I expected something different.
In my mind, Delhi Club House would have had a drab looking space, full of vintage furniture which was placed to suggest the good ol’ days. Pictures would adore the walls, photographs of the various clubs from around the country from where Marut Sikka has painstakingly taken the inspiration for the dishes on the menu. And then it would have music that is pleasant to the ears but reminiscent of the bygone era.
Instead, what I got, from the moment I entered through the curtained doors – still getting my head around this – was a classy modern day “club” with chic yet simple interiors, calm lighting – neither overtly bright nor so dark that one would consider it a shady den – a beautiful lit and stocked bar, a DJ table on one side playing trance like music – not too loud, thank you for that – and a very comfortable aura to the room, which even though was smaller than I had imagined it to be, managed to come across as spacious.
The “theme” of Delhi Club House is so simple, and brilliant, that restaurateurs across the country would probably be hitting their heads as to why they didn’t think of it. A collection of “favorites” from across the nation, a menu that covers the length and breadth of the county, food that is as comforting as it is longing; Marut Sikka’s excellent idea to pick and choose the best club dishes and present them in a more modern setting is nothing short of genius.
The club culture of the country, which still exists to an extent, evokes nostalgia of the sweetest kind for me. The clubs were a place to socialize, to meet and greet, to go at the end of a hard work day and just relax with familiar faces. My childhood memories of visiting these clubs consist of the smoke filled and out-of-bounds card rooms, the tennis court where we’d book our play time in advance, the outdoor badminton court which would lie empty for more than half the year because of the weather. Then there was the main attraction, the swimming pool which would resemble a mini Kumbh Mela during summer vacations, and lest I forget the chance to interact with girls who went to other schools as this would be the only time and place to see them. Then there was the food, dinner some days, snacks on others, the club culture is ingrained in the Indian psyche and is an integral part of many a childhood lessons.
The service at Delhi Club House set into motion the moment I entered; from guiding through the uneven floor plan, to seating, and then throughout the rest of the evening, it is all smiles and quick, not having to repeat or request a second time. There is genuine warmth and care, something that is often grossly missing in Indian restaurants, and it helps make the guest feel comfortable.
The menu is comprehensive yet limited. There’s enough variety to go around the table but it refrains from going overboard or trying to please everybody. Precise without any unnecessary hullabaloo, featuring dishes that have been made popular, names that have traveled by word of mouth, and tastes that many of us have almost forgotten.
Take the Cheese Soufflé which has a Panna Cotta-esq look to it rather than the more traditional soufflé. I wanted it to come in a nice porcelain cup with an airy and cloudy puff on top that would fizz out with a prick of the fork emitting a steam of cheesy goodness. Appearances aside, the soufflé tasted pretty darn good with its smooth creaminess and egg-y cheesiness.
The Vegetable Kakori Kebab, soft and fresh, had a unique sweetness to it that I very much appreciated – sweet tooth, you see – while the slightly spicier Dum Gulati was so soft that it had to scooped off the serving plate. Again, classics when it comes to Indian club food, but taken a notch higher in preparation and presentation.
For mains, the Amritsari Kulcha was the highlight of the day with appetizing Channas – one of the best I’ve had – and tender stuffed Kulchas. The usual suspects that are often overdone in these conditions – spices and butter – were just right, making this a favorite across the table.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Keema Pav “Sliders” which should have been bursting with flavor but instead were filled with almost dry Keema mini patties that lacked any character or taste. It was probably the only dish that came close to the ones you are more than likely to find at your neighborhood gastro-pub.
The Mutton Curry was the final saving grace. Saffron rice made simple with a watery but tasty curry – small chunks of Mutton included – reminded me of the Parsi Dhansak, in a good way.
Delhi Club House comes as a breath of fresh air in terms of thought based restaurants. While most people are busy trying to open gastro-pubs to make a quick buck, it’s nice to see someone spend time and energy on developing an idea, which is truly different – even if different means picking up and reinventing the already famous.
Delhi Club House makes for a quiet fun evening out which includes some wine – I tried a couple and both were really good, comforting food, purely elegant ambiance and a chance to enjoy good conversation with friends or family just like you would at your local club.