The 200-year-old haveli is not that easy to find, as you walk through the narrow bylanes of Old Delhi, though the landmark is pretty popular. It is the Jama Masjid police station.
Probably not the best of places to think about when your objective is to be treated to a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. But those who respond to the lure of Matia Mahal, Karim’s, Al Jawahar and Dariba Kalan, would happily brave through much more for a taste of Mughal-style meats and treats. It’s an area where you get your hands dirty, that is, with your food — and blissfully too. So, when someone talks about a fine-dining experience right in the heart of Delhi-6, it’s not unnatural to be sceptical.
But that’s exactly what Haveli Dharampura offers. In fact, it’s Indian restaurant Lakhori can lay claim to an array of vegetarian options that would warm the cockles of a ‘green’ heart, while satisfying the meat-eating variant as well. The restaurant presents Delhi diners with an option that may as well be the first of its kind in the Capital — an old-style haveli resort with the food and comfort to match the demands of the ethnic luxury traveller.
Also read: Reviving the past in Haveli Dharampura
As I said, it’s not easy to find the very first time, but once you have, you’re unlikely to forget (the large signages help too, but let’s face it, how long will those survive in Old Delhi). Once described dangerous, the building — owned by BJP member of Parliament Vijay Goel — has been restored and converted into a heritage hotel over six painstakingly long years. In a walk-through organised by the owners and managers, members of the food and travel media community were taken across the three-storeyed building that houses 13 rooms (of three sizes), a spa, two restaurants (Indian and Continental — although only the Indian one, Lakhori, is currently functional), a small art gallery, a terrace with a fascinating view (speak to the managers, and they will point out the Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, Gauri Shankar Temple and St James Church, all in one panoramic stretch), and those wonderful little stories and passages that old havelis such as this always have abundance of.
We started with a sumptuous meal at Lakhori. Chef Pradeep Kumar and the owners had brainstormed for weeks to come up with a menu of nearly 50 dishes (down from an initial 85, I was told), and we approved of the hard work. The menu stays true to Indian flavours, while the presentation is modern and sophisticated. We started off with a round of bite-sized Cucumber Chaat Canapes (a long cucumber slice roll filled with chaat masala and yogurt), followed by Dahi Puri (gold-gappa puris filled with yogurt and spices, and accompanied with sweet saunt water or tangy jaljeera) and Palak Patta Chaat (spinach leaves covered in chickpea batter, fried with chaat toppings). The Palak Patta Chaat was particularly flavourful, crisp, and the cool yogurt and spices really play well on the palate.
Moving on to the starters, there was a Kadak Roomali Masala (a huge roomali roti baked upside down over the tawa to form a bowl, and sprinkled with ground spices, onions and tomatoes) which would be great with drinks, but since the restaurant is still to get its liquor licence, the dish was a tad bit bland. The veg and non-veg Gilouti Kebabs were just as they should be flavourful and melt-in-your-mouth, the rather exotic sounding Murg ke Paarchey (aka chiken tikka) were spiced well and did due justice to Lakhori’s presence in Purani Dilli.
All this was accompanied by a series of smoothies and mocktails — I highly recommend the Jahan Ara (khus and chilli), Kiwi Strawberry and Lakhori Manzil smoothies and the very surprising Chai Biscuit (this was a revelation for a chai-hater like moi). The Banarasi Paan (had without the straw) is amazing, provided taken in small sips between courses.
The main course showcased Chef Kumar’s international experience in form of the Aloo Gobhi Mutter Deconstructed, which brought in a mix of textures melding together the very familiar taste of the staple North Indian dish aloo gobhi. Mutton Korma (it’s Delhi-6 after all) may lack the punch of greasy oil and overwhelming spices, but the flavours were all there and would work well for international visitors; and the Kadhai Chicken, tangy, succulent and worked really well with the assortment of flavoured naans (olives, dates and kalonji). But I must mention the Kofta Dogala (cottage cheese koftas with two gravies — tomato and kaju), which was a visual delight (and some might even say, patriotically so, given the current socio-political scenario). The bowl was separated into halves with the green, wrapped koftas acting as the divider, and the flavours complemented each other with the tanginess of the tomato being rounded off by the creaminess of the kaju paste. The fact that the owners are vegetarians shines through in the care with which the veg options have been created, giving the lost vegetarians of Purani Dilli something to look forward to.
After brief moment to drink in the 200-year-old brick-finish lakhoris (as the bricks are called, and which inspires the name of the restaurant), colonial-style furniture and the courtyard with the fountain -later, the desserts walked in. And, in the spirit of greater good, we took a deep breath and dug right 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.
We dealt with the calorific guilt soonafter by walking up and down three floors exploring the haveli. For those historically and architecturally inclined, each room — named after Delhi’s famous gates like Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, etc. — talks about the history of its name, some of the mosaics and decorated arches on the windows and doors date back to beyond the 1880s, and are an interesting mix of Hindu-Mughal-European influences prevalent during the 19th century.
There are little nooks and cranies on each floor for guests to relax, a small balcony that looks out — well, to not much, since outside here means a VERY narrow, dusty, overcrowded lane that’s typical of the area. But draw the cane blinds and sip your coffee like a nawab, and you won’t even notice it. You can brag about the Old Delhi charm later. The Goels occasionally organise musical and dance evenings featuring Kathak groups. Interestingly, all three levels are visible from both the ground floor as well as the terrace, which gives the audience different vantage points. The evening is when the magic of the haveli would really mesmerise you. Dimly lit, classical music streaming into your ears, the setting of Purani Delhi, food of the nawabs and quaint ethno-modern rooms, there is much to savour.
On the whole, Haveli Dharampura presents a nostalgic experience of Mughal-era Chandni Chowk in modern times. Those who have visited Rajasthan may find much in common, but in the Capital, a haveli resort in Delhi-6 seems to be a first of its kind. It also shows the way forward for other such dilapidated havelis peppered across Old Delhi. But, mind you, the experience comes at a price — but one that’s worth it.
Haveli Dharampura opens to the public, and for reservations, on March 1, 2016.
Jharokha Rooms – Rs9,000 for double occupancy
Diwan-e-khas Rooms – Rs15,000 for double occupancy
Shahjahan Suites – Rs18,000 for double occupancy
Lunch/Dinner: Rs3,000-4,000 for two people, without alcohol
(All rates are exclusive of taxes)