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A long time ago, when Y2K was still a legitimate fear and Google was just a weird sound, Ansal Plaza, Khel Gaon, was the crown of Delhi’s retail scene, its brightest star Shoppers Stop, from where many of this generation’s hipsters bought their first outre clothes or accessories. Young professionals, couples and families strolled between the red-brick buildings amidst a vista of store fronts, bright and sparkly both in sunlight and under tubes — visiting Planet M for the latest music, browsing through footwear and furnishings and of course, eating. When that temple of globalisation McDonald’s became an anchor store, filled to capacity at all hours, the plaza’s future seemed secure. It was not to be.
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Cut to six months ago and Delhi’s first mall had become barely a blip on the city’s radar, a vague landmark for your Uber driver to find you. Stores gave way to law offices, travel agencies and spas. The final nail in the coffin seemed to be the establishment of multiple beer and wine shops, a last resort for any failing commercial retail space. A few stores clung on with the easy temerity of multinational conglomerate backing. As they say, you could open a McD’s in a lighthouse and people will still go there (something the company actually did in Chile in the 1990s).
But as restaurateurs and chefs have been discovering of late, nostalgia is all the rage, easily working as both theme and ingredient — a factor that has given Ansal Plaza a new lease of life, and new leases to a lot of new restaurants.
Jom Jom Malay is not just another weird sound; it’s a Malaysian restaurant which drew quite the crowd at the recent Asian Hawkers Market in Saket, and is one of the spanking new restaurants set to open shutters in the space, where it will be joined by Kokofuku, the first Delhi outpost of a beloved Japanese import from Mumbai, and Arena, a quasi-club which held a new year’s bash on well, new year’s. Among the established brands coming in are Vikrant Batra’s Cafe Delhi Heights, Priyank Sukhija’s Lord of the Drinks and The Flying Saucer Cafe, Riyaaz Amlani’s Social and crowd favourite, Defence Bakery.
While all these spaces are yet to open, the roof has been taken over by The Sky High, a massive open-air bar and restaurant offering a 360-degree view of the city. Taksim, which has also started plating out orders, offers world cuisine. If the sound of all these calories is weighing in on you, fret not; the mall boasts a Decathlon sporting goods store.
But if the roof and a few stores are brightly lit and functional, the floors below are filled with drilling and hammering noises as sawdust swirls through corridors, crowded and barricaded by construction materials. It’s not just the construction; a sense of desolation still stalks the space: the few stores that are open are listless, their patrons few. A circumambulation of the two adjoining buildings seems perilously short in this age of megamalls. The amphitheatre outside, at one time filled with people basking in the winter sun, is abandoned to stray men, dogs and the odd couple dotting the space. Meanwhile inside, Britney Spears’ Lucky pipes through the speakers, perhaps harkening a change in Ansal Plaza’s fortunes.