderabadi biryani. (1 Ashoka Road) ??
40. Saravana Bhavan
Has the capitals outpost of this Chennai institution managed to live up to the reputation of the original? The long queues outside certainly make it seem so. Despite the stiff competition in the idli-dosa market, Saravana is still miles ahead. I have been told by all my Tamilian friends that this is where sambhar tastes the way it should. But for me, what does the trick is the medu vadaperfectly fried, light and fluffy! (Website) ??
41. dzükou tribal kitchen
Smoked pork at dzükou tribal kitchen. Photo: Tom Parker
The cuisine of northeastern India is far removed from other Indian cuisines and consistently reliable versions are hard to come by in Delhi. One of the reasons I love eating the Naga food here is that each time I try a dish, I learn something new. From the smoked meat curries with the fiery chillies to fermented soya, all demand your attention.(Website) ??
How do you take a concept thats generations old and make it the next hip thing? By having fun with it. From the quirky ambience to the cheeky cocktails, a meal at SodaBottleOpenerWala will never fail to make you chuckle. But you will also keep returning for the lost glory of Parsi dishes such as berry pulao, dhansak and eggs kejriwal with toast that you didnt even know you craved. (Website) ???
43. Coast Cafe at OGAAN
A warm, inviting vibe, friendly service and excellent foodthis place has everything a café should. Nestled above the OGAAN store, the space is beautifully designed to transport you away from the chaos of Hauz Khas Village. The minimalistic menu is crafted to showcase speciality coastal cuisine. Dont miss the Kerala grilled chicken and the prawn moilee. (+91-11-41601717) ??
44. Elmas Bakery
Red velvet cake at Elma’s Bakery. Photo: Tom Parker
The test of any bakery is the quality of its bread and Elmas, in Hauz Khas Village, passes with flying colours. Youll want to curl up in its plush armchairs with a good book and enjoy a pot of tea while eyeing the pastries and cakes on display. But dont just eye them, take a big bite of carrot cake and smile in sweet contentment. (+91-11-26521020) ??
This charming restaurant in Lodi Colony has a minimalistic décor, a seasonal menu and a fun bar. Its perfect for an easy evening of good food and great cocktails. (+91-11-2462520) ???
Finally, heres an establishment that takes Lebanese cuisine beyond hummus and falafel. The owners of Zizo are crazy enough to fly in staples such as pita, zaatar, haloumi and baklava from Lebanon, and serve it at throwaway prices. So go devour the delectable mezze and manoushe before they come to their senses. (Website) ??
47. Le Bistro du Parc
Roasted lamb at Le Bistro du Parc. Photo: Tom Parker
Cosy, charming, rustic and adorablethis tiny French eatery is all of these. The ever-changing menu is small, which may put some offbut as they say, good things come in small packages. I always go in the hope that the salted caramel flan is on the menu. (Website) ???
48. Oh! Calcutta
Its the perfect introduction to the world of Bengali food. Immerse yourself in the joys of food cooked in mustard oil and savour one of Indias richest cuisines. Regular patrons swear by the fish preparations, but I prefer the classic daab chingri and mishti doi. (+91-11-30402415) ???
49. Café Lota
Tucked away in the National Crafts Museum, at Pragati Maidan, Café Lota is an absolute gem. I love that the menu showcases pan-Indian dishes that are rarely seen on restaurant menus. The simple, homestyle cooking helps it cut through the crowd and make its mark. Go for the kadak chai, dal ka chilla and Bombay keema bao. (+91-7838960787) ??
50. Cafe at Korean Cultural Centre
Even though Korean food is booming in the West, it is still relatively unheard of in India. I love this place for its excellent classics, such as kimchi fried rice and bibimbap. (+91-11-43345000) ?