CP’s Dramatic Turnaround as PC: Delhi’s Party Central is a Rs 1,440cr F&B Economy
The twin openings of Farzi Cafe and Social signify the industry’s renewed confidence in the Capital’s heritage mall.
ABOUT A year back, I had written about the dramatic transformation of Connaught Place, which had seen five hellish years before and after the star-crossed 2010 Commonwealth Games. It has truly become the city’s premier retail and entertainment mall, which it was designed to be from the day it opened in 1933.
Besides being the world’s fourth most expensive retail destination (in real estate terms), it is home to scores of new restaurants that have sprung up in spaces squatted upon for decades by rogue tenants. Connaught Place today, according to industry estimates, has become a Rs 78-crore-a-month food and beverage economy, looking at raking in Rs 120 crore a month this year. That would make it a Rs 1,440-crore F&B cash machine catering to the humongous appetite for ‘hanging out’ of the millennial generation.
Just to give you an idea of the concentration of new restaurants in Connaught Place, here’s another bit of statistics: N-Block, which used to have just a sleepy Amber and Blues, and Taste of China briefly, to flaunt, is home today to 15-plus restaurants, the latest being MTV’s Flyp, the music channel’s first foray into the food and beverage business in the world. On busy nights, restaurants owners inform me, just this block, which has Moet’s kulfiwallah and Barbecue Nation rubbing shoulders with a host of similar-sounding restaurants operated by Priyank Sukhija, sees as many as 2,000 people congregate to let their hair down.
The terrace of this block, which used to be occupied by the decrepit Centre Court Hotel, is today one of the city’s most sought-after destinations. And with the NDMC appearing to have withdrawn its hare-brained diktat of not allowing restaurants to operate their terraces, Connaught Place has become one large open-air party zone — notwithstanding the particulate matter load carried by the city’s air!
The freeing up of Connaught Place has made Delhi the party capital of India. It has also integrated, thanks to the Metro, the old Old Delhi, stretching from the Walled City to Civil Lines, with New Delhi’s party district. The only incongruities in this buzzy landscape are the Indian Coffee House, which is stuck in another era (some, like me, find it reassuring), and Standard restaurant at the Regal theatre, where I have had many a celebratory meal with the my parents and sister, and even dated the young woman who became my wife a quarter of a century ago — the grand old restaurant went out of business more than a decade ago, but it has not found a taker, so all that remains of it is the signage and the shell of its once proud self.
The new-found importance of Connaught Place in our lives has been reaffirmed by the opening of two of Delhi-NCR’s phenomenally successful restaurants. Farzi Cafe, whose success at DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, owes a lot to the young Zorawar Kalra‘s vision of giving Indian food the contemporary twist his generation is most comfortable with, has opened at E-Block. Riyaaz Amlani‘s Social, another restaurant that the millennial generation has instantly adopted from Church Street, Bangalore, to Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, and Churchgate, Mumbai, has planted its flag at Odeon cinema, which has seen several changes (all for the better) in its history since its opening in 1945 and then achieving the milestone of becoming the second cinema in the city (after Sheila) to have a 70mm screen.
The two heavyweight restaurant openings are an affirmation of the altered status of Connaught Place. For generations of Delhiites, British architect Robert Tor Russell‘s immortal gift to the city has been for decades the destination for celebratory meals. And the good news is that the old immortals are still in business — from Wenger’s (which has been around for 90 years) to Kwality (which has turned 75), United Coffee House and The Embassy, to Amber, Anand Restaurant, Berco’s, English Dairy and Vega Pure Vegetarian at Hotel Alka, where the first helping of each dish served to customers is still offered to the presiding deity. You can’t write off Connaught Place. It always comes back to reclaim its place in history.
CHEFS LINE UP SURPRISES TO MAKE 2016 A TAD MORE SAVOURY
BACON Vada Pao may have a sacrilegious ring to it, but Soda Bottle Openerwala (SBOW) is not known to be a restaurant that conforms to old-fashioned ways. When I asked some of Delhi-NCR’s leading restaurants how they planned to surprise the city in 2016, SBOW’s cholesterol-rich new offering instantly caught my attention. As did Chef Vikram Khatri‘s plan to introduce Kadakanath, the famous black chicken of Madhya Pradesh, into the menu of Guppy by ai. And where will the bird make its appearance. In the nabe (hot pot), promises the chef. That’s hot!
At Farzi Cafe, the young and talented Saurabh Udinia has lined up an innovative array of hoppers (that’s the Sri Lankan name for what we describe as appam) to surprise patrons of the newly opened Connaught Place outlet. The hoppers (fluffy breads made with fermented rice batter) come with unusual accompaniments such as bacon (it seems to be this season’s favourite poison!) and eggs, Malayan prawns, and asparagus and chestnut khurma.
The equally inventive Sujan Sarkar, who has sealed his claim to fame with the Ek Bar granola bar, promises to tickle the palate of his guests at Olive Qutub in Mehrauli with beetroot-cured salmon, vanilla lemon puree, pickled local roots, sour cream and bagel crisp. It’s amazing how he can straddle the mutually exclusive worlds of Ek Bar and Olive Qutub. At The Oberoi New Delhi, it’s back to basics for Executive Chef Rohit Gambhir, so he wishes to wow you with Nalli Nihari and Khamiri Roti, but for the summer, but for those with international taste buds, he recommends Chef Vincenzo di Tuoro‘s chilli-and-fennel-crusted snapper served with edamame beans, Kalamata olives and orange sauce at Travertino.
And if all these goodies aren’t good enough to tempt you out of the comfort of your home, you must head to the chick Pluck restaurant at the brand-new Pullman Novotel, New Delhi Aerocity, and check out Chef Ajay Anand‘s Cinnamon and Apricot Smoked Arancini. These are apricot- stuffed risotto balls, coated with cinnamon-flavored panko crumbs, and I can say with all the certainty at my command that this seemingly humble dish, presented in a very fancy way, has won my heart. If I am asked to name one dish that will define the spirit of 2016, it is this.
INDIA LOSES OUT IN FAD FOOD MARKET
IS INDIA losing out on the huge opportunity presented by the food fad market? Take the case of cow’s milk ghee. Across Europe, fitness fanatics are waking up to the health gains of consuming it in balanced quantities, but India is nowhere in the market. Ditto for coconut water. It’s the drink that has grabbed the imagination of the western world, yet Indian players are absent from the market; they are also barely in the picture in the competition for the emerging market for extra virgin (first press) coconut oil, which is has become everyone’s favourite protection against cancer (one tablespoon every morning!).
The story doesn’t get any better with turmeric. As the world discovers the positives of starting the day with a glass of turmeric milk, the largest producer of turmeric, India, has left the field open for Thailand. Are we slow at recognising market forces, or is the domestic market already too big to handle? Government agencies responsible for marketing our agricultural treasures, such as APEDA, which functions under the Ministry of Commerce, will have to wake up from their slumber if they want our farmers to cash in on the Next Big Wave after quinoa — the global rise in the demand for gluten-free ragi (sorghum). Let’s not miss this bus.
This edition of my bi-monthly Fortune Cookie column appeared in Mail Today on Thursday, January 14. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.