Saturday, 15 March 2014

QBA Quartet Opens The China House With Chic Decor & Smart Menu in Tenth Anniversary Year

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IF YOU were to ask me where one gets the best khow suey in Delhi, I would, without a moment's thought, say The China House. And no, it's not the hugely popular Chinese restaurant at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. It is Delhi-NCR's newest Chinese restaurant in that sleepy part of the Connaught Place Outer Circle (K-Block) where the old celebrities York's and Ginza wallow in obscurity, and the rather forlorn Gidney Club, second home to the city's Anglo-Indian community since the 1930s, holds on to memories of livelier days.
In this footnote of New Delhi's history, Atul Kapur (you haven't live in Delhi if you are not his friend!) and the three other, below-the-radar, men behind QBA's phenomenal success have opened The China House to replace their original venture, @Live by QBA, which lasted longer than most other watering holes  in the city. The China House will immediately strike you because of its charmingly different decor of Thai umbrellas hanging from the high ceiling and beaten-metal orchids (also from Thailand) embellishing the walls. It is stylish without being in your face. The menu, too, doesn't pretend to be anything more than being Chinese tweaked to sit well on Delhi's idiosyncratic palate, but like the decor, it leaves you with surprises and a nice feeling after a meal.
Atul had invited me to have a meal at The China House. It was to be a double celebration because QBA is nearing its tenth anniversary. What a crowded ten years it has been! It started with a pitched legal battle between the QBA quartet and the NDMC, which eventually led to the law being amended to make it mandatory for all Connaught Place buildings below 15m to install fire-fighting equipment, a requirement they had previously been exempted from.
The China House has just opened at K-Block,
Outer  Circle, Connaught Place -- a welcome
addition to the revived dining scene of
the Grand Old Lady of New Delhi.
It was therefore reassuring to see the quietly effective and genial duo of Sunil Tickoo, CEO of the restaurant's holding company, and Feroze Ali, the F&B manager, joining Atul to receive me. QBA, for me, is incomplete without these two gentlemen, whom I met on my first day at the restaurant, when it had just opened its door. They are the faces of continuity in a business where employees are as fickle in their loyalties as the customers who patronise the city's restaurants.
A 14,000-sq-foot beauty with one of the sunniest terraces in the city commanding a view to die for, QBA today caters to 15,000 diners a month, which is quite an achievement in a city where restaurants are beset by fluctuating fortunes. Consistency has been QBA's calling card; its formula of complementing a menu studded with popular items with good, in-sync-with-the-mood music and tempting lunch-time buffet deals has also worked in its favour.
Of the QBA quartet's two other ventures, nU.Delhi by QBA at Malcha Marg is seeing challenging days, despite having the best live band in the city, and Spice at the Garden of Five Senses, Said-ul-Ajab, was wisely shut down after it became apparent to everybody that the brilliant idea of creating a shopping and dining experience in one of the city's prettiest green spots, just wasn't working.
Let me share my experience at The China House. My feeling is that it will find many takers, if marketed properly, for its dim sum (the seven-spice chicken dumpling left an indelible impression on my palate) and its meals in a bowl, which are winners all the way. I mentioned the khow suey, which reminded me of the best-selling item on the menu of The Kitchen at Khan Market, but
I must also add that I just loved the soba noodles with prawns in XO sauce, sticky rice with lamb cooked in chilli bean sauce, and udon noodles with chicken oriental. You give customers a major sense of getting a good deal when you offer such substantial meals in a bowl. And yes, you must dig the caramel custard (an old QBA favourite), though I must say The China House date pancakes and ice-cream aren't as unexciting as they are in other restaurants.
The menu offers not only depth and variety, but also competitive pricing, mostly within the Rs 250 to Rs 550 range. It only needs to have a more substantial dim sum menu so that the restaurant starts attracting people who are feeling peckish, but are not in the mood for a full meal. Being a shopping destination, Connaught Place has a lot of such people who look for places where they can quell their hunger pangs after a buying binge. The only thing working against The China House is its location. It's far removed from the Metro stations and there's nothing happening in that part of CP to draw diners. What it can do is up-sell the fact that it has the most accommodating parking lot in the whole of Connaught Place. That should get it lunchtime crowds.