The 200-year-old haveli is not easy to find, though the landmark is pretty popular — the Jama Masjid police station. It’s probably not the best of places to imagine a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights but those who have been lured by Matia Mahal, Karim’s, Al Jawahar and Dariba Kalan, would happily brave much more for a taste of Mughal-style treats. So, when someone talks about a fine-dining experience in Old Delhi, it’s unnatural not to be sceptical. But that’s exactly what Haveli Dharampura offers.
The building, owned by Member of Parliament Vijay Goel, and now a WelcomHeritage property, took six years to be restored as a heritage hotel. It houses 13 rooms, a spa, two restaurants (Indian and Continental — although only Lakhori, the Indian one, is currently functional), and a small art gallery. Views of Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, Gauri Shankar Temple and St James Church lie in one panoramic stretch. With lakhori finishes (as the bricks are called, and which inspires the name of the restaurant), colonial-style furniture and a courtyard with a fountain, the three-storeyed haveli preserves the old feel.
Chef Pradeep Kumar of Lakhori and the owners had brainstormed for weeks to come up with a menu of nearly 50 dishes. These are true to Indian flavours, while the presentation is modern and sophisticated. We start with a round of bite-sized Cucumber Chaat Canapes, a long cucumber slice roll filled with chaat masala and yogurt, followed by Dahi Puri and Palak Patta Chaat. The latter was particularly flavourful, crisp, and the cool yogurt and spices played well on the palate.
In the starters, there was a Kadak Roomali Masala, which was a tad bit bland. The vegetarian and non-vegetarian Gilouti Kebabs were just as they should be, flavourful and melt-in-the-mouth. The Murg ke Paarchey (aka chicken tikka) was spiced well and did due justice to Lakhori’s presence in purani Dilli.
The dishes were accompanied by a series of smoothies and mocktails. (The restaurant is still to get its liquor licence.) One would recommend the Jahan Ara (khus and chilli), Kiwi Strawberry and Lakhori Manzil smoothies, and the Chai Biscuit (for someone who hates tea, this was a revelation). The Banarasi Paan was amazing, provided taken in small sips between courses.
The main course showcased Chef Kumar’s international experience, with his Aloo Gobhi Mutter Deconstructed, which was a mix of textures. The Kofta Dogala (cottage cheese koftas with two gravies — tomato and cashew), was a visual delight. The bowl was separated into halves with the spinach-wrapped paneer koftas acting as the divider. The flavours complemented each other with the tanginess of the tomato being rounded off by the creaminess of the cashew paste. That the owners are vegetarians shines through, giving herbivores something to look forward to in Old Delhi.
A little later, the desserts walked in. A trio of creamy kheers (beetroot, paan and fig) and rose-flavoured kulfi (presented in a chocolate cone) were a perfect finish to a modern Mughal Delhi meal.
The evening is when the magic of the haveli mesmerises you, with classical music against the backdrop of purani Delhi, with food worthy of nawabs and rooms that tell a quaint yet contemporary story.