By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHAT: Depot 29
WHERE: B 6/2, Levels 2 & 3, Commercial Complex, Safdarjung Enclave (Opposite Hauz Khas Deer Park rear entrance)
WHEN: 12 Noon to 3:30 P.M.; 7:30 P.M. to 12 Midnight
DIAL: (011) 43139867
AVG MEAL FOR TWO (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 2,000+++
Depot 29 serves limited selection of beer and wine because it hasn't got its liquor licence yet.
|The Spartan decor of Depot 29 allows you to|
focus on the food, which is just the kind of
cafe food -- a mix of Mexican and burgers
in this case -- that is coming back in fashion.
THE CLOSEST Safdarjung Enclave's B-6 Block Market has ever got to gourmet food is Yamato Ya, the city's first Japanese convenience store, tucked away in one non-descript corner facing, to use a favourite Delhi expression, the 'back side' of the Hauz Khas Deer Park. The only time it gets busy is when the young residents of neighbouring Arjun Nagar descend upon the lone department store that doubles as the local booze shop to slake their thirst with chilled beer. And the only restaurant it had -- It's Greek to Me -- faded away like the Hellenic Civilisation; the general somnolence hasn't spared even the Cafe Coffee Day outlet.
|Chef-Restaurateur Ritu Dalmia of Diva fame|
with Vikas Narula (left) and Girijashanker
Vohra, her two Depot 29 partners.
In the last some months, the B-6 Block Market has dramatically turned around from being the neighbourhood nerd to the new people magnet. The transformation started with The Hungry Monkey, which positions itself as a 'Modern European' restaurant, but is essentially the new must-be-seen-at hangout of South Delhi's rich kids. In this busy market, Ritu 'Diva' Dalmia, who, like AD Singh, has become a serial restaurateur working on different formats and cuisines, teamed up with two young men -- Vikas Narula and Girjashanker Vohra -- to launch Depot 29 in what used to be an office. It takes an invigorating climb to reach the restaurant, unless you opt for the fashionably old-fashioned elevator that welcomes you with a lingering whiff of Chanel No. 5. On your way up, the only sign of life you see is a door promising the opening "very soon" of a Thai spa.
|This review first|
on August 8,
Depot 29 is a case-book study of Dalmia's new business model. Optimal square footage (1,800; split into two levels), seating for 48, a stripped-down industrial look, regular furniture (a tad uncomfortable for the horizontally challenged), the cheapest possible crockery, cutlery and glassware, but the food is just the kind you'd want to return to the restaurant for, or order in. Depot 29 was packed to capacity on a sweltering afternoon -- and I was the only man in it, apart from the people working there! It was clear that it had been quick in acquiring a following through the power of the word of mouth.
Comfort food -- quesadillas, tacos, burgers, savoury and sweet waffles -- rules the menu, though the 28-year-old chef, Ekansh Malik, is a Le Cordon Bleu, London, graduate who's come back after working under Atul Kochhar at Benaras. My significant other and I just loved the chicken and corn empanadas; she couldn't stop gushing over the grilled prawn and bacon tacos (I am told the ones with pulled pork are to die for!). The chicken and grilled prawn burger that followed unsettled me. It was a bit too dry and without personality, and the bun was lifeless too -- I made this point in a social media group and Narula promptly Inboxed me that they were re-engineering the burger (that's good PR!).
The sense of disappointment did not last long because the jackfruit (kathal) burger, which I ordered for a lark, was the best thing I have had in many days. What we asked for next didn't look -- or taste -- promising. The burata, which had collapsed and was oozing oil, was a rip-off. The guacamole dips and corn chips were average. But these are not likely to be remembered after a meal that ends with the Depot 29 banana waffle served with a generous helping of toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. It was like heaven on a plate.
The service was friendly and informed -- and Narula was around all the time. I struck up a conversation with this pleasant, bright-eyed young man after he saw me struggling with the mustard and promptly got me kasundi. He started life taking the usual high-achiever career route -- engineering, then management -- and worked in Mumbai as well as Sydney before deciding one day to become a restaurateur. The corporate world's loss, I hope, will be our gain.