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Kitsch 'n' kebabs at Kaaja Chowk

Raja Sen | May 08, 2006

It might not exactly be Jack Rabbit Slim's, but it's a shot. With a décor nod to Pulp Fiction's memorable restaurant which had Cadillacs sliced in two and a table shoved in between, Delhi's Khaaja Chowk lets you dine while sitting on either side of an auto-rickshaw. And that's only the beginning of all the kitsch.

Glass-tops cover tables showcasing miniature road signs (Horn Please, et al) and cheesy agarbatti (incense sticks) boxes, the entire table under a bower of garish plastic shaadi-esque flowers. The same flowers are strung across the doors to the restrooms, giving them the unmistakable, grin-provoking air of low-rung, b-movie dance bars. It's all cornball and shadiness, harmlessly overdone and edgy even in its obviousness.

As you sink into your plush-leather rickshaw seats, you keep spotting zanier detailing. Empty banta bottles (you know, the soda bottles with the marbles on top) are stacked upside-down over the bar, which is where we bark out our order. We're recommended the Tandoori Kebab Platter and the Achari Paneer, and we ravenous men agree, choosing to wash it down with Masala Shikanji.

But even the drinks take their own sweet time as we realise the three-wheeler similarity isn't limited to the seating of our table. One of the air-conditioners is crippled, and we're soon sweating -- not exactly what you're looking to do inside a restaurant. We try to remind waiters of our order, but the fellers are possibly new recruits, entirely clueless and infuriatingly persistent at smiling without trying to actually understand our predicament.

We're hot and annoyed when a car horn suddenly blares. This, apparently, is our order. A shiny vertical conveyer belt adorned with cheap magazine cut-out style pictures of movie stars (Madhuri Dixit from Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, you get my drift) stretches from near-roof height to waist-level, equipped with a silver tray carrying our order. The horn is the 'come and get it' call to the waiters, an interesting idea but rather hard to get used to. I kept glancing over my shoulder every time the thing honked.

The kebabs stop our complaints instantly. The shammi kebabs literally dissolve as they hit the tongue, overcooked to perfection and reminding us why the north of India deserves proprietary rights to all meat. The chicken tikkas are succulent and juicy, and we're hardly bothered about the heat or the delay anymore. However, we suddenly realise there's been a bread discrepancy, and our parathas haven't arrived yet. Another mind numbing exchange with the waiter, and we decide to try and delve into the paneer. A strictly okay dish, this one, and the dal makhani isn't anything to write home about either.

The problem with a completely unschooled set of waiters is that their well-intentioned blunders (one can't blame it on the rush because it wasn't a particularly crowded night at all) just keep on coming. After the paratha mix-up came the drinks debacle, and so on. Having ploughed through our kebabs, we ordered a Mutton Rizala, which eventually made its way to our table with mixed results: the rizala was rich and wonderful, almost flawless, but the accompanying bread, the taftan, was unacceptably hard. When you need to use both hands (and I mean 'use') to rip apart a piece of bread, you know it isn't right.

Reflecting after scraping plates well clean, the food was very average and ought to have been a lot better. The place has an interesting ambience, but its quirks aren't the kind that would recommend it for a date; I see it more as a place where a bunch of colleagues grab a bit after work, or where one of those families, who like experiment during their 'eating out' evenings, come to eat.

Compared to the quality of the food on offer, the prices seem steep and hardly value for money. Yes, they cook their meat good, but the vegetarian food is decidedly unsatisfactory. The service puts a big dampener on things, auto-rickshaw gimmickry seats or not. To top things off, our bill seemed high. We did some mental math, and they apologised profusely while snipping off a hundred-odd bucks from our total. Not impressive.

If the Khaaja Chowk management believes this makes a better pick than the corner dhaba simply because of some kinks in the interior, I'd urge them to reconsider. Despite all their attempts at creating a different joint, we had a forgettable time.

Khaaja Chowk
Near Nirula's
Basant Lok Market
New Delhi

Phone: (011) 51669238/9

Cuisine: Mughlai, Punjabi. No alcohol served.

Meal for two: Rs 400-550

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Sub: Indian food abroad

When i came to Dubai few years back to settle here, i was too worried about getting good indian food.I am connoisseur of Indian food ...

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