Yesterday it was TH’s big 50th birthday and we had a small family get-together. I had hoped we would go out but my family (primarily my parents and sister) resist going to fancy restaurants and spending good money. The maid chose this very day to play hookie, so I decided to keep it relatively simple with some of V’s favourite dishes. The son, now a young man, handled the bar. Most of the munchies were store-bought; only I ate the blue-cheese crackers I had laboured over. To think I went to the trouble when I had so much else to do!
There had to be a cake to mark the milestone, and I baked the Lime Chiffon Cake and gave it a fudge frosting. For dinner there was Hyderabadi Qabooli with tatziki, and also poori-bhaji. Those who had room for dessert got kheer. When everyone had left, we sat chatting with the son into the early hours of the morning.
This morning we had an invitation for the breakfast menu launch at Thirty Nine, a cafe in Hauz Khas Village (HKV). It turned out to be a good getaway on this wet Sunday morning.
The cafe-pub opened earlier in January this year and is a popular watering hole for the young. The small pub spread over three floors has a wonderfully cozy ambience. Mohit, the co-owner spun quite the web about an English gentleman, Alistair Kensington, who is supposed to have lived in this area around the early 1900s. If you ask me, I doubt that there is any truth in the story at all. But, what a fantastic back-story! His team has worked the legend of the supposed naturalist who was lured by Indian mysticism, into the spirit of Thirty-Nine. The dark walnut interiors invoke the sitting room of the English gentleman and provide an atmosphere of relaxed luxury. My compliments to the interior designer!
The library on the first floor stocked with antique books seems like a good place to hang out with a cup of tea. Or beer. The terrace should become a great spot for breakfast on winter mornings.
We chose to eat at a table-for-two which seemed a better spot to eat than the more relaxed sofa arrangements. As we ordered the veg and non-veg breakfast, Mohit walked up to our table. His passion for the project was apparent as he shared the stories around Hastings and his time in Hauz Khas village in the early 1900s. He showed us around and I had to ask about the environmental compliance requirements – the menu launch had been delayed by a week because of the closure of some restaurants in HKV ordered by the Green Tribunal recently. We were told that Thirty Nine and most restaurants in HKV are following the norms for sewage treatment and waste-water disposal. Not only does Thirty Nine not draw ground water, but it also reuses most of the waste-water it generates for irrigation and for toilet flushing.
The problem with Delhi and many other Indian cities is that the skyrocketing land prices drive entrepreneurship to the fringe till the fringe becomes the core and the cycle repeats. The city authorities then wake up to the potential and comes in to suck on the very foundation of what is the essence of urbanity – diversity of residential and public space – places to live, to work, and to have fun in. People, on their own initiative, carve out what the city fails to provide. Then the authority zooms in to regulate without providing infrastructure.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t this control on land and land use that drives up the cost of land, and results amongst other things, in food being priced at par with restaurants in US. Labour is certainly cheap here. Then why are restaurants priced they way they are? A meal for one at a mid-level restaurant in Delhi costs Rs800-1200 (about $12-20), as much as it does in the US. How does one explain this? Maybe I don’t know the half of it. Maybe it is not that food is expensive in India, but that food is darned cheap in the US somehow!
Getting back to the food on our table. The loaded platters were waiting for us when we returned from the pub tour. Eggs to order. They scrambled my order- I had asked for fried eggs, once over. Then I had to ask for pepper, and that took a while. The scrambled eggs were alright, as were the sausage and baked beans. Yet, there was nothing spectacular about the food. The service was indifferent. What the food and service needs is the kind of attention that has been paid to create the story around the pub and then carried through into the small details of the decor. It needs tea in teapots instead of teabags, and cubes of butter instead of Amul satchels. The ambiance is great, now the food needs to match. Breakfast here will set you back by about Rs1000 (including something to drink). For that price you expect food and service that are a class apart; Thirty Nine has some distance to cover.
There are few restaurants that offer breakfast as early as 7am in Delhi. Delhi seems more of a lazy brunch kind of place so it is good to know that there are options that early other than McDs for a cup of tea and breakfast. The really early birds can expect to be served tea, coffee, and juices from 6am! That has to be great news for people who start their day with a morning walk in the adjoining Deer Park, and those who cycle around the city on weekends!