By Kanika Johri
Baby pink walls, cold white CFL bulbs and plaster ready to peel off any moment…not exactly one’s idea of a world-famous restaurant, right? Wrong. Moti Mahal of Daryaganj, is a legend, and a living one.
As old as independent India, Moti Mahal was established in 1947 and is the first restaurant to introduce tandoori cuisine in India. It claims to have invented the butter chicken and tandoori chicken as we know today. And interestingly, even today, as you walk past the liveried durbaan at the arched gateway, time seems to have come to a standstill here.
Located in possibly one of the most congested and arguably the most ancient parts of the capital, this restaurant boasts of some of the most renowned visitors from across the country and abroad. It has seen patronage from none lesser than Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, John F Kennedy, Maulana Azad, Shah of Iran and Richard Nixon to name a few. In its more recent times, Moti Mahal was visited by none other than renowned master chef Gordon Ramsay, who even went behind the counter in the kitchen of this ancient restaurant.
Moti Mahal offers a huge range of delicacies from tandoori and butter chicken to burra kebab among other delicacies, all of which it has an expertise in. And oh, the bhuna gosht is to die for. And the kesri fish is a must-try as well for the health conscious.
However, vegetarians should not be disheartened as this restaurant’s dal makhni is known to have converted even diehard non-vegetarians, while their melt-in-the-mouth malai koftas can melt hearts too! In fact, Moti Mahal’s butter chicken gravy is so famous that on popular demand they have listed the butter gravy as a separate dish as well so the vegetarians too, can relish the taste. Each dish is unique with a distinct flavour and almost all cooked to perfection.
But in sharp contrast to its rich cuisine is its dim interior and sparse occupancy. Today, this legendary restaurant seems to be dwindling. Reason? For one, not many people (especially Delhiites) frequent this place too often today, possibly because the ever-expanding Delhi has moved far and away from its roots in all directions. Believe it or not but this place sees more loyal clientele from across the globe.
Restaurant owner Vinod Chaddha bought the place from its founder Kundan Lal in 1991 in a dilapidated condition and has been offering the same authentic cuisine since then. While Moti Mahal is a name that almost all foodies are familiar with, most don’t know that this one is not linked to any of the namesakes running across the city or the country for that matter. For those of you wondering, most of those outlets are franchises let out or run by Kundan Lal Gujral’s grandson Monish Gujral.
Contrary to popular belief, this original Moti Mahal claims to have no branches… so much so that this is even written at their entrance in block letters.
Gordon Ramsay was here not so long back but ask Chaddha if the restaurant is doing well, he answers, “well, we just about manage to break even.”
The restaurant owners don’t really believe in advertising the wares much either. When asked the reason, Chaddha shrugs, “Word of mouth is enough for us. People like you did come here all the way from south Delhi to experience our authentic cuisine after all. We hope you will pass on the word.” Interestingly, according to the owner, Moti Mahal has the highest number of patrons from Korea, Japan and America. And the ratio of Indians and foreigners is almost 50-50!
Does the restaurant have plans of expanding? Chaddha’s answer is in the affirmative although a little hesitant. And why won’t it be hesitant when they are only just able to cover costs as of now. A lot of people (like me initially) might get a bit intimidated about the distance or the fact that it’s in a relatively congested area. But, if you crave the authentic and popular tandoori cuisine, it is well worth the travel.
As former freedom fighter and minister Maulana Azad rightly said, “…coming to Delhi without eating at Moti Mahal would be like visiting Agra without seeing Taj Mahal.”
Address: 3704, Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj, Delhi;
Phone: 011- 23273661; Mobile: 9810441938
Website: www.motimahal1947.com (Although the site tends to act up at times, beware of landing on the wrong page). You could also check out details here