The Timeless Madras Coffee House
By: Shagun Nayar
The Madras Coffee house, located in the Outer circle of Cannaught Place is much more than what meets the eye. I say this because the Madras Coffee House has been able to successfully withstand money-making corporations and multi-national food chains and stand tall& proud as one of the oldest café’s/restaurants/hotels in the capital city. The offers keep coming, but the dedicated and loyal workforce of this humble and charming little café is true to its cause of protecting what seems to be, one of the very few remaining haunts of Old Delhi.This coffee house is a legacy in itself because of its rich historical background and cultural importance. It emits a strong sense of pride and loyalty which is why the owner feels that in a couple of years, the Madras Coffee House will be considered as a heritage landmark.
It was initially a modest ice-cream parlour which was owned by the Hem Chand Jain family who moved from Punjab to Delhi. Like any farsighted business man, he expanded his shop into a restaurant and bar called the Shanghai Restaurant and bar which was a popular haunt for the British soldiers who brought over their lady friends, danced with them within the pasty white walls on band music, ordered Chinese food and sipped on their cocktails. Owing to the supremacy of the British crown and the strong pertinent racial bias, Indians were not allowed in this restaurant even though the owner was an Indian national. The owner frowns when he speaks of this, but that’s just how things were back in British India. Post-independence, the restaurant was changed once again into a pure vegetarian milk bar, called Respo Bar &once again, Indians were welcomed with open arms. Owing to its prime location and popularity, Jain transformed it into a fully functional coffee house in the 1950’s and that is how the Madras Coffee House came into being.
On entering this coffee house, you are immediately transported back in time. The windows are covered with plastic flowers hanging down, there is a temple with an idol at the entrance of this coffee house which is surrounded almost as if it is under guard, by a structure of bamboo. The ambience of this place is sure to make you nostalgic. The pale off-white walls running across the coffee house, covered with broad panels of metal engravings are met with dark orange tables and modest wooden chairs covered with an olive green fabric. The entire place is exactly how it was in the 1950’s. There is a huge backdrop of Kwality Walls Ice-cream posters behind the counter and an ice-cream parlour that is no longer functional. It’s a typical coffee house with music playing in the back, crowded with college students, middle aged professionals and the odd 1-2 foreigners.
The menu is diverse with a wide array of dishes spread across Indian, Chinese and South Indian. The infamous filter coffee, the airy-light Idli’s and the delicious Special Masala Dosa were my favourites from the menu. The filter coffee was made just like any typical south Indian filter coffee served with a sugar pot. The Idli’s were soft and airy, accompanied by an authentic rendition of the coconut chutney & spicy Sambar, the special masala Dosa was a combination of well-boiled potatoes, curry leaves, cottage cheese, peanuts, fried onions and tomatoes.Dining in the Madras Coffee House was an experience in itself with soft, soothing music playing in the background, students and professions reading their books and the manager, waiters bringing in food with utmost simplicity and joy.
So, if you’re ever wandering the streets of Cannaught place or looking for a taste of real Delhi, don’t forget to check out the Madras Coffee House and be transported back into time with walls that tell stories of the glorious past and food that will make you come back for more.
Location: P 5/90, Outer Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Contact Number: 011 23363074
Approximate cost for two: Rs. 450