By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: April 10, 2011
Luxurifying the core of India, Dhaba at The Claridges Surajkund, is the treat you have been missing. Anyone worth their stomach has to try that rare cuisine, again, which is the prerogative of Indian highways.
I quite vividly remember my childhood annual summer holiday trips to Chandigarh. We would wind around the clean highway roads in our car at a zipping speed, enjoying the colourful view, and stopping only to satisfy our over-awakened appetite (the countryside does that to you!). It was always pre-decided that we had to get down at a local dhaba and gorge on the deliciously-oily paranthas, chola-bhaturas and dahi bhallas. Over the years we got busy, there were no more summer holidays, and our trips to Chandigarh became less frequent.
For our international readers, a dhaba is a small, local eatery, which you will find on north Indian highways, serving some delectable local north Indian food, which you will never get to sample in any Indian restaurant in the cities.
But my perception was changed by The Claridges Hotel’s signature restaurant ‘Dhaba’. Named after the local highway eateries, the restaurant of course aims at providing the same experience. Though Dhaba has been around for years at Claridges in New Delhi, I had never tried it.
However a good friend, who happens to work at the young Claridges in Surajkund (located in the outskirts of New Delhi and quite easily accessible), invited me to sample Dhaba. I couldn’t let the offer pass!
The Claridges Surajkund is a vision in itself. The beautifully symmetric façade rises among the trees and you are instantly excited to see the delights behind its large glass doors. The road to Dhaba starts with a staircase going upstairs. Your eyes are instantly arrested by a long hanging created out of 4-5 colourful matkas (pots made of mud) and a small table presentation welcoming diners to Dhaba.
Go up and you are greeted by a large truck attired in the authentic rustic colours of Punjab. The walls (given a muddy effect) are plastered with posters of old Bollywood movies, everywhere you will see small artifacts like large ceramic pickle jars, a cycle, a milk bucket, transistors, and a lot more! The ceilings are decorated by ‘chandeliers’ made of mud pots! The décor was kitschy in every sense – supplemented by some old Bollywood songs or the typical up-beat Punjabi bhangra music that you only get to hear on the highways! There was even a bar designed like the local thekas with a grill door and shelves lined up with bottles – albeit they were some very good expensive luxury brands. The result was a vibrant and delightful ambience.
We sat down comfortably and were instantly provided with the colourful menus by equally brightly dressed servers. I was anyways tempted by the thought of hopefully eating some authentic dhaba food, but the queer and fun name of the dishes made me almost laugh out! So sample Highway Chiken Tikka, Tandoori Pomfrey, and Lawrence Road ki Tikki!
Fortunately we had seated near the open kitchen. So apart from seeing the action, I could also breathe in the delicious air wafting with spices. First-up was a Masala Chaas – simple and non-heavy. In fact, I could discern the smell and taste of mitti (mud) – which seemed just so apt and again took me back to those highway eateries. I nursed my tumbler of chaas till the very end of the meal.
I hogged on the appetizer platter which included Tawe de Aloo (tangy potatoes crisped at just the right amount); Multani Paneer ke Tikke and the ever-desired Golgappas (Sorry international readers, but this can’t be described. It has to be experienced!). The sweet and sour paani for golgappas will make you slurp. You won’t miss the roadside chaat corners – I assure you!
Moving quickly towards the main course, we decided to have a Thali so that I could taste everything. And boy, I stared round-eyed when it was placed in front of me! The thali included some 6-7 dishes, Sabz Pulao (rice with cooked veggies) and an assortment of Naans (Indian bread) including Chur Chur Naan and Achari Lahsoon Naan (I must put in a good word for this one).
The Pulao was well-cooked, though the portion did look a tad bit small. But I guess no man can manage to eat more than this! The other dishes included Matar Paneer (Cottage Cheese and Peas with gravy), Chatpatti Gobhi (Spicy Cauliflower), Baingan Bharta Kanastar (Mashed Eggplant), Khumb Hara Pyaaz (Onion Mushrooms), and Raita (Curd mixed with diced veggies).
Non-vegetarians should not miss Tiffin Chicken and Balti Meat. The presentation is very interesting for both. Tiffin Chicken actually comes in a two-tier copper tiffin – one with chicken and the other with Naan. Open the tiffin and start eating like you would in a normal dhaba! The Balti Meat (originating from Pakistan’s Baltistan city) comes in a delightfully small copper bucket. The presentation itself is enough to charm you! Another dish worth sampling, and much admired by all guests here is Keema Kaleji.
While my friend and I ate, we were given company by Mr Ravi Singh, F&B Manager, and Mr Cajetan A Araujo, Director F&B at The Claridges Surajkund. We talked of Japanese breakfasts, Italian olive oil and Goan food, which only served to increase my appetite. The immensely shy and sweet Chef Latif, the Chef de Cuisine at Dhaba, came in time-to-time to check how we were faring. His handiwork obviously had me bowled over!
Main course over, it was the turn of desserts. I was in two minds since I knew office was awaiting, and we both were half sleepy after hogging on so much! But well, I didn’t want to miss it either. So again a platter was called for. I had expressly said no to Ghiya ka Paan (a sweet dish made from bottlegourd) since I hate bottlegourd. But Mr Singh insisted and made sure I try it. I must say that after tasting that Paan, I look at bottleguord with more hospitable eyes.
The Gud ki Kulfi was thrillingly cold and tasty, as were the chocolate delicacies – Chocolate Ras Malai, Chocolate Peda, Chocolate Sandesh and Chocolate Barfi. The Kulhad ki Kulfi was surprisingly salted! Mr Singh informed us that it was another way to enjoy this ‘sweet’ dish.
We took 15 minutes to get up after finishing the lunch – so heavy were our stomachs! Meeting General Manager Mr Oliver C Martin, he said that the biggest challenge for them was to incorporate the rustic and almost crude elements of those highway dhabas into a five-star space. To be sure everything was more sophisticated. The servers obviously spoke English and served you politely rather than banging the plate on the table the way dhabawallas are accustomed to do – but that’s the good thing about dining here. You get an authentic dhaba experience in a plush setting. No one’s complaining!
Coordinates: The Claridges, Shooting Range Road, Faridabad – 121001, India
Timing: Lunch: 12.00 noon – 2.45 pm
Dinner: 7.30 pm – 11.30 pm
For table reservations, call 0129-4190000 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org