Over two years ago,when Delhi was yet to get over with its fascination with the most expensive retail space in Asia aka Khan Market,Hauz Khas Village existed as an alternative,a bohemian market where artistes peddled their works to bon vivant hipsters,perhaps over a cup of chai,or more likely a surreptitious peg of Old Monk. Then somewhere along the line,some inspired people got the idea of setting up a restaurant,so that artists wont be hungry any more. Eating among niche stores selling everything from classic Bollywood posters to independent designer dresses appealed to the Capitals horde of diners,and so the restaurant succeeded. More and more restaurants started opening up as Delhis appetite did the rest. Elmas,Yeti and Boheme became part of the citys dining lexicon,while OTB,TLR Cafe and Amour became the places to be seen in. And then at some point,going to Hauz Khas Village became more of a social chore,than a pleasant outing.
In the last year or so,the village has reached its saturation point. And I dont mean just in terms of restaurants and stores. Because suddenly theres this huge influx of people into what used to be an averagely populated place,the infrastructure has gone to pieces. Summer months are particularly bad,specially in terms of supply of utilities,where we dont have electricity half the day and the water supply is erratic. The authorities dont really do much to alleviate the situation and we also face problems from the cops,says Satish Warrier,one of the owners of Gunpowder,who is mulling over shifting the much-beloved South-Indian restaurant to calmer,more navigable waters. This is despite the fact that the restaurant is one of the mainstays of the market and one of its earliest success stories.
Water and electricity aside,the largest problem restaurants face is parking. And thats despite none of the restaurants being a drive in. On any night of the week past 8pm,the search for a parking space becomes a quest of Tolkien-esque proportions,albeit with a lot more honking of horns and profanities. Its not just hungry customers who face the bane of parking but the suppliers to restaurants as well. Warrier and his brethren of restaurateurs have been fielding increasingly anguished complaints by their suppliers of meat,produce and other ingredients who bemoan the long lines of vehicles battling it out on the roads to the market and the long hours their trucks spend therein. Landlords have been quick to see this spurt in footfall and have accordingly raised the rent,adding to the woes of retailers and restaurateurs.
Though the market has seen a large number of opening and closures since its rise in popularity,the recent list of casualties has been worrisome to say the least. TLR Cafe,which was one of the citys leading pub-cum-performance spaces recently downed its shutters,with independent bookstore Yodakin soon to follow suit. Gunpowders future in the village remains cloudy as does that of everyones favourite tea room,Elmas.
On the other hand,some restaurateurs remain upbeat about Hauz Khas Village and the treatment it metes out to both,the feeders and the fed. Riyaaz Amlani whose upscale European dining chain,Smoke House Deli,opened its latest outpost in the village last week said,While the various processes and mechanisms could obviously be more streamlined,by and large the authorities have been helpful and not put hurdles in our path. Getting all our paperwork and licensing done was a relatively smooth affair. I realise some restaurants may have had problems with various government bodies,but I reckon that unless you take shortcuts and get caught,you shouldnt have too much of a problem.