Late last week, nine of us EOiD adventurers turned our noses westwards, and headed to Rajouri Garden.
I’d been looking for an excuse to go there for a while now — I kept hearing about the Giani’s ice-cream parlour there, but couldn’t enthuse myself to travel such long distances just for desserts. Then a few days ago the perfect excuse landed in my lap, when Shashank returned raving from an evening of eating out at the J-Block Community Centre at Rajouri Garden.
Nestled in the midst of the tall office buildings that comprise this complex, a clutch of restaurants aim to satisfy the Punjabi demographic of these parts. Dim incandescent bulbs, the smell of chicken roasting on skewers, a light shroud of early winter fog, and in the middle of it all, strapping young lads animatedly discussing their meal — this might just be the farm-bred Punjabi’s urban idyll.
Our restaurant of choice for the evening was Khyber, an establishment that had earned its reputation with decades of service at its previous Kashmere Gate location. Like the other restaurants in this oversized food court, it has an open kitchen, with outside seating. Unlike some of the others, however, Khyber also allows you to bring your own drinks. Which was just as well, because a spot of rum in our coke (courtesy Navy man Arnab) was just what we needed to get the blood running in our veins.
No sooner had we settled down that the first dish arrived. Banno kababs are morsels of boneless chicken, marinated in ginger and garlic, then dipped in spiced curd, and skewered. As a final, defining touch, the skewers are coated with an egg mixture and roasted again. The result are incredibly succulent kababs that we all wolfed down in minutes, and promptly ordered for another round.
Another specialty of Khyber is the Secundari Raan (whole mutton leg), which needs to be ordered in advance. It is served rather attractively in a glass platter, surrounded by fresh salad, and cooked to a rich saffron hue. Our raan felt a little underdone though, perhaps a consequence of an anxiety to quickly feed such a large group with voracious and vocal appetites. Despite that, we agreed that the spices in the raan were just right, and we would certainly come back for more.
I didn’t sample the fish tikka we had ordered, but Harneet assures me it was even better than the one we’d had at Al Zahid a few months ago, which is no small compliment.
But we’d also been recommended another restaurant in the same complex, so as soon as we’d polished off our order at Khyber, we repaired to Punnu Biryani a few score yards away. We decided to start with some “fish orley”, which were lightly fried boneless fish sticks. The fish itself was just middling, but it was accompanied by a white sauce as well as, rather unusually, a hot chilli sauce that mixed well with each other to uplift the fish. We also ordered the mutton, chicken and egg biryanis, all of which I found rather unremarkable. The mutton seemed rubbery, though we were told that that is the price to pay for removing the bones from the meat prior to cooking.
However, the entire experience was redeemed right at the end, when the owner came around, and with one of those disarmingly cute chubby-sardar smiles, said “Ji, I am Punnu.”
That was the last of our food at the J-Block Community Centre. We didn’t have the appetite to try out some of the other attractions of the area, including Sethi’s, which seemed to be extremely popular with the local crowd. For vegetarians, we noticed at least two restaurants, Bal Gopal and Sitaram Chhole Bhature. The second may possibly be a branch of the famous joint in Paharganj, but closes relatively early in the evening.
We weren’t yet done for the day, though. How could we? Half the reason for coming all this way had been Giani’s Icecreams, and so we headed to the parlour we’d seen next to the Rajouri Garden Metro Station. I recall they were all good, but otherwise my memory of the hot-chocolate fudge, the Sharifa, the cassatta, the mocha almond fudge, and the Kucch Nahi sundae (an extravagantly unusual concoction which tasted of paan) are somewhat fuzzy. You see, our attention was diverted by the TV set and the small business of India winning an ODI series at home against Pakistan for the first time in 24 years!
A perfect end to an evening of good food and great company!
Location: From the Rajouri Garden Metro station, take a rickshaw to “Otik Plaza”, which seems to be a landmark located in the same J-Block Community Centre. It’s a ten minute ride away. Map Location.
Prices: Expect to spend about Rs. 250 per head for a big appetite, without ice-creams and drinks.
Disclosure: The owner of Khyber restaurant is a friend of Shashank Khandelwal’s. This is why we ended up going to Khyber rather than one of several other restaurants in the same complex.
[photographs by Harneet Bhatia]