As I was telling you, one of the most memorable meals I have partaken in the recent past has been at this, relatively new, cafe attached to the National Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan, Delhi. During the foodie madness week, all of us, Manisha, Nandini, Ajit, V, and I, picked Cafe Lota for a relaxed late afternoon lunch.
We arrived at around two in the afternoon and the place was packed. After a brief wait we got a table and were handed the menu by the ever-smiling staff. We had spent the morning at the forlorn Ugrasen ki Baoli in Connaught Place, and were hungry and thirsty. The “small-plates” called out to us and we ordered four! We sampled Beetroot Chops – Bhaja Moshla Cream Cheese, Arbi ke Kebab, “fish and chips” - amritsari machli aur shakkarkandi – batter fried fillets of sole crusted with popped amaranth, served with sweet potato chips), and palak patta chat - batter-fried spinach served chat-like with potatoes, chickpeas, spiced yoghurt and chutneys. Each bite of all “plates” was a mouthful of great flavours and textures; with the spinach ‘pakoda’ staying crisp till the last crumb. This was a very promising start. Our drinks too had arrived by now: Manisha, A, and I had ordered from the single-estate artisanal coffees, N had asked for a masala chai, while TH had requested the masala chaas. The coffees were served in individual French-presses and we were all very happy with our brews.
By now, the cafe was mostly empty with just us, unhurried-lunchers. The menu at Cafe Lota features indigenous food that highlights sustainably sourced ingredients. Some of these ingredients, such as ragi, bhangjeera, Goan bread, are only now beginning to become known outside of their regions. I was happy to see a number of Pahadi dishes on the menu, dishes that I have come to sample about only in the last couple of years as I have traveled in the Kumaon and Gadhwal Himalayas. The menu might appears limited, but everything we tried (between the five of us we did go through half the menu!), was very good. The presentation is fresh, the pairing of ingredients contemporary, and the portions just right.
The success of the starters was evident in the fact that no one wanted to share the “larger plates” for the main meal! Manisha ordered the chicken cafreal and sprouted bean salad which was served with the softest ‘homemade’ spinach pao. Tempered mung dal was the day’s special which V ate with a crisp paratha served with a smidgen (just enough to still be healthy) of fresh-churned butter; authentic home flavours all the way. Ajit went for Pahari food with Bhat ki churkani (black soybean curry) , aloo ke gutke (spicy potatoes), bhang ki chutney and ragi roti, while N opted for Sindhi kadhi with rice. For a few moments I was quiet as I broke off bits of my soft appam and dipped it into the Kerala chicken stew rich with coconut milk; at last I have a good appam place not too far from home.
We were all very happy with our choices but also tasted from other plates. We didn’t have the room but, boy, were we glad to have ordered dessert: one each of apple cinnamon jalebi with rabdi and bhappa doi cheesecake. The dessert course – the concept and its execution – is just superlative. I had a hard time picking a favourite though the others voted the bhappa doi cheesecake as the first amongst equals, only because it is not as intensely sweet as the syrupy jalebi. The apple jalebi, though, is just out of this world – the soft apple encased in a crispy jalebi-like crust, dipped in syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon, is a beautiful and delicious combination of East and West!
All in all, a fun afternoon spent in the company of foodie friends at a very apt place. The serving staff is very friendly, knowledgeable about the food, and always smiling. If there is a wait involved, you can always spend some time and money at the Museum Shop that was recently voted one of the best museum shops in the world. We loved everything about the place – the food, the ambiance, and the service. The only thing I would wish for is that they open for dinner. Guess what; now they are!