Restaurant Review: Café Lota

I’d been hearing good things about this café for a long time, but the mere fact that it’s outdoor—even if there is a skylight-like roof, and there are fans—made me blanch at the thought of eating here in the summer. But now that we’re almost into November, and the afternoons aren’t quite so brutal, my husband and I decided it was about time we checked out Café Lota. My sister, her son and her husband (who is a lawyer, and thanks to the Supreme Court being right next door, visited Café Lota shortly after it opened) came along with us.

Café Lota is attached to the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan (a tip: if you’ve never been to the museum, and are even vaguely interested in arts and crafts, do make it a point to visit. It’s one of my favourite museums in Delhi, with an outstanding collection of Indian crafts, including a superb textile gallery). The entrance is from Bhairon Marg, just opposite Purana Qila. The café lies spread out near the entrance, with the Crafts Museum beyond. The Museum shop is right next to the café, so my sister and I spent a little while—after ordering our food—window shopping.

At Cafe Lota.

At Cafe Lota.

But, about the café. Café Lota is a very pleasant place, informal and perfect for a winter lunch. Amid scattered greenery, there are unfussy tables and chairs, with one wall—shared with the shop next door—painted white and decorated with lovely mirror work. The menu is in keeping with the flavour of the place: very Indian, yet chic and modern. This is not the place to go if you’re looking for paneer tikka and tandoori chicken. The Indian khaana here is very different.

At Cafe Lota.

At Cafe Lota.

There are two things in particular which appealed to me about Café Lota’s menu: firstly, it’s not huge (too vast a selection of dishes always puts me off). Secondly, it is pretty pan-Indian, with dishes fairly representative of a number of different Indian cuisines, including some which most Delhiites wouldn’t be too familiar with. We decided to order an individual main course each, preceded by a selection of starters to share. Café Lota serves no alcohol (or even aerated drinks, which broke my nephew’s heart), but the rest of us ordered masala chhaas and nimbu paani.

The masala chhaas was creamy, lightly salted and with the barest hint of spice, the top of it liberally garnished with lots of chopped green coriander. A drink with enough character of its own to be had as is, and yet not powerful enough to overwhelm a dish if you had it alongside food. Nice, though I received a shock a few sips into it: a dead mosquito was plastered on the inside of the glass. Replaced, of course, but—government style?—with no apologies, and charged.

The food, thankfully, made up for it. Our starters arrived, one at a time (which I prefer: it means you get to actually savour everything). First up was the khatta-meetha dhokla, served in the form of a large, squat, cream-coloured cylinder, sprinkled with a tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves, and with a small bowl of green chutney on the side. My sister was the only one who really liked this dhokla: the rest of us thought it boring (and I personally thought it too dense, not spongy enough, not soaked right through with that lovely sweet-sour-salty syrup which should be part and parcel of good dhokla—and just too lacking in interest). Not bad, but nothing great either.

The khatta-meetha dhokla, served with a green chutney: underwhelming.

The khatta-meetha dhokla, served with a green chutney: underwhelming.

Next up was the paalak patta chaat: three whole leaves of spinach, dipped in a besan batter and deep-fried to a crisp (this was enough to win me over, I’ll admit; it reminded me of how our mum used to make paalak pakoras when we were kids). Along with this came a pool of regulation chaat accompaniments: whisked yoghurt, tamarind chutney, lots of crunchy little squiggles of besan sev, some pomegranate seeds, chopped green coriander. Good stuff.

Paalak patta chaat, at Cafe Lota.

Paalak patta chaat, at Cafe Lota.

Even better was the sabudana popcorn. This was something I’d particularly wanted to eat (I’m a sucker for sabudana). Served in a paper-lined metal cone, this consisted of a basic sabudana vada mix—cooked sabudana, boiled potatoes, all very lightly spiced—shaped into walnut-sized balls and deep-fried. Crisp golden-brown on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. And, with the spicy green chilly chutney served on the side, super.

Sabudana popcorn, with a spicy green chilly chutney on the side.

Sabudana popcorn, with a spicy green chilly chutney on the side.

The only non-vegetarian starter we’d ordered was mutton sukka. I’ve had this before, while on holiday in south India, and I thought Café Lota’s version—boneless mutton, spicy (but not blow-your-palate-off type), with curry leaves, green chillies and strips of fried coconut—was excellent. It came sitting on a fluffy, puce-coloured raagi appam. My brother-in-law mentioned that when he’d eaten at Café Lota with his colleagues before, one of them had ordered the mutton sukka as a main course. It may be too small a portion for that, we agreed; but as far as taste is concerned, I would certainly not mind having a big portion of that.

A glorious mutton sukka, on a raagi appam.

A glorious mutton sukka, on a raagi appam.

On to our main courses, then. My nephew had chosen a galinha cafreal, chicken cooked in a green sauce, served with a healthy-looking salad of lentils and sprouts, and with a spinach bao on the side. My sister had a Konkani fish curry (with red rice, though one can also order it with basmati), and said it was very good. My brother-in-law, my husband, and I ordered the Parsi salli boti. This comes with a choice of phulka or paratha, so I settled for a paratha.

The salli boti—mutton cooked in a spicy (not terribly hot) thick gravy, was served in a bowl with a very generous pile of thin, crunchy golden potato straws (the salli) on top. The paratha, a large square one made from dough into which chopped coriander had been kneaded, was great with the gravy and meat, though perhaps just a tad too rich.

Parsi salli boti, served with paratha.

Parsi salli boti, served with paratha.

By this time, my sister and my nephew had to leave—he was supposed to go give an exam—so they took themselves off, and the rest of us got down to the serious business of ordering dessert. Not too difficult a task, since Café Lota offers only three desserts. My husband and my brother-in-law both chose the bhapa doi cheesecake; I’d been wanting to try that too, but for the sake of a more balanced view (and because I am very fond of apples cooked with cinnamon), I ordered the cinnamon apple jalebi.

Bhapa doi, of course, is that Bengali dessert of steamed sweetened yoghurt. This was a good desi reboot of a cheesecake, and delicious: nice and creamy, with a lovely gur-scented steamed doi atop a crumby golden base.

The bhapa doi cheesecake at Cafe Lota.

The bhapa doi cheesecake at Cafe Lota.

The cinnamon apple jalebi (which takes 15 minutes to make; it’s mentioned on the menu, and the waiter repeated it when I ordered) came after the cheesecake was over, and was—like the cheesecake—an interesting fusion of East and West. The classic cinnamon and apple flavours of a good apple pie, with the crisp batter-and-thin-syrup of a jalebi: this was a large apple fritter, a ring of apple dipped in a thin batter and fried to a crisp outside and a soft, fruity inside, all of it then drizzled over with a very thin syrup and dusted with powdered cinnamon. Had as it was, this was a trifle too sweet for me (I will admit, though, that my tolerance for sweet is rather low).

However, the cinnamon apple jalebi came with a dip: a little bowl of coconut rabri, made (from what I could tell) by cooking sweetened coconut milk until it was thick—or perhaps it was just very thick coconut cream. At any rate, it was the perfect way of cutting the sweetness of the jalebis, and I ended up liking my dessert a lot.

Cinnamon apple jalebi, served with coconut rabri.

Cinnamon apple jalebi, served with coconut rabri.

We paid Rs 4,010 (inclusive of all taxes and service charges) for our meal. For five people, three of whom had the works—starter, main course, dessert and drink—that isn’t bad. Especially not when you consider how good the food was, and what a pleasant meal it was, all in all. Good enough, actually, to let me forget that mosquito in the chhaas.

We will be back. There are lots of other mouthwatering dishes on the menu (including some interesting pahari dishes) which I’d love to try. And, since Café Lota opens bright and early—at 8 AM (they have a breakfast selection on their menu)—perhaps, the next time round, we might just treat ourselves to a hearty breakfast here.

Café Lota
National Crafts Museum
Bhairon Marg
New Delhi

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18 thoughts on “Restaurant Review: Café Lota

  1. Okay, this is unfair… you should not be posting such tantalising reviews – of food that looks so good and appetising – that too just after Diwali! My post Diwali detoxification diet began yesterday and now the second day, at 11:30 am, my mouth is watering and I am home sick. I have an urge to leave what I am doing and run to Delhi!…. Oh Madhu! … So this weekend, I shall drag my husband and son there… :)

    • Arre, stuff like paalak patta chaat or cinnamon apple jalebi with coconut rabri is hardly the type to interfere with a detox! Go on, treat yourself. There were some very interesting and unusual Kumaoni dishes which I would have loved to try – will have to make another trip there sometime during the winter to check out more stuff on the menu. :-)

      Bon appetit, Harini!

  2. I seem to be personalising ‘Echo’ here. This is unfair. So much delicious food! With pictures! Another post coming up close on the heels of the earlier one! (And this one hasn’t yet updated on my sidebar either (now I know why I missed your earlier post – it never showed up! :( Mera kasoor nahin hai, milord!)

    Sounds wonderful, anyway, and I would like to visit. Ah, well, some day.

    • “Another post coming up close on the heels of the earlier one!

      I guess that’s the result of combining my website with Dusted Off – lots more activity happening now. And I couldn’t resist the temptation to blog about Cafe Lota – it was really satisfying!

  3. Madhu,
    I have been reading your Restaurant Reviews with great deal of interest. ‘Lota’ in the sense of lota-gilaas? Interesting name. Reminded me of another interesting name of a Café, when sometime back I had visited New York, and our daughter took us to the most famous café there, named after Laloo! I knew he was a craze in Pakistan, but didn’t know that his fame had reached NY too. It turned out they had spelt his name wrongly as Lalo. Here is NY’s best café, Café Lalo (http://cafelalo.com/cafe/).

    If you ever decide to write on cookery (vegetarian), you can count me as a dedicated reader, I am an armchair cook (wife cannot let me mess up her kitchen).

    AK

    • The name of the cafe had me puzzled, too, and I was wondering why it was called Cafe Lota. Then I discovered that it draws its name from the Crafts Museum shop – that’s called Lota. I suppose lota-gilaas is a plausible explanation, since the shop does sell quaint stuff like utensils (mostly ceramics, though, if I recall correctly).

      Cafe Lalo sounds wonderful! The only section of the menu I began reading was desserts – and I had to stop, because it was torture.

  4. That does it! If and when I come to Delhi, you have to take me to these tombs, masjids and cafes! But first, I have to lose some 50 pounds or so!

    • Oh, walking around the tombs and mosques and all that will compensate for whatever you may consume, Lalitha! Most heritage walks I go on end up being finished off with a brunch somewhere.

      By the way, Cafe Lota is bang opposite one of the most beautiful mosques in Delhi – the lovely Qila-e-Kohna, in Purana Qila. Purana Qila itself is pretty interesting.

      Come, no. Please.

      • I studied in Mater Dei for a year – wasn’t that across from Purana Qila? That, of course, was more than 50 years back! It would be nice to see the old school too!

  5. God I am salivating. Most of the items you and your family ordered are my favourites. I would love to check out this restaurant, but will I be visiting Delhi anytime soon? I did go a bit nostalgic at the mention of bhapa doi, my mum made really delicious bhapa doi. I think I should try my had at it, I do not know whether I can nail it, but what’s the harm in trying?

    • The first time I heard of bhapa doi was when my mother bought a new pressure years ago, when we were children. The accompanying recipe book had a recipe for bhapa doi. My mother never tried it out, though: she already had so many cookbooks (including some really colonial ones: Mrs Beeton’s was one!), she rarely looked through these little recipe booklet-types.

      But I would love to know the results of your bhapa doi experimentation, Shilpi! I love the dish, so if I can make it at home, that would be perfect. :-)

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