Dhaba is a small highway eatery that serves freshly cooked meals to truckers and roadies of all ilk. The food is always local, freshly cooked and served on minimalist plates, seating is always rustic. Most of them are open air, although we see many air conditioned dhabas on the highways these days but none of them match to the local smoky whiff of real food the small dhabas serve.
Dhabas, however small, do roaring business in the north India and I know many many people who plan their road trips based on which dhaba to encounter on the way by mealtimes. And then there will be some dhabas popping up in the middle of nowhere while you drive. You settle down, have your tea, fill your water bottles and a delicious daal roti, baingan ka bharta, saag paneer type meal will be ready on the sly. All smoky with freshly fired wood, the meals are done from scratch right in front of your eyes in most of those quaint dhabas. I am reminded of one past Lucknow on the way to Banaras where we had the best naturally smoked daal once, the taste is imprinted in my memory.
When a star hotel does dhaba cuisine, you trudge with caution and order a pineapple juice first to settle down. Pineapple juice makes me feel calmer after a hectic work day. Aishwarya and Sushmita were good company while others at CAL bloggers table missed this dhaba.
Warm, rustic interiors welcome you when you are ushered into the dhaba of The Cladridges. The first impression is that of a cramped space with worn out tables and charpoy type seats. A hand written menu on a black board, cane roofing, lanterns and all those detailings so perfectly done. Old Hindi songs playing in the background and you get transported to a new place in the heart of Delhi.
A bit of struggle to settle is, the seating isn't very comfortable but you would forget all discomfort once you start with the food. The pineapple juice that I ordered came out in the form of sweet lime juice, I don't mind as long as the food keeps promise.
Errr..but please folks, it should be either un-cushioned chairs just like dhaba or the cushions need to be comfy. I don't want to keep struggling with the cushion while I eat good food.
There is a radio perched on a wooden shelf, the menu looks like a number plate of a giant truck and there are pickle martbans and old copper utensils placed all over the walls. I loved these elements.
Some kitsch art, some more rural elements here and there..
You get the drift. I wont blame the uncomfortable seats. The food was great. Well, the most of it. I shall tell you what all to choose.
The chaamp tawa kabab is a large thin and crisp kabab that is made of mutton mince, and a breast bone is stuck into it to give it a chaamp look. Perfect textures, meatiness and spicing in a dhaba style kabab. I loved it.
The seekh kabab had coarser meat texture, perfectly succulent and redolent with coriander greens freshness. These are huge kababs so order judiciously and share the portions I would say.
The tawa fish (named Surjeet de dhabe di tali machhi) was ajwaini type fried fish with besan coating, this is not my favorite preparations of fish so I wont say much about it, the fish was flavorful and succulent though, well made and those who like amritsari fish would enjoy it to the core..
Pudina akhrot ki tikki looked like just another tikki but packed nice walnut flavors, a good surprise. The pyaz aur makai ki seekh is just avoidable, it was doughy and flavorless. The chutneys provided with the starters are not something I liked, though I didn't need any chutney with all of these really good kababs and tikkas. The sliced onion sprinkled with chaat masala and lime was perfect accompaniment.
Among the main course, a few of my favorite dishes appeared to my delight. My all time favorite langar wali daal which was done right (though not the best I have had), the sookhi mung ki daal was just perfect. Dry but moist and delicately spiced, dhaniya patta et al. Kesar de dhabe da baingan bharta and bheja curry would take you back to Punjab. Bheja curry is just like an egg scramble with mild flavorings of ginger, chilly and coriander greens, minimal spicing, great flavors. Nicely done I must say. The soya nuggets masala curry named rehdi wala soyabean masala was also good, more because I like soy nuggets with Indian spices.
The Dhaba team actually went to kesar da dhaba and other dhabas around Amritsar to taste the real dhaba food of north India to recreate the most authentic taste. They did a great job.
The balti meat was wonderfully soft, falling off the bone and definitely slow cooked in rustic spices. No oil floating on top, no cream or butter topping and yet the curry was so nicely rich and tasty.
Two types of flat breads were served, one was announced keema kulcha while it turned out to be aloo kulcha. Was nicely made. Another was a onion topped whole wheat missi roti. I don't dig much into breads so that was conveniently ignored.
The food was really really good, a nice wholesome meal that you would love to come back to. One odd dish that doesn't suit your taste would be forgotten quickly while you would relish the balti meat and the tikka and kababs here. Avoid the pyaz aur makki ki seekh and the missi roti may be and watch for the more dhaba style foods, you will be good. The desserts win hands down.
One thing I wanted to mention separately in this review, that is all the drinks and mocktails we loved so much. The Jeeratini, the coconut lassi, the pudina chhach and the thandai. All of them perfectly flavored, I was particularly floored by the coconut lassi.
I wish I could go to this dhaba just for these drinks. You know such drinks one can have anytime. I might make the coconut lassi very very soon.
This Dhaba cuisine festival is going on till September 15th at The Claridges.