Delhi serves up a heady mix of gastronomy, entertainment, hospitality, style and aesthetic that define this heartland. The gateway city also helps explore the north of the Indian subcontinent. “I love that it is a city that’s constantly evolving. I applaud its new concepts, even as I evolve with and explore the different facets of it,” says Nikhil Mehra, one half of ace designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil, of the metro he calls home. From the outside it may seem like a trope, but there’s merit to Delhi’s fighter spirit. Rahul Singh, founder-CEO of The Beer Café and a true-blue Delhiite puts it in perspective: “Over its illustrious history, the city has been captured, ransacked and rebuilt several times over, and modern Delhi is the same. We Dilliwalas continue to battle extreme weather, traffic, and deteriorating air quality with complete aplomb and in relentless pursuit of a better life.” And of course, most often, with a patiala in hand to smooth things over.
A weekend here is hardly enough because there’s so much to choose from. But if it’s a chill, epicurean, debauched, or a tick-in-a-box kind of getaway you want, you’ll find your vibe here no matter who your baap is. We outline your handy city guide, with a little help from the aforementioned gentlemen.
If the capital has a favourite pastime, it is definitely eating – and the list comes with the promise of plenty. Perhaps the most revered dining spot in the city, the kind that is a destination in itself, is chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent. On your first visit, the tasting menu is highly recommended. It’s creative, curiously playful and always flavoursome. Reservations are not just advised but almost mandatory.
For more traditional fare, try out the original purveyor of Frontier cuisine, Bukhara at the ITC Maurya. Or, for a less fancy (read: pricey) affair, traipse around the gullies of Jama Masjid and let your nose lead you to nalli, paya, biryani and other gosht delicacies. Then there is Ranjit da Dhaba, a roadside stand that has grown to fill up an entire market square and renowned for its spicy spreads (especially the tawa mutton).
A bit more upmarket, Pandara Road and its string of outlets serve up the quintessential ‘Dilli’ cuisine: a greasy and satisfying triumvirate of butter chicken-daal-naan. Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu is a lovely joint for some soulful Parsi food. Carnatic Café is a delightful vegetarian eatery that does justice to South Indian fare, a rarity up north usually.
Going international, Artusi – a small trattoria in South Delhi – is the shortest route to Italy, serving up hearty Italian from Emilia-Romagna in fine-dining confines. Skipping continents, Triple8 – a new addition to Ansal Plaza mall – takes you on a journey though the Orient with Thai, Chinese, Malay, and Japanese favourites all finding representation. Also taking inspiration from the east, Gung The Palace and Restaurant Seoul are the best Korean eateries in town. Add to that Little Saigon for comforting Vietnamese. Our favourite afternoon refuges are The Grammar Room and Fig & Maple, both airy happy places with food that tastes as good as it looks.
What Delhi lacks by way of microbreweries (still no license, ICYMI), it makes up for with its cocktail bars. An old-time crush is PCO, the city’s original speakeasy that serves up some smashing sours and plenty of Prohibition cocktails. From the same family come two of our other loves, PDA (a plush little cocktail bar that’s just the right mix of fancy and footloose), and ATM (a once members-only space with a great terrace and spanking new cocktail bar called Sazerac).
Sidecar is another place that is slated to open its shutters soon. Given its pedigree (same team as the one behind Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy in Gurugram), we’re giving it an early shout-out. Ek Bar in Defence Colony is one of Mehra’s go-to cocktail spots, “I like the quirky Indian nostalgia feel of the space and, of course, great cocktails to go with it,” he says. Other popular cocktail haunts are Piso 16, and the Polo Lounge at The Hyatt Regency which we have a renewed interest in, thanks to its inventive art-themed potions.
View-wise, Cirrus9 at The Oberoi is winning with its lounge-y expanse that gives an almost picture-perfect panoramic city vista. For something more private, The Library Bar at The Leela Palace is the ideal place to settle in with a dram and cigar.
There’s a gin revolution underway and Juniper at Hyatt Andaz is leading the charge in Delhi – banners, trumpets et al. A curious and complex menu made from a host of infusions comes together seamlessly in their glasses. For some tipple paired with tunes, head to The Piano Man Jazz Club – the definitive spot for those who take their music seriously. Weekday evenings are meant for chill Khan market bar-hops – a 6pm pint at The Beer Café, then to Perch for some vino (Mehra’s ideal post-work/meeting-to-drink spot), Townhall for sushi and sake, and a nightcap at Public Affair.
In the mood for a rager? The Hong Kong Club entails an all-inclusive night on the town. Choose from an extensive menu of dim sum and other Asian fare to line the stomach before you immerse yourself in the Zodiac cocktail list and dance the night away. The Electric Room at The Lodhi fills up at a time when most bars are saying goodnight. A regular roster of guest DJs and bands keep things going until the wee am. “Live events and a livelier crowd,” is how Singh sums it up.
House A is a swish members-only club that’s become the place to be seen at post midnight on weekends. Kitty Su is a mixed bag; you never know what you’re going to get but it promises a good time nevertheless. For live acts, keep track of the calendars at Antisocial, Summerhouse, Auro and Raasta – the best gig spots in the city. For nostalgia’s sake, nothing beats retro nights at Rick’s at The Taj.
Delhi throws up a host of options when it comes to choosing where to park yourself. Rooms at the newly renovated The Oberoi promise to be slick and modern while hotels like The Leela Palace are far more opulent and glitzy. The Lodhi is more of an urban resort and rooms comes decked out with a plunge pool so you can always bring the party home.
If you wish to be between Delhi and Gurugram, Aerocity is replete with options: from the swanky Hyatt Andaz to the très French, Pullman. “Andaz is the perfect stage to ignite creative minds and bring eclectic souls together,” recommends Singh. “It has an extremelt fresh and stimulating work-stay environment.” Not too far away, The Roseate is a sprawling luxury cocoon nestled in a lush hamlet and the best place to check in if you’re here to chill and not just check out the city.
When the weather permits, Delhi has many verdant expanses for long walks or cosy picnics – from Lodhi Garden to Nehru Park or Sanjay Van, which is pretty much a forest in the city.
If air-conditioning is more your style, be a mall rat at one of the many sprawling shopping hubs in the city. Emporio, Promenade, Ambience and Citywalk keep the economy going with The Chanakya being the latest to join the fold. “I enjoy shopping for my food and so, Food Hall at The Chanakya is great to graze through, followed by a bite at MKT Café,” suggests Mehra. “If in the mood for a more elaborate meal (and some retail therapy to boot), there’s the lovely NicoCaara eatery upstairs.” Looking for a slightly local sortie in lieu of the branded malls? A traipse around Khan market will provide options aplenty to part you from your money. Else, get down and dirty at Sarojini Nagar as you haggle your heart out.
For the more culturally curious, Oddbird Theatre always has something quirky on the rota. Not too far away is the Blue Tokai café for a serious cuppa. Shahpur Jat is a little village you can lose yourself in, ambling down its many winding alleys popping into cafés and boutiques. Finally, there is India Habitat Centre, a public space with galleries, a theatre, and also home to one of the best peanut butter malt shakes courtesy the All-American Diner. Welcome to Delhi.