Restaurant Review: Carnatic Café

There is no paucity of restaurants that serve South Indian food in Delhi, ranging from top-end (and often expensive) restaurants like Dakshin, which offers probably some of the most authentic cuisines from the Deccan; to the numerous Udupi restaurants which have a vast but fairly predictable (and economical) menu that invariably features favourites like dosas, idlis, utthappams and the like. A little less common are places which serve good (and not quite so common) dishes, but don’t charge a hefty price for them. Like Carnatic Café.

Inside Carnatic Cafe.

Inside Carnatic Cafe.

Carnatic Café is a small, unpretentious restaurant on the ground floor of the tiny shopping centre which also houses The Rampur Kitchen. A bright mustard yellow sign with quirky black lettering adorns the outside of the Café (the other side, closed off by plate glass, looks out onto a bank of potted plants). Inside, the decor consists of odds and ends: a little forest of fluttering paper cut outs hanging from the ceiling near the entrance (which, by the way abuts the kitchen, so you can actually have the chance to see some cookery in progress, as we did); three large and attractive leather puppets pinned to a sheet draped on a wall; and bunches of dried (fake?) maize hanging from the ceiling. A glimpse of Karnataka, but not overdone. There are some eight or ten tables in here, seating two to four people each.

Inside Carnatic Cafe.

Inside Carnatic Cafe.

Leather puppets on a wall at Carnatic Cafe.

Leather puppets on a wall at Carnatic Cafe.

The menu of Carnatic Café isn’t huge, but it’s adequate enough, and has an interesting blend of the more common items (curd rice, lemon rice, vadas and plain dosas among them) to an array of dishes you don’t often get to see outside of Karnataka, least of all as far north as Delhi.

We were six of us for lunch at Carnatic Café, and barring my niece and nephew (who ordered a fresh lime soda and a Mountain Dew, respectively), we all chose majjige (spiced, salted buttermilk) as a a beverage to start with. (Note: Carnatic   Café serves no alcohol). The majjige, which came chilled, was a pretty pale green in colour, lightly salted and minimally spiced (perhaps with a little roasted cumin? I couldn’t tell), and blended with a lovely fresh mix of herbs—predominantly green coriander, but also some curry leaves. A great appetiser, and very refreshing.

Majjige - spiced buttermilk - at Carnatic Cafe.

Majjige – spiced buttermilk – at Carnatic Cafe.

Majjige over, we moved on to our main courses. Except for my niece (who chose a coconut utthappam), we all ordered dosas. A plain one for my nephew, a Malleshwaram 18th Cross (which was smeared with what tasted and looked like gunpowder, that lovely, nutty, spicy blend of chillies, roasted lentils, and more that is so popular down South) for my father, and raagi masala dosas for my mother, my husband, and I.

The dosas were served up within minutes of being ordered. My raagi masala dosa, made from raagi (finger millet) flour batter—and therefore healthier than a regular rice flour batter had its ‘healthy’ image ruined a bit by the generous quantities of ghee in which it had been cooked on the griddle. The flavour of the dosa itself (even without its filling)however, was so good, in a nutty, redolent with ghee way, that I put aside my conscience for a little while. The masala filling, boiled mashed potatoes sautéed with onions, chana dal and urad dal, while delicious, might have been a little more in proportion to the size of the dosa itself.

Mains: a raagi masala dosa with sambhaar and three types of chutney.

Mains: a raagi masala dosa with sambhaar and three types of chutney.

On the side with each of our mains, came three types of chutney: white coconut chutney; green chutney (coconut ground with green chillies and fresh herbs) and a red chutney (coconut ground with tomatoes etc), and sambhaar. A good sambhaar, as we all agreed, and a pleasant change from the usual South Indian restaurant-in-Delhi sambhaar (which is typically too spicy, and invariably heartburn-inducing).

Main course over, we were faced with a decision: dessert? Or filter coffee? Or both? As far as dessert is concerned, though, Carnatic Café offers only two options: kesari bhat (rice cooked with ghee, sugar, etc) and obbattu. The latter, when I asked the waiter for an explanation, was described as a type of puranpoli (which I know – though I’ve never eaten it—is a kind of roti stuffed with a sweet filling, sometimes of grated coconut, sometimes both other variations). “They’re being made right now,” the waiter added, and we succumbed. My nephew and niece declined dessert, but my husband, my parents and I decided to share two portions (each portion consisting of two obbattus).

Since they were being cooked right then, our obbattus were served up less than a minute later. These were thin, roti-like pancakes, seemingly made from a maida dough, filled with a mildly sweetened mixture of cooked chana dal. The flavour of the dal was (for me, who’s not a fan of dal when used in sweet dishes) subdued, and yet the filling not overly sweet. On the side came, as an interesting accompaniment (it may be traditional, of course; it’s just that this was new to me) a little bowl of lukewarm, lightly sweetened milk. We poured this over our obbattu as we ate, using it to soften the pancake a little. Nice, though since I’m not a fan of flour-and-ghee desserts, I may pass this up the next time round.

Dessert: obbattu served with warm milk.

Dessert: obbattu served with warm milk.

We finished off our meal with filter coffee: good, strong, typical South Indian style kaapi, served frothing in little steel glasses, each of them nestling in its own matching steel katori. Perfect.

Filter coffee - strong and delicious.

Filter coffee – strong and delicious.

For six people (though two of us skipped dessert), our entire meal (and a good, satisfying one it was, both in terms of quality and quantity) cost Rs 1,783, inclusive of all taxes and service charges. That’s good value for money, and enough reason to want to come back here someday soon.

Carnatic Café
Community Centre
New Friends Colony
New Delhi
Tel: 011-41008629/ 41008630

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14 thoughts on “Restaurant Review: Carnatic Café

  1. Its a wonderful cafe – very good, authentic food and value for money. My husband made it a point to visit this cafe every other week (nostalgia you see – authentic food from home!) when he was working in Noida but now from Gurgaon, the commute is a bit much! Just last night, I had the urge to eat Obbattu – and was planning to ask my mum to get it next time she goes down south! Must make the trip again to Carnatic Cafe this weekend :-)

  2. When on earth did you publish this, Madhu? And how did I miss it? :(

    You have made me go all nostalgic about filer kaapi too, bad woman. My shoulder hurts, I haven’t slept, and now I want obbattu and kaapi. Waaah!

    • You missed it, Anu, because it was never actually published on Dustedoff! You see, I publish other writings – articles about medieval monuments, travel, restaurant reviews, non-film-related essays, etc – on my website, http://www.madhulikaliddle.com. Only recently, the friend who does the technical side (and the designing) of my website, suggested we merge the blog and the site. So my site is currently being imported into Dustedoff. Not all of it has happened so far, but it’s in the process – you can see some of the posts on medieval tombs on the home page, but the images aren’t quite in place yet. :-)

      Obbattu didn’t push every button of mine – nice, but I do prefer a good vettallappam or one of those fabulous payasams with the strips of tender coconut… yum! But filter kaapi? Any day. Any, every, day, :-)

  3. I just read this review and it sounds like a place to visit, especially if the dosas arrived as fast as they did when you visited them. Hmmm, one more place to visit in Delhi, if and when I get there – Anu, let’s plan a trip together!

    • Lots of other people on a foodie group of which I’m part on Facebook have said, too, that Carnatic Cafe’s timing and quality are consistently good. I must go there again. And you and Anu must come to Delhi!

  4. Hi, we did go to Carnatic Cafe today – after 2 years. The toss up was between this and Cafe Lota – we had some work in Lajpat Nagar and my son was famished by the time we got done and since this is closer, we picked Carnatic Cafe. Came back very satiated. The quality of the food was excellent – very authentic. They have introduced mini meals now (wasn’t there the last time). It had an excellent Kadalekayi Kosambari (Peanut Salad -(http://www.itslife.in/vegetarian-recipes/salads/peanuts-salad), a dry curry, a sambhar and excellent tomato rasam (Saaru in kannada) with rice. It also included a small bowl of the rice of the day (which today was Bisibelebhath – rice made with cooked lentils and veggies -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisi_Bele_Bath), small bowl of Kesaribath and yoghurt and pickle. The meal was very satisfying. My husband and I had the mini meal while my son had a Benne Dosa (Dosas made with dollops of butter – absolutely yum!) my son had the obbattu after that – am not too fond of sweets in general; but obbattu with hot milk here is very good. Certainly not as sweet as I have had in other places! The hot coffee helped the meal settle down. A sunday afternoon well-spent! :)

    • Ooh, that sounds gorgeous, Harini! And the idea of the mini meals really appeals to me. I am always one for mini meals, thalis and the like – you get to taste more dishes, without having to order full-size portions of each. I must go again someday. And I hope the day i go, bisi bele bath is the rice of the day – I have a special fondness for that. I remember, there was a time we used to live in Munirka, and occasionally we’d walk across to the Guruprasad Udupi – and more often than not, I’d order bisi bhele bath. Oddly enough, the other dish I thought they made really well was chhola bhature!

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