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~Tired (and Hungry) Tourists~
After dragging my sister Aileen and her girlfriend Joyce around some of the sites of New Delhi on our first day in India, I was starting to get nagged about food. We hadn't eaten since very early that morning on the plane and it was now gone six in the evening. With them suitably impressed by the grandeur of the Rajpath and the India Gate, I gave in and we headed off in search of food. The auto-rickshaw we'd picked up at India Gate dropped us at Connaught Place which most visitors to the city will recognise as the hub at the centre of New Delhi, and we started to hunt for somewhere to eat. Joyce was more desperate for a beer, claiming it was the heat and the dry atmosphere and reminding us that despite flying Kingfisher Airways, we'd been robbed of our Kingfisher beer the night before by what Reggie Perrin's colleague would have called a 'Cock up on the Catering Front' (ie. they forgot to load any beer on the plane).
We skipped past my favourite restaurant 'Zen' because we had a plan to go back there later in our trip and were saving it for a special treat. Instead we took a turning down one of the side-arms of the double donut that is Connaught Place when my husband spotted a restaurant he liked the look of offering beer and kebabs.
The restaurant was called Mirchi and shared an entrance with a cinema and was to the side of a place called Piccadelhi. The guy on the door clearly wanted to make sure we didn't escape so he guided us in, took us to the lift and accompanied us all the way to the door. I guess he's had too many prospective 'fish' wriggle off the hook in the past. He need not have worried with us - we'd not eaten in so long that if the place had looked awful we'd probably still have gone in. Once inside the room seemed to be quite small with less than a dozen tables. Everything was very red - red table cloths, red-dressed waiters, red décor. We were offered a table near to the bar and immediately Joyce was ordering beers and the waiter offered the choice of standard or extra-strong Kingfisher. My advice is to always stick to the lighter version - Indian strong beer is deadly stuff. Aileen was thrilled to discover the standard bottle size for beer in India is 650 ml - oh, the delights of first time travel in India!
The menu was large and varied but since the place specialised in kebabs, we decided to all share a mixed vegetarian kebab starter which was easily big enough for four people. It being our first day, Joyce and Aileen were still in the phase of "We'll be good and avoid the meat" although that didn't last too long. My husband and I are 95% veggie in India, only making an exception for the odd bit of fish or prawns if we go somewhere a bit fancy. I've not had any other meat in 20 years but my husband becomes a situational-veggie when we go to India or anywhere that food hygiene might be considered a bit iffy.
Getting a decision out of my sister is like getting a straight answer out of a politician, so I got bossy and suggested we chose three vegetarian curries, some rice and some garlic naans and since nobody else had a better suggestion, that's what we did. We ordered a palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese lumps), Dal Tadka (a yellow lentil dish), and a dish with mushrooms and peas in a creamy sauce whose name I don't recall and which I can't read off the printed receipt.
Service was quite slow so we had plenty of time to finish our beers and order some more. We'd arrived at about 7.30 pm which was late enough to miss the early diner 'free beer' offer but still early by local standards. During our visit the restaurant soon filled up around us. We were the only foreign tourists in the place which reassured my sister who didn't want to just go to places where all the other tourists go.
When our starters arrived we received a giant platter of mixed kebabs - lumps of tandoori paneer, tandoori mushrooms, pieces of potato hollowed out and stuffed with nuts and dried fruit, green spinach rissoles and odd lentil 'sausages'. These were all served with a bright green coriander-rich sauce. The mix of tastes and textures was excellent and we had no problem to polish off the whole platter. The spinach rissoles had been particularly popular and my husband got most of the cheese patties which he claimed were goat cheese but I was sceptical.
The single portion of rice that we'd ordered was big enough for all four of us to get a good little pile on our plates and the two garlic naans were easily enough for four. Compared to others we had in later restaurants, the naans weren't very strongly flavoured and didn't really have enough garlic on them but the texture of the bread was light and soft. The two curries were great - the palak paneer had juicy cubes of firm cottage cheese in a supremely smooth spinach sauce. The mushroom and pea dish was a little bit spicy but not enough to scare a first day traveller and could be zapped up a notch with lime pickle. The dal tadka was delicious, rich, spicy, and buttery and served in a little copper bucket. It's a perpetual mystery to me how Indian cooks get so much flavour into a lentil dish and how we in the west are so utterly rubbish at using pulses.
In the interests of research I sent my husband and my sister to check out the toilets and both pronounced them to be very clean. You might think we were on holiday but I'm convinced my husband was on a two week toilet survey. The service throughout was low-key and unobtrusive which is how I like it. Nobody threw anything or spilt anything but equally nobody kept hovering over us or pestering us to have more or to have something different.
Our meal with a large tandoori platter to start, three curries, a portion of rice, two garlic naans and a total of 7 beers came to 2500 rupees or about £10 each but over 1000 rupees of that was beer. All prices are subject to VAT at 20% on alcohol and something like 12.5% on food and to a further 10% service charge on top. The 'on tops' really add up in a city like Delhi but it was still a good meal and pretty good value for the location of the restaurant and the food we had. We knew we'd be spending a lot less once we got out of Delhi.
On our return to Delhi at the end of our trip we went back again for our last night meal and had an ever better dinner than before. On this second occasion we were suffering a bit from two weeks of non-stop curry which can really start to shrink your appetite. With only the flight home to get through, Joyce was fearless about eating meat and ordered a lamb dish that she couldn't stop talking about and hubby and I added an Punjabi fish curry which was the outstanding Indian dish of our two week trip. We spent a little more than the first time - partly due to rather a lot of beer - but at close to £50 for the four of us, we were all absolutely delighted with Mirchi as the venue for our 'Last Supper'.
It's not a big restaurant, you probably won't find it on any restaurant listings and it's nothing fancy to look at. You can easily miss it if you aren't looking carefully. If you can turn a blind eye to the television screens at either end of the restaurant - which were showing some very bloody American extreme wrestling on the evening that hubby and I popped in for a beer - the food is delicious and I thoroughly recommend it. I've eaten in most of the India restaurants around the Connaught Place area and this is now our firm favourite. Zen remains my overall favourite but for great Indian food, this is 2nd on my list for Connaught. It's small, friendly, the food's not too heavy and the prices are fair. We'll be sure to return.