The South Delhi Kitchen lures us out of bed on a rainy day with a clever premise, unusual for this city -- it wants strangers to drop in, share each other’s tables, and split the bill for their meals if they so choose. We arrive one morning soon after they open, hungry for brunch and the sight of a friendly human face after a night of deadline-chasing.
Outside is all mud -- the only thing in Shahpur Jat more plentiful than bridal lehengas -- and slush. Inside, we’re greeted by little butterfly-shaped stands on each cutesy table. These allow diners to signal intent: you stand it upright if you’re willing to share, and lay it flat if not.
You’ve seen this movie, reader: your heroes waiting at table with a sunny yellow milkshake and a smile, waiting for the right one to come stroke their butterfly. Alas, the only people to appear in the restaurant over several hours are the staff, and cleaners busy mopping up mud and AC drippings. There’s nothing like being the only diner in a community kitchen to make you feel like the human embodiment of a Peanuts comic strip.
You’ve seen this movie, reader: your heroes waiting at table with a sunny yellow milkshake and a smile, waiting for the right one to come stroke their butterfly.
(Charlie) Brown Butter
We’d be more reconciled to our loneliness if the food were better. Alas, chicken momos, accompanied by a mayo dip with an inexplicable blob of ketchup at its centre, taste only of their recent defrosting. Butterscotch milkshake is flavoursome but overly sweet. More gravely, a cold black coffee comes blended with vanilla ice-cream -- when we send it back because the drinker is lactose intolerant, a staffer says he wasn’t sure that we really wanted (!) dark coffee.
The one-room restaurant is a hodge-podge of furniture – more of a college dorm than a restaurant, which is perhaps the point. Think two tables that seat four each; cane chairs; mattresses on the floor without sheets or covers; two single beds with a canopy of gold-bordered white mundus, and so on. The mattresses are separated from the rest of the area by plastic, transparent curtains, which might remind you of that time you got a pedicure in a Phuket by-lane. Unusually for a Delhi café, though, it has a nice, eclectic bookshelf, on which Alexander McCall Smith and Robert Jordan rubb shoulders with Philippa Gregory and Nikita Singh.
We linger until lunch, really rooting for the food at this point, and ready to tear into butter chicken and seekh kebabs -- food ideally suited to this sort of sharing-caring project. The kebabs are fine, but the butter chicken strikes us as overly sweet, not really the sort of thing Delhi diners will tolerate. As we mop these up with doughy rotis drowning in butter -- we didn’t ask for butter rotis -- we think it’s perhaps for the best that the only new friend we end up making is the owner, who arrives a little before we finish. She explains that the restaurant is still at soft-launch stage, suggesting that some of these infelicities will be ironed out over time. If you’re really hankering for a meet-cute here, wait a few weeks.
Getting there: The South Delhi Kitchen, 119 Sishan House (the Ivy & Bean building), fifth floor, Shahpur Jat. A meal for two (without sharing) costs around Rs 850.
Accessibility: A narrow elevator leads to the fifth floor.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
This review was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer based in New Delhi.
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