What’s killing Delhi food scene?

Categories Food

I said this when I came back from Pondicherry and Chennai. I am saying the same after Bangalore. The Delhi food scene needs to crash and burn before anything comes out it.

In Pondicherry, the lanes around promenade have restaurants that are known for something – creole food, French food in an old villa, drinks with a view of the sea etc etc. In Bangalore, I ate 4 meals a day for 4 days in order to just cover as many places as I can. There was not a single place that I ate at that didn’t know what it was selling. Mangalorean, thali place, coorg food, drinks with a view of the city from the 13th floor – all neatly cut out identities.

In fact, the 13th floor on Barton Center, right on MG road, has amazing views and sells beer for 300 bucks, 650 ml of beer. We were too full from the dosas and I planned on drinking a litre of beer. So, we did not order any food. After the second bottle, an elderly server came to us with a plate of salad and papad in hand. We said we were too full and didn’t want any food. He insisted we could not just have drinks! And, the cocktails with mangalore spices were amazing.

Once you move out of Delhi, everything seems cheap and sorted, if not good. In Delhi, we have folks who set up restaurants not around food, but around themes. What are themes, you may ask. I have been asking for years. There is one that has military barrack as a theme, another has a college campus, another is aphrodisiac themed and sells Tiramisu as aphrodisiac. There are countless more – Teddy boy, Tamasha and what not!

I know all their themes, I have no idea what they sell as food – some mishmash, gobbledegook called world cuisine. Basically, pizza, pasta, burger and some starters plated differently across restaurants. I have not been to any of these, so can’t say for sure. But I have city’s most celebrated reviewers on my friend list – none of them have written about the food at these places!

You see, Rohit Shetty makes good movies. We watch them, and at times enjoy them, but we don’t say he is an acclaimed film maker. In Delhi, Priyank Sukhija is an acclaimed restaurateur. One time, a blogger on his rolls told me do you know how much money his restaurant makes! The passionate blogger ran his restaurant for a day under some promotional scheme. I wanted to tell her I also know how much money Shetty makes, no one gave him an Oscar!

And, then we have the critics. The most celebrated critic being Marryam Reshii, who writes only about food but has less spine and credibility than a Vir Sanghvi. He is more interesting as a writer too. She had started and stuck to reviews, not food writing, just restaurant reviews. A friend once said she got the job only because we lost Sabina Sehgal. That’s as much talent as the city’s best critic has.

Not that good things are not happening. There is a Rustom’s, a Mahabelly, a Men in the Kitchen in Dwarka, a bold Coastal Reef in Gurgaon and I like even what Varun has done with Imly, though I have never eaten there. But people talk about the food despite the buses and trains he builds. Ziu got talked about for food, snooty but food. I love Fatty Bao as a clean and good concept. I can think of a few more – Guppy, Potbellly, Elma’s etc etc.

The evil that these ‘’world food’’ restaurants do is crowd out the market, raise real estate prices and make it difficult for new entrants. And they need to burn down so that restaurants don’t have to fight on alcohol prices, so that ‘cafes’ don’t destroy the food scene, so that this dirty ecosystem of unimaginative restaurateurs and paid bloggers is drained out and new healthier habitat can evolve.