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23.01.2018

Here, serial-award-winning chef Manish Mehrotra once introduced India to miniature blue cheese naans and mastered his morel musallam with parmesan papads. Now, the Manor purports to host a series of culinary pop-ups in the space left behind by the restaurant - which moved to the Lodhi to escape the alcohol ban - and the first was and is dedicated to Kashmiri food. Weirdly, it’s been on for so long that it’s no longer really a pop-up.

Bizzarro Mhaare Des

When we turn up to investigate this phenomenon, of which we have heard only through a stray publicity notice or two, we learn that its menu is borrowed almost verbatim from Chor Bizarre, and, therefore, indistinguishable from Delhi’s favourite Sunday lunch spots.

The mere mention of the word “pop-up” is the Delhi gourmand’s Venus flytrap, and one expects queues here too. But complete silence greets us at Kolahoi. The kind hostess checks our reservation on her notepad; this writer, taller than her, is able to discern that it’s the only one.

Reviewers can sometimes be selfishly glad to see empty restaurants, because it means more attentive service from the kitchen and at table; plus, there’s nothing to distract you from the food. At any rate, without Indian Accent, the Manor, hidden as it is among the grand estates of Friends Colony, is hardly the place one just walks into. Mordor has more traffic.

We are, and remain, the solitary diners at table for the duration of our meal. It seemed perverse to wish for more cheer and noise, but as we bite into the just-about-reasonably soft palak ke kebab, the emptiness of the restaurant seems to speak for itself. By the time we start on mushy lahsani jheenga—prawns clearly frozen and thawed too many times for their own good—we stopped attributing the lack of diners to The Manor’s location and hauteur. Kasturi mahi tikka—made in a regular curd marinade, nothing kasturi about it—is the only thing that the table’s three diners unanimously agree is somewhat good, though tellingly improved by a squeeze of lime and a dab of coriander chutney.

Traam: Legacy

Then come the traamis: Kashmiri thaalis that feature, on a bed of steamed rice, a selection of curries and dry preparations, chutneys and greens. Kolahoi’s traamis are, to begin with, technically correct. Alas, they fail to deliver on the range of flavour associated with proper Kashmiri wazwaan.
 
The vegetarian version features a slightly over-salted gobhi roganjosh, very tasty khatte baingan, Kashmiri raajma, laal paneer which doesn’t really belong here, one large dum aloo with an unidentifiable filling, surprisingly fresh haak greens, nadru (lotus stem) yakhni that tastes neither like lotus stem nor of any flavourful yoghurt gravy, crispy nadru choorma (chips, actually) which is quite nice, and a red chutney that the server introduced to us as exactly that: red chutney. Three hits and five misses on a single plate.

The non-veg traami doesn’t measure up either: a murg roganjosh looks really red but doesn’t taste like it, and a dry seekh kebab could have come from a freezer at the grocer’s. There is, to be fair, very good goshtaba (“velvety lamb sphere,” as described on the menu, in a cream-based gravy), and tabakmaaz (deep fried lamb ribs) a piece of which is still stuck between our molars. A floss-making venture.

The saving grace of the meal is server Ganesh, gentle, attentive, and chatty. When asked how long the pop-up will last, he tells us it is scheduled indefinitely, “for now.” As we eat our light, gooey, just-sweet-enough phirnis - another non-Kashmiri intervention - we find our fantasies turning, nonetheless, to Nathu’s at Sunder Nagar and Evergreen at Green Park market. Kolahoi is named, most evocatively, for a glacier, but someone needs to spend more time at base camp before attempting to scale this mountain.

Getting there: Kolahoi, at the location of the former Indian Accent, The Manor, 77, Friends Colony west. A meal for two with a round of drinks costs around Rs 5000.

Accessibility: The pop-up is wheelchair-accessible.

This review was contributed by Varun Rana, a journalist who likes to drink, cook, and read.

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