By Aisha Bhattacharya
When do Delhiites openly hunt for and request suggestions for a ‘good Indian restaurant’? Obviously, when NRI relatives are coming over from America (Amreeka) or Europe (You-rope) and we want them to see that Indian food has evolved beyond butter chicken and dal makhani. Though in our heart of hearts we know they would rather India is exactly as they left it but we want to show them India has progressed too. So what better way to show them than to take them to a restaurant that has a jazzy take on Indian food? Veda Café is exactly that.
Located on the first floor of the swanky DLF Promenade Mall, Veda Café has comfy seating (that is soft on the rear unlike college canteen benches), unobtrusive music (you can actually hear yourself think in there) and scrumptious food. Like most youngsters in Delhi I too duck into an international brand food outlet for the sake of truth in the statement, “I don’t eat Indian food outside of my home.” But, now I seriously wish I’d eaten at Veda before that day.
We had a reservation for 1 pm and were there on the dot. The manager was not on shift but a server quickly seated us and served us water and handed over the menus. The restaurant was quiet and had only one other table occupied at the time which was fine by me as I would be doing a lot of talking and asking questions which gets difficult on a busy day. Our server – Harish, suggested we try some signature cocktails and mocktails. We gave in and asked him to bring two each.
- Strawberry and Mint Lemonade – beautifully matched flavours that had me sipping with great gusto. Chilled and tasty with a light kick of alcohol so that you don’t smell like an alcoholic when you’re done with it.
- Fruit Mojito – a regular Mojito with watermelon and apple chunks. Very refreshing and light on a hot summer day.
- William Tell – the most popular mocktail on the menu according to the staff. Apple and smoked cinnamon made it feel a little wintery. A tad sweet for my palette but tasty nevertheless.
- Fruit Diet – peach & apricot flavours blended with crushed ice served in a martini glass. Tasted like slush we used to drink as kids. Only back then there were just two favours – orange and cola. The drink took me back to my childhood with its frozen sweetness but as an adult I felt a little more could be done to it. A guaranteed winner with the kids, I think.
By the time our drinks were served another 7-8 people had walked in and occupied 3 tables. I could see that there was still a section out there that enjoys restaurants with soft background music and conversation. The overall feel of the restaurant is easygoing and not fussy at all. It’s the kind of place you can spend a couple of hours in without being disturbed by children running amok and people screaming profanities in general conversation.
The first dish to arrive was the Palak ki Chaat. Crisp batter-fried whole leaves of spinach topped with tamarind chutney, sev and a drizzle of yoghurt. It was such a wonderful take on chaat and spinach pakodas. It was truly delicious in every way possible. Harish was very accommodating when I told him we couldn’t possibly eat full plates of everything so it would be great if we could get a platter with 2 pieces of each dish on it. He arranged with the chef and we received one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian platter.
- Tandoori Malai Broccoli: Light and flavourful. A good variation to the regular red masala tandoori gobhi.
- Chutney Paneer Tikka – generous pieces of succulent paneer which had a layer of mint chutney inside. I loved it.
- Fruit Seekh Kebab: It was supposedly made with apple, pineapple and pears but tasted like a regular vegetable seekh to me.
- Manchurian Cauliflower: Now don’t judge. I did and I was sorely mistaken. This is a seriously good dish! A surprising yes to a dish I wouldn’t normally order. If you’re a vegetarian you should definitely try this one dish.
- Stuffed Peshawari Aloo – a tandoori aloo stuffed with the usual dry fruit mixture.
- Dahi ka kebab: it is their most popular vegetarian starter and I expected it to be more than it is. A tad bit sweet for me but the texture is spot on.
- Pudine matar ki shammi: this was a veggie version of the shammi kebab. Quite nice.
- Hara bhara kebab with chick peas: this tasted similar to the matar ki shammi just that it had some chhole on top.
- Sev the Kurkuri: Delicious, cheesy mushroom wrapped in a spring roll sheet and covered with sev, the deep fried (that’s why it goes from being just tasty to finger lickin’ good).
- Amritsari Fish and Chips: I thought this was a great way to create a global dish – fish & chips meet Amritsari macchhi. I’m a huge fan of both and frankly this was some amazing cooking. Fresh fish (which is so hard to find in Delhi) and a light batter that made me want a whole plate to eat by myself.
- Chicken seekh kebab: no surprises here, soft chicken and light flavours.
- Sigri Tikka: the traditional red chicken tikka – again perfectly cooked and well balanaced flavours.
- Murgh Malai Tikka: the tikka I was told is marinated with cream cheese and eggplant. I couldn’t taste the eggplant but the cream cheese makes a good impression on the palette.
- Burrah Kebab: just one word – YUM! I haven’t had such good burrah kebab in ages. Most places it isn’t soft enough or there is more bone less meat. This was perfect in every way – juicy, well spiced, the right bone to meat ratio and it was cooked to melt in your mouth.
- Sakora Murgh Tikka: a chicken tikka marinated in cheese, cardamom powder and coriander. A delicious combination of flavours that keep you going back for more.
- Mutton seekh kebab: pretty standard Delhi fare.
- Veda Grill chicken: this is your regular Tandoori chicken on the bone. Again well balanced and perfectly cooked.
For main course we ordered only a few items with Malabar parantha and multi grain roti, because after all that there was no way we could eat full portions in any case. We tried their top selling items:
- Murgh Hara Pyaz which was a chicken dish cooked in spring onions, very delicious.
- Jodhpuri Paneer – fresh paneer with red chillies and some peppers. This was a fabulous alternative to the usual kadhai paneer and shahi paneer that most Indian restaurants offer.
- Butter chicken: we only tried the gravy because we couldn’t eat more chicken and I have to say any north Indian would be happy with that butter chicken
- Nihari gosht: only gravy again but my oh my, what a gravy! I couldn’t stop myself from eating all of it and given a chance I would have licked the bowl clean.
- Shahi Tukda: warm soft bread, soft fresh rabri and a perfect flavour balance. The sliced almonds on top gave the dish a beautiful textural contrast to the softness of the bread and rabri. Almost making it look like an Indian version of the quintessential brownie.
- Bombay falooda: a tall glass with crushed ice and rose syrup topped with falooda and then kulfi with Basil seeds on top. Such a vibrant dessert and so typically Bombay!
- Jaggery and toasted coconut ice cream: the ice cream is made in house and is quite nice.
Overall I have to say this was one of the most intense eating sessions I have ever had. There were lots of beautifully balanced flavours, perfectly cooked meats and seamless service. We were so impressed with the Nihari that we asked to meet the chef. Chef Bhure Lal was kind enough to come and meet us and I have to admit his humility and openness to learn are amazing. He has a brilliant understanding of food and flavours and it is so apparent in the food served at Veda. It was an honour to meet him, really.
I don’t think you need any more convincing about the food at Veda cafe. So if you’re wandering about the DLF mall and don’t get space at the other outlets, give Veda a try. You might just find your new go-to place for food.