Restaurant Review: Elma’s Brasserie

Like Yeti, Elma’s was a place I was first introduced to in Hauz Khas Village. The Elma’s in Hauz Khas was (I haven’t been there for nearly a year—possibly more) a good tea place: a nice selection of teas, lovely scones with cream and jam, some good cakes (I remember a particularly luscious coffee cake), and some decent savouries—a hot bacon loaf, finger sandwiches (a honey glazed ham one comes to mind). Sometime later, Elma’s opened a sister (brother?) restaurant on the ground floor, called Edward’s: a handkerchief-sized place with just ten seats but a to-die-for chicken liver pâté sandwich. Between them, Elma’s and Edward’s became our favourite places for brunch or tea: cosy, comfortable, and with good food.

The next we heard, Elma’s had opened in Meharchand Market too. Considering Meharchand Market is far closer to home than Hauz Khas Village (and it’s far more accessible, less crowded, and generally a more pleasant area), we should’ve probably gone to Elma’s just after it opened. As it happened, our visit here kept getting put off. We finally went there this last weekend for lunch, and were sadly disappointed.

Elma's Brasserie: the outside.

Elma’s Brasserie: the outside.

At first glance, all’s in place. There’s the familiar jade green paint on the wooden door and window frames, the swirly dull gold letters spelling out the name of the restaurant. There’s the wooden floor, the delicious-looking array of cakes and pies displayed in a counter on the ground floor.

On the ground floor, at Elma's.

On the ground floor, at Elma’s.

The display counter on the ground floor at Elma's.

The display counter on the ground floor at Elma’s.

On a mezzanine landing and the main dining area on the first floor, there are comfortable tables and chairs, fuss-free but not grungy. Reproductions of old paintings line the walls; there’s plenty of natural light; it’s a pleasant place to be. (Let me hasten to add: not if you’re looking for some privacy: the tables are set cheek-by-jowl with each other. Wherever you sit, you’re bound to be able to hear conversations going on at at least one table nearby).

Inside Elma's, on the first floor.

Inside Elma’s, on the first floor.

We got a table on the first floor, sat down, and were handed the menu cards (someone seemed to have spilled syrup or something similar on the cover of mine, leaving it sticky).

The Elma’s menu has the sandwiches, teas, coffees, cakes, and breakfast dishes we were familiar with from when we used to frequent the outlet at Hauz Khas Village. It also has a larger range of less ‘snacky’ and more ‘full meal’ dishes, including salads, grills, savoury pies, and pizzas. After much debating, my husband and I both decided we’d skip a starter and have a main course and dessert instead (I’ve always been partial to Elma’s cakes, and had seen some mouthwatering stuff in the display counter). My husband ordered a pil-pil prawns; I chose a steak and red wine pot pie. For drinks, we both passed up Elma’s modest selection of alcohol and opted for a fresh lime soda each.

The drinks were served within a few minutes; the food took 15 minutes or so to arrive: not too long a wait.

My pot pie had a thin and rather lackluster crust, which immediately brought to mind a Malabar parotta, though without the many layers: just a slightly flaky but thin, limp and greasy layer of flour-and-butter dough. Below it was the steak and red wine filling. This, according to the description on the menu, was with mushrooms and onions. Now, when I’m ordering a steak pie with onions and mushrooms, I expect it to be steak (cubed, but certainly not minced meat). I expect more mushrooms than a scant dessertspoonful or so. And I expect some sign of onions (button onions, perhaps?). I do not expect a Bolognaise-like, or shepherd’s pie-like meat sauce, fairly homogenous and tasting mostly of thyme and tomatoes, with not an onion in sight (though there might have been some chopped onions in the meat sauce) and very little mushroom. And not much flavour of red wine, either.

Steak and red wine pot pie: disappointing flavours and textures.

Steak and red wine pot pie: disappointing flavours and textures.

My husband’s dish—the pil-pil prawns—came in a pretty yellow ceramic dish, with a matching lid. This was removed to reveal a bubbling pool of hot oil in which sat fat prawns, cooked primarily with garlic and dried red chillies. The oil was so hot that my husband had to wait for a few minutes to let it cool before he began his meal. The prawns were succulent, but the sauce (if it could be called that, since it consisted mainly of very little solid matter—in the form of garlic and red chillies—settled at the bottom of the dish and covered with a good centimeter of oil) was far too hot. Even my husband, who likes spice and had ordered the dish because it was listed on the menu as ‘hot’, said it had just too much chilli for his liking. (Later that evening, he began having acidity and chilli burps, so that wasn’t a case of merely his tastebuds rejecting the meal). On the side, he was also served two hefty-looking slices of garlic bread, which he said was passable, not exceptional.

Lunch at Elma's: pil-pil prawns and garlic bread.

Lunch at Elma’s: pil-pil prawns and garlic bread.

Main courses over, we moved eagerly onto desserts. Eagerly, because we have great faith in Elma’s ability to do cakes. I ordered a gluten-free chocolate, apricot and brandy cake; my husband ordered a salted caramel and butterscotch cake. Served up 5 minutes later, my husband’s dessert looked very pretty, while mine seemed to have collapsed in a sad little heap. Both turned out to look deceptive.

The salted caramel and butterscotch cake which my husband had ordered was soft and moist, but (as we’d expected) rather rich: it was sandwiched with, and topped with, a generous layer of butterscotch cream, and with a delicious topping of salted caramel on top of it all. Considering all that icing and the caramel sauce, it seemed rather odd that it was served with a little bowl of cream on the side. I, always ready to experiment, gave it a try: a dollop of cream on the cake, icing and all. To me, this lessened the somewhat overwhelming sweetness of the cake, making it nicer for me. My husband disagreed: he still thought the cake too sweet, and thought adding the cream also made it heavier and richer, far too rich for him.

Good flavours, but a little too sweet, and far too rich.

Good flavours, but a little too sweet, and far too rich.

My gluten-free chocolate, apricot and brandy cake, while it looked a little pathetic, tasted far better than it looked. First of all, it was nice and boozy, with a good hit of brandy. Secondly, the chocolate was dark, not too sweet, and the cake had an interesting chocolate fondant-like quality to it: somewhat gooey and soft in the centre (not completely molten, though) and more cake-like, solid, around the edges. Although I could’ve done with some more apricot (there were pieces baked into the cake, as well as scattered on top), I liked this a lot.

Gluten-free chocolate, apricot and brandy cake: the best of all that we had at Elma's.

Gluten-free chocolate, apricot and brandy cake: the best of all that we had at Elma’s.

We paid a total of Rs 2,661 for our meal (after having checked the bill to discover that they’d made a mistake and charged us for something that was a good Rs 400 more expensive than what we’d ordered). For two main courses that were really quite average (and I’m being kind here, as far as the pil-pil prawns are concerned) and nothing that could be deemed outstanding, I’d call this unfairly steep. If I had to pay that much, I’d rather go to one of the other restaurants in the vicinity of Lodhi Road, like Tres or Guppy by Ai.

If I come back to Elma’s, it’ll probably be only for a cake and tea. As far as meals go, at least, this place is going to get a wide berth from me.

Elma’s
73, Meharchand Market
Lodhi Road
New Delhi
Tel: 011-49050881

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