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The Embassy: Where the old meets the new


The Embassy restaurant, started in 1948 at Connaught Place in Delhi, is an unusual meeting point, bringing together diplomats, politicians and keema samosas

Food memories pop up at the oddest of moments. It was while preparing a dish of baked fish with tomatoes one day at home, that I suddenly recalled my first taste of tomato fish. It was at a restaurant called The Embassy in Connaught Place.

My first meal there was at a time when I was wet behind the ears. So was Delhi, when it came to restaurants. The market areas that we are now so familiar with were still to come up. Those that were there merely met local neighbourhood needs.

But CP was special. The restaurants there all bustled with life. Many of them — such as La Boheme, Wenger’s and Volga — have shut down. But a few, like The Embassy, remain.

The restaurant was started in 1948 by two partners, PN Malhotra and GK Ghai, who came to Delhi from Karachi after Partition. Some of its chefs came from Karachi, too.

“Our family was in the construction business. They had built the Karachi airport and had restaurants in that city,” says Kumar Savar Malhotra, PN Malhotra’s grandson, who now runs the restaurant. “They started the restaurant in Delhi by selling some of the jewellery they carried with them.”

There was a parlour where The Embassy stands today. The partners leased it from a British lady and planned out a menu that would suit the palate of the newly independent India — recalling the old, and welcoming the new.

So on the menu were old English favourites such as puddings, baked dishes, cutlets and roast lamb with mint sauce. But they added to the menu other delicacies that appealed to those who liked their food with local flavours. The menu included dishes such as keema samosa, a gigantic pastry stuffed with minced meat, and channa bhatura, which became its signature items.

The menu has been growing over the years. Murgh musallam, for instance, came in 1952, and dal meat — lamb cooked with urad dal — in 1960.

“Some of our clients are elderly people who visit the restaurant after 20 years and order the same dishes they had eaten then,” Savar says. “And they tell us that nothing has changed.”

One can imagine The Embassy of the Fifties and the Sixties. Savar recalls being told how families came packed in tongas which stopped just by the restaurant.

Lord Mountbatten is believed to have eaten there. Among the regulars were politicians such as Rajendra Prasad and, later, Inder Kumar Gujral. Up to the Eighties and even the Nineties, politicians used to gather there for whispered talks and informal press conferences.

The founders, in fact, had called the restaurant The Embassy to stress that it was a meeting point.

“The embassies of different countries had started coming up in Delhi. The founders wanted this to be a different kind of an embassy, where people met,” the grandson recalls.

But The Embassy has also seen bad times. The food revolution in Delhi, which started sometime in the Nineties, changed the face of Delhi. The Capital started showcasing different kinds of cuisine.

CP lost its sheen when other shopping areas came up. To top it, for long years, CP was in a shambles because of ongoing civic work. The Embassy was also badly hit by a fire.

Today, it is like the CP of yore. It’s humming, and is once again the place where the young hang out.

Not surprisingly, The Embassy is seeking to embrace new and young clients with dishes such as green tea tikka.

When Savar took over the restaurant, his father gave the young man some advice. “He told me, add to the menu, but don’t take anything away,” he says.

And that, perhaps, is its mantra — the meeting point of the past and the present. Sepia tints come hand-in-hand with neon colours.

Source : The Hindu

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