Something tells us that the original Dhaba at the real Claridges in quiet, austere Lutyens’ Delhi doesn’t greet its patrons with chest-thumping, eardrum-blasting Bollywood hits. But it’s weirdly fun to be welcomed by a wash of colour and a fusillade of Honey Singh in the middle of Indiranagar; we almost wish they’d thrown in bhangra dancers and a charpai.
Southern Style Changes
At the Bangalore version of Dhaba by Claridges, kurta-clad waiters make a most un-Punjabi announcement about the lack of a bar license. Luckily, kebab is almost an acceptable substitute for sharaab: mutton galouti disappears off the tongue, and chicken roast is the sort of clubby bar snack they might have served at the Claridges immediately after Independence: whole pieces of chicken marinated in hung curd and roasted like a tikka. To wash these down, Dhaba sweetly reaches across the subcontinental divide with a “Dakshin chaas,” buttermilk seasoned with cumin and dry red chilly tadka that they definitely didn’t discover in a Punjabi mother’s kitchen.
We knew we were in for a good meal thanks to tips from Delhi friends, but the thing that really makes our experience is the khaatir-daari, a big fat helping of Punju hospitality.
Decoding the Dhaba Menu
The staff recommends ‘chitta butter chicken’ – you know what not to order if you’re taking along a friend who’s just seen Udta Punjab – a creamy “fair” version of its namesake, finished with kasoori methi, a win for its surprising, sweet lightness. The dish goes down beautifully with ‘Dhaba rotis’ and roomalis, both of a freshness and springiness you won’t easily find elsewhere in the South. (Expect to see many Northies shedding tears of gratitude in days to come). The unexpected star of our meal is something altogether simpler – rich, fragrant dal makhani laced with garlic, unlike anything we’ve tasted, and perhaps one of the best things we’ve eaten this winter.
Dhaba’s dessert menu is daunting for anyone who doesn’t have the taste for intense North Indian-style meetha. We pick the two safest on the list and are richly rewarded for our conservatism: gulab jamun is served with a gooey centre that will surprise anyone who’s used to the stingy, floury Southie version. Rasmalai, even more pleasing to report, isn’t too far removed from the KC Das version – need we say more?
We knew we were in for a good meal thanks to tips from Delhi friends, but the thing that really makes our experience is the khaatir-daari, a big fat helping of Punju hospitality. Service is prompt and the vibe informal and friendly. Buttery young staffers move like greased lightning, dancing in formation when Budtameez Dil plays over the speakers. The manager even stops by to give us an impromptu lecture on how a great sherbet is made, and leaves us with a recipe for paan mojito. In a city where a meal is more likely to be accompanied by the The Beatles than the betels, all we ask is that they dial down the volume on that Honey Singh a bit.
Getting there: 618, 2nd floor, 12th main, Indiranagar, call 49652541. A meal for two, without drinks costs approximately Rs 3500.
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