I have, off late, become very vary of eating out. Especially when it comes to a new place. Most places, even 5 star specialty restaurants, end up disappointing me. No, it’s not because I’m too hoity toity or I need some special attention, it is because most places seem to have forgotten the basics. If the food is good, service is lousy, if service is okay, food lacks substance. And then there is the quintessential Delhi cuisine – thick gravies filled with masala, oil, and cream, served with same Dal and roti. And while I love this food, there are a handful of places I can eat it at.
Amidst all this, there are places that I discover and jump with joy. A random cafe in a quiet neighborhood, a street vendor in old city, a small shop in the heart of Delhi. Places that are run by people who are passionate about food. People for whom food is never about business. People who are brave to experiment.
I had heard a lot about Potbellycafe in Bihar Niwas but I had been resisting the place. Why? Because it serves food from my home state. And because I’m very protective of my UP Bihar roots. I couldn’t imagine some masala filled curries being fed in the name of the cuisine, or paying for just litti chokha which I can eat in 10 rupees at home.
This week I finally relented. After much mental debate I went to the cafe, but very apprehensively. But I am so happy to say I was wrong. The cafe turned out to be a labour of love. Right from the dining room style furniture with chairs upholstered in Ikkat, to quaint corners to the hand painted menu, the place had me.
The food meanwhile turned out to be brilliant. It was like I was eating at home. Portions were generous, flavours were rustic, and texture perfect. The generous use of mustard oil and spices took me back to my childhood, the best cuts of meats reminded me of mum’s kitchen, the many accompanying little things made it seem like a meal at home. The service was a little sloppy in parts, but was fixed once we shared feedback. The place was abuzz with people on a weekday afternoon.
More than the food, I think I was touched by the fact that someone has taken the risk of introducing rustic home recipes without trying to modernize or neutralize them.
Among the things we ordered, the Machli Goli and Pyaz Tokri came in the starters. Served with chutney and small pooris, the Machli Goli was a flavor bomb – green chillies, ginger, mustard oil clearly stood out and the pungency and heat awakened the taste buds that I put to rest when I’m in Delhi. The Pyaz Tokri with Channa Dal Badas was outstandingly crispy and reminded me if our Pyazi back home. The parval chokha added zing, the badas patted by hand meanwhile were earthy.
While we were still eating, our main course was brought in. Personally I didn’t appreciate that and requested the waiting staff to get it later. Thankfully, when it arrived 10 mins later, it was still hot and parathas were fresh.
The main course consisted of Khade Masale ka Gosht and Gol Mirch Chicken with homestyle laccha parathas, boondi raita, salad, and Chokha. Again reminiscent of how meals are eaten and served at home in UP and Bihar.
The mutton turned out to be outstanding. Tender but not falling off the bone, slathered with spices and masala balanced so well that it’d put the greatest cooks to shame. The pungency of oil standing out, the heat of masalas trickling down the temples. I cried of joy while eating every bite.
The Gol Mirch Chicken was mild and creamy and perfect choice for the kids (as advised by the waiter). While they enjoyed the succelent pieces, I stole the sabudana bada. Again, the paratha worked as a perfect foil.
I have heard a lot about Puja Sahu, the lady behind Potbelly but didn’t get a chance to meet her. I plan to do that soon and personally thank her for bringing such great food closer to us. In the meantime I am only too happy that I have a place to go to when I miss good food.