As a part of “A New Perspective” event series by Le Méridien New Delhi, the hotel partnered with Gallery Espace and hosted an unique event that brought together the world of art and coffee — an exhibition of artwork by noted artists Suddhasattwa Basu and Mala Marwah, and some interesting coffee recipes prepared by illy’s experienced barista Nicola Scognamiglio. Given my recent self-indulgence in coffee, an event around coffee with a barista flying down from Italy was impossible to let go by. And if that wasn’t enough, the rains in the morning were the perfect mood setter.
I often frequent New Friends Colony Community Centre but had failed to notice Gallery Espace — a tranquil art gallery whose minimalistic interiors refreshingly contrasts the bustling market outside. The space usually hosts art exhibitions and this was perhaps the first time it was hosting the art of coffee-making. After a series of introductions and reunion with a bunch of old friends, I was all set to cup some coffee. A single shot of espresso was enough for me to realise that the coffee beans (or blend) weren’t up to my liking — far too bitter and a bit sour. However illy’s in-house recipes were enough to keep me interested and I continued to run through the menu — Cappuccino Freddo, Marocchino Caldo and Espresso Greco, while appreciating the beautiful pieces of art and participating in numerous conversations.
illy’s art collection espresso cups
It was a pleasure to watch Nicola, the professional barista and trainer from Italy with over 15 years of experience, demonstrate his craft with a lot of flair and passion — pulling espresso shots, vigorously swaying the boston shaker, delicately layering the froth and serving with utmost warmth.
Nicola preparing Espresso Greco
The pace at which coffee culture is taking over the city is really heartening. Global establishments like McDonald’s, Costa Coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the very popular Starbucks are playing a huge role in pushing things forward. And so are individual entities like Finca Coffee, the Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters (and their wonderful blog) and the monthly Coffee Satsang whose contributions are of such high quality and value. Great time to be a coffee lover in the capital.
The island of Diu, just off the southern coast of Gujarat, is a quaint place. Tropical, calm and easy going. No one appears to be in a hurry and everyone seems familiar with each other. Locals going about their daily lives, not too fussed about the status quo but mighty pleased to be residents of Diu.
The O’Coqueiro Music Garden Restaurant is much the same as the town it is located in. Quaint and relaxed. Happy to entertain, but never too crowded, never too loud. Familiar faces all around, everyone on a holiday.
We found ourselves at their service for our very first meal on the island. It was dinner time and we settled in for a long, lazy meal. The non-vegetarians were disappointed on finding that most of their dishes had to be pre-ordered (so they could source the meat). Nevertheless, we decided to stick for the ambience, and what a great decision that turned out to be!
We had their Penne Sicilia (penne in tomato sauce) and Bavette con Gamberi (pasta and prawns) for dinner that night. Both dishes were good and encouraged us to return, and return we did. We were back on our final day for our last two meals on the island — breakfast and lunch. There’s something charming and utterly satisfying about simple breakfasts in exotic locations. Our breakfast here of scrambled eggs, toast, pancakes, juice and coffee was no different.
Finally, lunch consisted of an aubergine pasta, fish dumplings with chapati(!), pepper chicken and a delicious pudding.
The meals we had there produced consistent results, in that the food was always decent, but never spectacular. A little low on the garnishing and the spices (the latter owing perhaps to its primarily foreign patrons). Here’s Rashmi’s review of her pre-ordered lunch meal of Croquete de Peixe (pan-fried fish dumplings) as an example:
A bit dry to my liking, but maybe it was meant to be that way. And the spice level was minimal. I partly suspect this (the dryness) was cause it was made earlier and kept. Basically they were like cutlets, but bigger in size, and quantity (3 pieces) enough to have it for dinner that day.
Quite representative of the food we were served. Prepared from fresh ingredients (but alas, before time if pre-ordered) and served in generous portions.
Croquete de Peixe
Penne alla Norma
The coffee, though, was superb (and according to the owner sourced from a shop at INA Market, here in Delhi). The ambience and feel of the place, even better. The courtyard of an old coastal bungalow converted into a restaurant. Uncovered mud floor, a bamboo supported roof with creepers growing up the supports, trees — pines, palms and evergreen — all around, plenty of sunshine and a healthy dose of bird chatter. Garden restaurant indeed! Take a book (or pick one from their collection), strike a conversation with your host Mr Pandey or a fellow diner, or just sit back, sip on your favourite beverage and let time flow like music.
O’Coqueiro is the perfect Diu postcard — not too fancy, not exactly spectacular, but welcoming, tasty, warm and oh so lovely.
Damages ~ Rs. 350–400 for a meal for two (beer not included)
If you’ve read our previous posts, you’ll know that we’ve been pretty upset about the South Indian offerings in Delhi. The likes of Saravana Bhavan, Naivedyam and Karnataka Sangha have been around for a while, but none of them have managed to capture our hearts. Right about a year back a promising new establishment joined the South Indian bandwagon, and over repeated visits we have fallen in love with it. Time to confess.
Carnatic Café – a cosy restaurant with 28 covers and a crammed kitchen – occupies a ground floor booth in the Glitz Cinema complex (New Friends Colony) and serves typical Carnatic (Karnataka) fare. Their light coloured walls feature plenty of neatly arranged hangings. Many of them are photographs shot by the owner, a soft-spoken Bangalorean, while pursuing anthropology. We’ve often seen him around — helping his staff take orders as well as serve food.
One of the things that put us off initially was their crockery. Food at Carnatic Café is served in white plastic trays, the kind you usually find in food-courts, instead of traditional steel platters. This was, as explained by the owner, due to space constraints esp. the crammed kitchen — perhaps also explains why they’ve always been serving our orders one item at a time (as opposed to bringing it all together). The shortage of space also means that on weekends or popular days you may be politely requested to free your table for people who are waiting to get in.
The quality of their dishes has been pretty consistent over numerous visits — the good stuff has remained good and the not-so-good stuff has remained not-so-good. For example, their Rice Idlis and Vadas have never made the cut. The idlis, although fresh, have never been piping hot or bunny soft. The vadas have been a tad bland and have generally made it to our plates undercooked on the inside. Most dishes are served with three types of chutneys that follow the usual patriotic colour palette — orange, white and green. Their chutneys, like many other restaurants in Delhi, are a thick paste contrary to our usual finding all over South India. They claim that their chutneys contain no water and are prepared the same way as in traditional temples.
Now the good stuff. Most things we tried — be it Paddu, Podi Uthapam, Bisi-Bele-Bath or Mini Meal — have been very likeable. However our pick would be Malleshwaram 18th Cross Dosa or Bombat Dosa (out of the usual menu), Rava Idly and Filter Coffee. Both Malleshwaram 18th Cross and Bombat are thick dosas fried golden brown on the outside and generously coated with podi on the inside. Bombat dosa is additionally layered with garlic paste and served with masala. Their Rava Idly, unlike their rice counterpart, contains coriander leaves and lentils and is served with sagoo. They are usually freshly steamed and served hot on your plate. It is hard not to fall in love with the beautiful play of taste and texture of these rava idlies. And finally, their Filter Coffee — frothy and lends the perfect slighty-bitter aftertaste. The rava idly and the filter coffee are perhaps the best we’ve had in Delhi and have ordered them every time ever since our first visit.
Even though not listed on the menu, they have been kind enough to serve us single pieces of idly and vada whenever we’ve requested. And similarly they’ve obliged with extra helpings of sagoo, chutney, masala or sambar without ever raising an eyebrow. Some items on their menu often sell out by the evening (especially the daily specials) — quite understandable when you’re operating at a limited scale. They seem to have gained good traction in a short while and have revised their rates within a few months into operation. The filter coffee fan in me wasn’t too pleased when its price jumped from Rs 40 to Rs 60 (ain’t filter coffee cheap by definition?), but we’ll be going back for more anyhow.
Damages: Rs. 110 for rava idli, Rs 60 for filter coffee and dosas are priced Rs 110-150
Closest Metro Station: None within walking distance. Kalkaji Mandir is the closest. You can take a bus (Route no 534) from Nehru Place Bus Terminal which is at a walking distance from the station.
On an uneventful day at work, as we were lazing around in office, we felt a sudden urge to step out and grab a quick sasta meal. But as always, we found ourselves struggling to venture beyond the few places we know. What followed was 20 minutes of ranting and revisiting old wounds — the occasional itch to have a pocket-friendly meal, the lack of information on such vendors, very few recommendations, etc. In India, especially in cities, you can expect a street vendor every 100 yards. But we are either completely unaware of them or wary of trying them out. As emotions ran high, one of us blurted out: “Arrey yaar, we should have a list of places where we can eat in 100 bucks”. If no one else is doing it, we should do it for ourselves (and for you!). We continued talking for an hour and ideating on how to go about creating one.
It has been nearly a year since that day. During this time we’ve given intermittent thoughts to it, worked on it every now and then, missed a dozen deadlines and shelved (and resumed) our plans a few times. Procrastination is an art, and we’re good at it.
However today’s a bit different.
Introducing Meals Under 100
Meals Under 100 is a curated list of places in Delhi where a single person can have a meal (not a snack!) in 100 bucks. We’ll list every such place we come across – be it a roadside vendor, a canteen, a sit down restaurant or a big chain – as long as the food or the experience makes us want to revisit. For every such place, we’ll share a sample meal, the price and how much it fills you. Other than that we’ve checked your meal preferences (veg or non-veg), mentioned the timings, and done our bit to hand-hold you to the place (map, directions/address). And of course, we also show you a glimpse of either the place or the meal.
If you’re aware of places that fit our criteria let us know and help us grow this list faster. Send out a tweet @bellycentric or shoot an email to We promise to feature the ones we like.
We’ve put our bellies on the the line to put this together… ’cause even foodies run out of money.
Have you ever found yourself struggling to decide which movie to watch from your pain-stakingly-put-together collection of movies? Well, I often face a similar dilemma when selecting a place for dinner every other weekend. After spending a great amount of time on running my options through a complex algorithm, more often that not I settle for a tried and tested place. In the last few months that option has been Mamagoto.
The Japanese word Mamagoto literally translates to “to play with food”. Step inside any of the their outlets across town and you’ll notice their striking interiors – a funky, playful anime theme that extends right from the walls to the washroom signs – doing justice to their name. The restaurant offers an overwhelming selection of Asian delicacies, most of which I have tasted and liked.
The appetiser section throws up a number of dishes, many of them thinly coated and fried such that you can taste more of the vegetable/meat. Moreover, they make sure the fried items are not drenched in oil when they reach your table. I would recommend the Thai Crispy Vegetables, mostly for the excellent accompanying tangy lime dressing. The Tom Yum Soup tastes good, even though I personally prefer mine to be much spicier. My favourite, Som Tam Salad, gets a big thumbs up at Mamagoto. The peanuts, padi chillis and lemon juice are mixed in the right ratio. If I had it my way, I could eat this every day. I hope they come out with the raw mango variant as well.
Many restaurants today feature a menu that offers several cuisines and most dishes fail to arouse any sense of curiosity. Mamagoto, on the other hand, does not fall into that trap. The dishes here sound so good, you want to try them all! They offer an interesting variety of dishes in the main course section which are broadly classified under Wok & Curries, Robata Grill, Signature Dishes, Seafood and Noodles & Rice.
Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles, named after an extremely popular city in Thailand, is a delightful take on the traditional Burmese Khao Suey. All the veggies are fresh and this dish is a part of their meal-for-one signature dishes. The other dish in this section that you must try is the Teriyaki Meal in a Bowl. The teriyaki sauce goes really well with the sticky rice. Though, I must add, if you prefer curries with your rice, this dish can get a bit monotonous after a little while.
Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles
The vegetarian woks are pretty standard fare and go well with steamed rice. Special mention for their pakchoi and crunchy asparagus that make up the Stir Fried Greens Thai Style.
On my last visit, I tried the Pan Fried Noodles, albeit reluctantly. And what a surprise it turned out to be! So much so that my friend ignored his lamb dish for the next two minutes. Shiitake mushrooms, garlic and peanuts in a black sauce mixed with the lightly fried noodles. Delicious!
While I have been overwhelmed with the vegetarian fare so far, our resident meat-eater proclaims that Mamagoto, with their wide range of meat and seafood offerings, is perhaps even better for non-vegetarians. Their Spiced Asian Barbeque Chicken and Lamb in Black Bean Sauce (prepared outside the regular menu) are pretty good. However, their mentionable dishes would be the smoky Prawns Wrapped in Bacon (thin slice of bacon wrapped around grilled prawns, topped with sweet sesame sauce) and the Thai Chicken Green Curry. A meal of just their Green Curry and rice (sticky or otherwise) can be immensely satisfying any day of the year. The amount of coconut milk is just right and doesn’t overpower the flavour of their green curry paste. The red curry is equally good.
I have tried Thai curries at several joints in the city, but aside from restaurants in five-stars hotels (say Spice Route at The Imperial), almost everyone does a pathetic job of it. Most places serve a watered-down version and hardly make use of galangal and kaffir lime — both of which add so much to the flavor.
Thai Chicken Green Curry
Prawns Wrapped in Bacon
Their drinks section offers a variety of mocktails most of which are different from the usual fare. The Wasabi Mary, Cranberry + Kaffir Lime Punch and Lemon Zest + Mint Lemonade are the pick of the lot. The latter differs in its preparation as they crush entire mint leaves in the drink rather than just putting them at the top. Amongst the cocktails, the Green Apple Mojito and the Cinnamon Whiskey stand out. One only wishes the drinks were moderately priced.
One area where Mamagoto should probably pay more attention towards is their menu card – a classic case of pretty-but-inconvenient design with way too many frills like loose binds, confusing labels and content scattered all over the page. I recently noticed that they reply to online customer reviews. A good move, though a self-defeating practice as they give out standard template replies for to each customer review. However, every experience beyond this stands impressive — be it the responsive staff, the quick service or the consistently good food.
When I shifted back from Singapore 5 years ago, good and affordable Thai food is all I yearned for. It took me one full year but finally I have a place I can visit whenever I need my Thai food fix. They now have 4 outlets across NCR – Saket, Vasant Kunj, Gurgaon and Khan Market. They usually have long waiting queues over the weekend, so I’d suggest booking in advance.
Damages: Rs. 1100 for a meal for two
Closest Metro Station: Khan Market
This is the fourth post in an ongoing feature highlighting the food scene in Kolkata. We’ve shared some of the best Mughlai food in Kolkata, heritage restaurants on Park Street and few places to try Bengali cuisine. This time we’ll look at one of the city’s favourite street food — (Kati) Rolls.
Over the years Delhi has seen a growing number of street vendors selling over-spiced stuffing wrapped inside fried paper-thin flour rotis. Althought they are portrayed to be Kolkata Rolls, none of them do justice to what is perhaps the most popular fast food in Kolkata.
Kolkata has a hole-in-a-wall roll outlet every few hundred yards. Most of them typically offer a menu of about 20-odd varieties. While the vegetarian choices are limited to just veg, potato or paneer roll, non-vegetarians usually have a much larger set of options with different combinations of chicken, mutton, or fish with one (or two) eggs. The rolls are usually made using thick porottas (similar to laccha paranthas) that are made from flour and are fried in oil. It’s quite fun to observe seasoned hands neatly lining up the porottas on a flat surface, and then swiftly placing the stuffing, sprinkling some sauteed onion and capsicum, chopped chillies, sauces, savoury masala (chat masala) and adding a dash of lemon before rolling them up inside blotting paper.
Nizam’s in New Market are supposedly the inventors of Kati Rolls and are well known for their beef rolls. They have two restaurants next to one another and serve beef in the one named “Moghul Garden”. The ambience is neither inviting nor hygienic but don’t let that stop you from indulging in their beef rolls. The restaurant isn’t air conditioned and can get quite hot inside during summers.
Damages: Beef Roll @ Rs. 18
Dhaba on Ballygunge Circular Road sports a prominent red coloured board. The meat in their Mutton Roll, unlike other roll vendors, is cooked to a near-mushy form with ginger-garlic and flavouring spices like ajwain. They charge a premium over other roll vendors in town, but the size and taste makes it worth the price.
Damages: Mutton Roll @ Rs. 40
Zeeshan, Park Circus
Zeeshan is a fully established Mughlai restaurant at Park Circus. They serve rolls at their snacks counter which is located slightly off the main entrance of their restaurant. Their culinary skill as a Mughlai restaurant results in some excellent Mutton Tikias (similar to Galauti Kebab in form and texture). These tikias mashed and stuffed inside soft _ porottas_ make excellent Mutton Tikia Rolls, perhaps the best in town.
Damages: Double Mutton Tikia Roll @ Rs. 29
It all started at this family function in Surajkund. A large gathering meant there would be a lot of food – the only thing that I was looking forward to.
As in a wedding (which this was not), there were stalls for all the usual suspects – appetizers, main course and desserts. One of them, named Fateh ki Kachori, stood out for me in particular.
As I approached the counter (after a mediocre round of papri chaat), my cousin walked up to me with a big smile on his face. Instead of a “badi bhook lag rahi hai tujhe?” remark, he started to recount stories from his school days when he regularly ate the kachoris from the person manning the stall. The person behind the counter was Mr. Fateh himself and he has been selling his wares outside St. Xavier’s School for a long time. As he prepared the kachoris, I learnt that it was this cousin who had requested him to put up his stall that day, hoping to introduce more people to his magical creation.
Two words can describe what followed this – INSTANT HIT! I had three pieces myself and soon enough there was a huge crowd outside his stall. Yes, a crowd around a stall at a family gathering. I just felt sorry for the adjacent chaat and golgappe wallas.
After having tasted his unique creation that day, a trip to his shop was a must. With some help from Google, I found out his exact location and working hours. A few weeks back we finally tracked him down and witnessed first hand the heavenly abode of those delectable kachoris – a cycle stationed under a tree outside St. Xavier’s School on Raj Niwas Marg.
It took us a few minutes of shuffling around the crowd to get a clear view of the proceedings.
From the cycle hang a few polythene bags containing chopped onions, chillies, ginger and coriander. Ably supported by the tree trunk and the cycle seat are a few boulders and wooden planks on top which lie a steel vessel, a bag full of kachoris, dried leaf katoris (pattals?) and some other utensils. Soon enough we were witness to an assembly line process that immediately got us turning our camera to video mode. The first person spoons out boiled chickpeas from a big steel vessel to a smaller one, further adding some masala and lemon juice to it. While all these are mixed together, the second person lays out kachoris in the katoris. The chickpeas mixture is then slathered on top of every kachori, following which all of them are sprinkled with onions, chillies, coriander, ginger and chutney (the secret ingredient, in our opinion) in one long impressive stroke.
We observed around 20-25 katoris of kachoris being prepared at the same time. Once this round is prepared and wiped off in a matter of minutes, the entire process is repeated. It took us less than 10 seconds to finish off the plate that I would describe as crisp kachoris topped with tangy chickpeas. Unlike the usual kachori-aloo sabzi combination, this one doesn’t feel heavy on the stomach and we found ourselves ordering three more rounds!
Out of all the different types of kachoris that I’ve eaten — Pyaz Kachori, Mawa Kachori, Raj Kachori, Khasta Kachori-Aloo Sabzi and the Urad/Moong Kachori (a Gujarati variant) — Fateh’s kachoris stand on their own and is the best variant I’ve had.
We found several people placing humungous orders for take-away. So don’t be surprised if you have to wait for 10-15 minutes for you turn. Given the speed with which they were disappearing, Fateh ki Kachori definitely seems to have a big following and we suggest you try this delicacy right away!
Closest Metro Station: Civil Lines
Damages: Rs. 20 per plate. Each plate contains 2 kachoris.
Of late I have realised that I haven’t been as disappointed with pizzas as I have been with the burgers in Delhi. Much like any naive consumer I am happy as long as my pizza is fresh, hot and tasty. Most of them, whether the “homely” pizzas at Nirula’s, the global chains like Domino’s or Pizza Hut, or other acclaimed individual outlets make the cut in those three aspects. However many of these chains have grown a knack of doing over-the-top experiments with their pizzas — crusts varying in thickness and texture, stuffing the crusts with cheese or meat, topping multiple varieties of cheese, etc. Some even go on to vary the shape of their pizzas (I’ve had a square one, have you?). Such “ingenious creations” have grossly distorted my understanding of the basic characteristics of a pizza and are perhaps the reason for me not looking beyond the temperature, freshness and taste.
An opportunity knocked my door when Hilton Mayur Vihar invited a few food enthusiasts to take part in a pizza making class with an Italian Chef at their premises. For long I had lived with the anxiety of not knowing the true traits of simple Italian home-styled pizzas. This was the perfect opportunity to find that out.
Chef Theodore Rudiferia (or simply, Chef Theo), the man behind those excellent burgers at Roadhouse Bar and Grill was our coach for the evening. He lead us into the open kitchen at Infinity and started off by narrating his experience of having his first pizza at a Pizza Hut in Delhi. “It was good”, he said in his Italian accent, “but not like back home”. Immediately I knew I was at the right place. The excitement however got dampened as I realised that the Chef would do all the action. Instead of a class it turned out to be a speedy demonstration — a little too fast to grasp the details and quite unfair to my eagerness and the burning itch to get my hands dirty. On the bright side, every question was answered and we were also provided with a printed leaflet each with the pizza making instructions. I later realised that it contained nearly everything that Chef Theo had said, word for word.
Before jumping into the technicalities, we were shared some rather interesting pizza trivia. Pizzas date back to the 11th century and at that time were mainly a sweet dish. Interestingly it was common among the poor in South Italy and was even dubbed as the “Bread of the poor”. Pizzas, as we know them today, came up around the 19th century and now account for nearly 10% of food service sales. The pizza base varies in Italy as well — South Italy makes it slightly thick and soft, while Central Italy likes the thin crust. Chef Theo, who hails from North Italy, also prefers the thin crust.
Chef Theo spent a couple of minutes explaining the ingredients for the pizza dough (flour, water, salt, olive oil, yeast and sugar), and pointed out some key differences from those used in Italy, e.g. commonly available flour in India is very low in gluten content. He then quickly moved to the tomato sauce (undoubtedly the key to the success of a pizza) which must strike a right balance between acidity and sweetness. The components of the pizza — fermented dough (for the crust), tomato sauce, grated mozzarella and the toppings (blanched, sautéed and seasoned) — were all prepared in advance, ready to be put together and baked.
Chef Theo applying tomato sauce on a freshly rolled out base
We keenly observed the Chef use a giant rolling pin to roll out a pizza crust, put his finger marks on the edge, apply tomato sauce, sprinkle some grated mozzarella and add an assortment of toppings. The key is to not overload a pizza (prevents the pizza from baking well) and to not let a topped pizza stand too long (makes the base soggy). The baking temperature should be about 300°C which is where most ovens at home fall short. The operating temperatures of home ovens are below 200°C and so Chef Theo suggested blind baking the rolled out pizza crust for few minutes so that the crust is slightly hard on the exterior before one starts topping it. Once the Chef had put his pizza in the oven he went onto briefly demonstrate how to knead the pizza dough. Unfortunately I couldn’t gather the details as I was too distracted by the cheese bubbling in the oven.
The pizzas that came out were excellent. For a moment or two it wiped away my fond memories of chewing American topped-breads high on monosodium glutamate. The crust was soft and thin, and slightly overdone to give it a light smoky flavour. It was not overloaded and more importantly the toppings were tastefully combined.
Chef Theo and Chef Girish with the first of the few pizzas for the evening
“Pizzas can be topped with anything we like”, said Chef Theo while we praised the aubergine on one of the pizzas. Interestingly, I don’t recall any of the pizza chains experimenting with some new toppings. How I wish they would.
And finally, we’ve managed to squeeze out a video!