Review: The Potbelly Rooftop Café (North Indian- Bihari Cafe)
116 C, 4th Floor, Shapur Jat, New Delhi. Ph # +91 11 41612048
A visit to this little café perched on the highest possible floor of Shapur Jat by lane that claims its flare with Bihari food was long overdue. It’s a couple of season’s old already and I could never make time or occasion to visit it and among all reasons the foremost is that I know how to cook all those Bihari recipes myself. Being a Bihari by origin I quite never had an urge to dine out over ‘Litti Chokha’, something that’s a regular at most family party during winters. But yes for the very same reason I finally agreed to visit them, since Mr. H’s cousin wanted to celebrate his birthday over some Littis and Mr. H suggested we got to give it a try and who but you (as in I) would be a better critique for the cuisine.
Its is an absolutely casual eating place, a home-style mismatched colourful interiors. The walls along the staircase, the never-ending one, are perhaps purposely painted bright yellow to keep the humour alive while you brave those steep stairs. On a serious note, the wall has been artfully turned into an art gallery of sorts, offering a sneak peek into the street life of the rural Bihar and a few frames of accolades the restaurant has been awarded with. The seating is basic, low old wooden furniture tuned into a quirky, cosy affair with bright upholstery and paper mache lights. They also have a small, three tables open air sitting on a small terrace that’s maintained green with lots of potted plants and low lanterns to create an ambiance.
The service is barely kept afloat since the waiters are mostly clueless, a characteristic affable behaviour of the working class migrants from my part of the country. Good thing is that either of the two partners is usually available at the restaurant to pull up the service to manageable levels. However, you won’t even need help with recommendations for the menu is precise.
A quick scan at the menu and you’d find enough items to rightly fit into a meal for any time of the day. There are some interesting sandwiches and Maggi on the list if you are up for a breakfast or a light bite but for us it was dinner time. So we started off with a Bihari Pakora basket and a Keema Goli, we’d asked for the Machli Goli but they were out of stock on fishes.
The pakoras were fresh, an assortment of a Sabudan pakora, a mashed potato variety and the quintessential Bihari baigan pakora ‘baigni’ as we call it. They were basic and simple, not the best I’ve had but okay. The Keema goli was okay too, a little too dry with overcooking perhaps but I am forced to accept that’s how it is usually served across the streets in the State. They serve no alcohol so sticking to a glass of inhouse mocktails, like the Mirchi Masal Lemonade, is a good idea for it helps in washing down the excess oil from the food.
Keeping the starters small was good Idea, for the mains are heavy. I was excited to see Litti Chicken/Mutton on the list and immediately placed an order with Khad Masala Chicken. Other’s decided to try the Champaran Style Mutton that is served with poories but on request they replaced the poories with Littis. The vegetarian in the group ordered a plate of Litti Chokha and the last one ordered Golmirch Chicken with tawa mirchi lachha paratha.
The Littis, for the first are not by far what we know as the ‘Littis’. I wonder if it is some sort of a Ranjasthani influence that has turned the Litti into something closer to ‘the Rajasthani Batti’. Not that what was served was bad, it tasted good but the excess of oil made it heavy, too heavy. Whilst the authentic Littis are fire roasted, the dough is not laden with oil and one has the option of adding pure ghee to one’s own liking at the end. So this one was not quite Litti, period.
Having said that, the Mutton Champaran and Kahda Masal Chicken were delicious, home-style rustic preparations, and they paired fairly well with the Littis on offer. The Veg Litti Chockha came with the baigan bahtra, alo chokha and a good Chana dal, making it a good combination too. The Golmirch Chicken could not impress me much either, it was a creamy gravy with excesss of kali mirch and dehydrated chunks of Chicken, I’d say give it a pass.
There’s a shortage of authentic sweets too, so when we were asked to choose between a pineapple upside down cake and makhane ki Kheer we went with the former ofcourse. The chilled kheer was a relief after the heavy food.
If authentic Bihari is on your mind, you can give this restaurant a pass for the food here is mostly adapted and modified to suit the Punjabi palate. I don’t quite blame them for it could a perquisite for making business, I can’t help noticing it though. And on a second thought this could be your
best err only bet to get close to the Bihari cuisine in the Capital.
I might go back for the good Champaran Mutton and the Khada Masala Meat though. The meal here is not as heavy on the pocket as it is on the stomach, and that’s a good thing. Our bill for 4 with a glass of Cooler each stood at Rs.2956 incl. of taxes.