I have always believed “Food like Design is very subjective”.
Advisory: The rather long review is to be read at leisure and in conjunction with the pictures. You may experience sudden pangs of hunger or a mouth watering urge to feast on some typical north – Indian food. The quantity of food shown in the review is consumed by experts in eating and should not be tried without supervision.
It is very difficult to please everyone. However, Chef Ravi Saxena, seems to have found a solution and created a masterpiece out of the Dhaba legacy. Dhaba by Claridges is a masterstroke by Chef Ravi, Vineet and the entire team. Now most of us who are from Delhi and love food (which most dilliwaalas do), have had the pleasure of visiting Dhaba at the Claridges Hotel, which started in 1984, at least once in our life time. Ravi took this 30 year old legacy brought it out to the masses, the youngsters and the mall goers in a brilliant move by opening Dhaba by Claridges at two of the most happening food locations of DLF mall Saket and Cyber Hub, Gurgaon.
We however had the pleasure of Ravi and Vineet’s company at their DLF Place, Saket outlet. Going to Dhaba is an occasion to celebrate and celebrate we did along with our perfect hosts. As you come up to the 2nd Floor by the escalator and turn left you cannot miss the hoardings and signs which take you all the way to the Dhaba. As soon as you enter you are greeted by the lively, colorful and innovative décor of the place and though food is the most important part of the restaurant, Dhaba in itself is an experience which starts from the point you enter it to the time you exit. The place is huge with various sections for seating, Live kitchen, Theka (Indian name for a liquor shop), and even a full body actual truck which has a seating mounted on its carriage.
The interiors are an interesting mix of industrial materials and funky colors supported by some pretty unique elements, like the faucet styled chandeliers, the exposed ducting and concrete floors and the bar counter decorated with no. plates. Once you are seated at your tables, you will keep noticing the witty graffiti done on the walls, the coasters and anywhere you eye rests. Every time I looked up from eating I discovered something new in the décor. Clearly a one-time visit is not enough to explore this amazingly done restaurant and hats off to the designer & the team of Dhaba for getting it all together.
Considering when one is the guest of the Chef and the GM, it is sometimes difficult to gauge the kind of service one would actually receive at the hands of the server. But, I have always believed that grooming shows irrespective of who you are dining with. And this is what the management seems to have taken pains in doing, grooming their staff and servers. The servers are dressed in classic roadside dhaba attire of pajama styled pants and old fashioned shirts with shoulder straps and buttoned pockets. They are educated about the dishes they are serving and always pleasant to talk too. One could make out that they indulged with the other diners and encouraged them to try out suggestions. The best part is that when you are engrossed in eating the rich food on your table, they will break into an impromptu jig on one of the popular Bollywood numbers. Though I did not try, I am sure they would welcome you to shake a leg if you are in the mood or a couple of drink down.
The mood for food is set when the ambiance and service is impeccable and I for one could not wait for it to arrive. Chef Ravi however had other ideas and in the middle of a week day he insisted that we try the Desi Tharras … naturally who were we to refuse when the master himself stressed on it. The Tharras (which is Hindi for street liquor) came in Quarter (pahua) bottles and I tried 3 different concoctions with Guava (Toofan), Aam Panaa (Somrus) & Cucumber (Basanti) each mixed with vodka and filled to the brim in the 180 ml bottles. I least expected but Toofan was the one which literally took me by storm.
Having tasted the goods of the Theka (bar) the array of dishes started sashaying down our table.
We started with the Tawa Mutton, mutton cooked to perfection along with a thick gravy on the Tawa and sprinkled generously with the typical (dhaba style) tomato, onion, green chilli & coriander garnishing. The mutton was chewy and soft enough and the spices were thoroughly embedded in the taste.
Next came the Vada Pav & the Keema Pav, both dishes from Maharashtra but made as per the north Indian taste. The Vada Pav was very filling along with the chutneys and an excellent choice for vegetarians. The Keema in Keema Pav, was spicier and more like the dhaba styled keema and that for me made it a north-indian dish. Served separately in a bowl, I would suggest you stuff the pav with keema till it overflows and spills over when you put it in your mouth. Believe me the feeling does get heavenly (haven’t I heard that term before for a fast food).
The Dhaba Murg Roast and the Tandoori Bhune Aloo came next and were devoured as soon as they came. The Murg roast was crispy on the out and tender inside and you could ask for no more. Simplistic and pleasing to the taste buds. The Tandoori Aloo was crispy fried potatoes served with the same dhaba tyled garnishing and chutney. More like a Tikki chaat, and like all Dhaba dishes heavy on the tummy, but who’s complaining.
Next were the Veg Galouti Kebab with Roti, and these veggie babies can easily fool you into believing that they are Non-vegetarian. The perfect texture, soft and melting in the mouth, the best vegetarian starter I tasted on the table that afternoon.
Now, eating at Dhaba is as much an art as is creating the food you eat. If you stuff yourself with one dish or two dishes, you will be missing out on the rest of the sumptuous food that can be taken in during one meal. Forget the no. of courses that a conventional meal has to offer, at Dhaba the food does not stop if you have the capacity for it. A roadside dhaba used to stuff the overworked tired drivers & travelers with good rich food and the team has diligently followed that one rule in taking care of its diners.
After the jamboree of starters we took a break with a few mocktails & coolers to take the main course head on. The Sugarcane “like” juice, the Pan Mojito and the Jeera Cooler offered us the much needed respite to our constantly munching jaw-line.
The main course ordered was an elaborate one and rivaled the starters dish by dish. Any Dhaba you go you’ll know the quality of food by the Butter Chicken it serves. And Dhaba by Claridges is no exception this rule. The butter chicken here is done in the classic north Indian style and we were served the boneless version, though personally I like to get my hands dirty with the one with bones. The gravy is thick and filled with roasted chicken pieces. The Chef told us that they cook half of it in the tandoor and then transfer it to the gravy to cook it fully. This gives the chicken a complete flavor of the gravy and the smoky flavor of the tandoor. One of the best I have tasted.
Along with the Butter Chicken we had ordered quite a few vegetarian dishes ranging from the Kanastari Baingan ka bharta, Rajma, Amritsari Chole and Dal Dhaba. The Kanastari baingan ka bharta did impress me with its packaging in a rectangular old fashioned metal box, but if you have read my reviews before, vegetarian food is something hard for me to dwell upon. Having said that, each item tasted good enough and maybe one day I will try a complete vegetarian meal (I am actually keeping my fingers crossed when I say this). But if you really want to tr, I recommend the Dal with the Tawa Chicken Pulao.
Save the best for last is what they say and I am sure this saying was coined by a foodie. We always save the best morsels for the last and the best thing that I tasted on that table was the Balti Meat. The meat dish is served in a small metal Balti, meaning a bucket, as the name suggests. The presentation is a work of art and so is this dish. Every Dhaba by Claridges serves the Balti Meat with the same meat cut with a long Nalli piece and shorter mutton cuts drowned in a rich gravy of “something out of this world”. I have people talk about sinful food and food porn, but this one is way up on the pedestal of all these titles. This mutton dish is one of the best I have had and will ever have and if you go to the Dhaba and not try this, you should be asked to pay a fine … Ok I admit that is stretching it a little too far … but, a must try. The mutton is cooked to perfection and just sticks to the bones and as soon as you bite into it, it comes of or better still glides into your mouth. Only a perfectionist can achieve this day in and day out at different locations. I was truly floored by this one.
Try it with the Dhaba Roti, which is coming soon on their menu, and thank me forever.
The culmination of the meal like all meals was the desserts and we were spoilt for choice again with Rasmalai, their special Phirni and extra large Gulab Jamuns. A real foodie never chooses and so we tried them all and stretched on the chairs … only if they had charpais (the local Indian cots). The icing on the cake was Panditjee ka Paan another ritual which all original Dhaba goers would identify with.
This was an afternoon well spent with great food and even better company. Do ask the team to show you around the place when you are done and the walk certainly helps you to digest. And, on the way out check your fortune on the weighing scale which you find on railway station platforms.
I know the review is a little long, but this is the edited version, so you can imagine the kind of hospitality you should expect when you are a guest at Dhaba by Claridges.