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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Seventy Not Out

Few restaurants can boast of patrons waiting for over two hours to get a table. And even fewer of customers waiting to be served by a particular waiter.

Written by Sharon Fernandes |
April 16, 2011 3:00:34 am

Few restaurants can boast of patrons waiting for over two hours to get a table. And even fewer of customers waiting to be served by a particular waiter. United Coffee House (UCH),which turns 70 this year,has seen it all. A landmark in the inner circle of Connaught Place,UCH has seen the Pontiacs of the white sahibs parked outside,as well as bureaucrats and politicians of an independent India discussing politics under its high ceiling. It has seen the surge in foreign tourists in the ’60s and ’70s when the cool hippies came visiting and the lull of the late ’80s and ’90s,thanks to quick service joints like Nirulas cropping up followed by the new fine dining explosion of the 2000s. But nothing much ever changed at UCH. Jwala Dutt Sharma,62,who has worked as a chef here for over 40 years,says that the food has remained the same,“Masala abhi kam spicy banta hai. Abhi ham sil-bhatta (grinding stone) use nahin karte,magar taste same hain,” says Sharma,who remembers serving his favourite actors,Zeenat Aman,Dharmendra and Hema Malini.

“Our ambience has been the biggest draw. Even today how many standalone restaurants can boast of a 20ft high ceiling? We still retain the old-world charm from the ’40s. Personalised service has been our forte,” says Akassh Kalra,of United Group of Restaurants. His forefather Hansraj Kalra started UCH in 1942. “It was different back then,” says Kalra,“Connaught Place was not for retail. In the early ’50s,it was about art,and a luxe experience. My father used to tell me about old men with their jewelled walking sticks who would saunter in,the ladies dressed to the nines,the butlers always on call. It was about class back then.”

In the ’50s,Volga,Gaylord and UCH were the places to be seen in,especially since there were hardly any five-star hotels for the bureaucrats to hang around in. “Only Imperial Hotel was around,the elite would visit Volga,Gaylord and UCH. Unfortunately,Volga shut down last year and Gaylord closed long back after the owners moved away,” says Kalra. UCH has held its location as well as signature dishes like Mutton Samosa and Tomato Fish. Today,loyal customers still fill up comment cards praising the food and tourists shuttle in through its glass doors thanks to write-ups in the Lonely Planet editions. At UCH,you may still have to wait for a table on a weekday.

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