Years ago when I used to be a regular at the iconic United Coffee House restaurant in Delhi’s Connaught Place, the main reason why I and my other journalist friends would land up there, sometimes for lunch or sometimes for dinner; whichever shifts we were working, but largely at night because these graveyard shifts can be so boring unless you take that much needed quick break in between; was always the food. It was sad though, that we always had to rush through our food because of the lack of time. But nevertheless, we kept going there.
Like I said, the first and the main reason was the food which was heavenly. The second, because it is actually walking distance from many media offices. The third, because I love Continental food, as did my other colleagues. Not to mention, all meals were rounded off with a lot of beer which somehow tasted better in such a comfortable yet classy environment. High ceilings, leather upholstery, beautiful chandeliers and high backed comfortable chairs that were all reminiscent of a bygone era of Imperialism that is the hallmark decor of UCH. The good part was that, in those days, there were no queues outside that could be a deterrent. It was easy to find a place and we never had to book a table.
These days, the story is different. Given the hype over certain places like UCH, most old timers and many newbies like to be seen here, especially in the age of social media where all you see is pictures of people dining out at some swanky place or another almost seven days a week. Some of us are not as lucky as we have to work for a living so we manage to get out usually over weekends. And the funny thing is; it took me almost ten years to come back to UCH, despite living not very far away. Blame it on my quitting jobs to go independent or preferring to dine closer to where I lived, but UCH was soon relegated to memory and I would hear tales of how difficult it was to get a table there nowadays.
A few weeks before, however, after much juggling of places with my family of four, to eat out at Connaught Place, after some work, we did land up at UCH; after ten years! Oh, I called up before to ask about a table because it is kind of tough to wait outside the door with two kids in tow. But reservations don’t happen here. You land up, was what I was told. Yes, I did get the managers number from the owner Akash Kalra but I preferred to not call him up. Let’s just have an experience, I told the kids, who grumpily acceded to waiting.
Thank God for the courteous doorman who assured me it was just a matter of minutes before I would get a table. But when the younger kid literally pushed me inside the restaurant, I had to go and speak to the manager who with his unsmiling face, told me, he couldn’t do a thing! This is one area where I wish people in India were a little more sensitive; anybody who needs assistance when they have kids with them should get some! Not a table, just some nice, smiling assurance will do.
Luckily, we did manage to get seated in the next ten minutes and I didn’t let this little thing mar my experience. Believe me, I’m always about the whole package, not little nitty-gritty’s. To further soften my mood, we had an excellent server at our table that was all attention to the kids not wanting to eat anything spicy to where we could sit in a corner, so as to not get rattled by guests, staring at my normally loud kids. The husband and I wanted to eat all our old favourites and get that protein-packed rush, so we stuck to the stuff we knew best. The Chicken Stroganoff was excellent. So were the Pork Chops. As was the Barbecued Chicken Sizzler. The taste, the food presentation, the quantity was all satisfying to the eye and palate. Prices have gone up of course but nothing that you’d mind shelling out for good food. The food rush that was precipitated with some nice Simba beer also brought back that rush of memories. It was yesterday once more!
Not to forget that most of the food items on the UCH menu are peppered with a bit of history and legacy. This is not a place where you will see a lone person typing or working away on his or her laptop, as is the trend these days at most coffee places. And this definitely, has much much more than coffee! What you see at UCH, among your fellow diners, that is, if you’re a people watcher like me are families, happy groups of friends who get a bit boisterous after a couple of beers, politicians, journalists, businessmen, actors, philanthropists, travellers and the average Jane and Joes too.
And as a backgrounder to any conversation, you might have with somebody who knows this place since it first started in 1942, the year of the Quit India movement, you will be told that UCH first began with the vision of entrepreneur and also a liquor baron, the late Lala Hans Raj Kalra. He used to run a restaurant and bar called Esplanade in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, India and a country liquor manufacturing unit in Sialkot, Pakistan. UCH was all about getting a mix of various cuisines under one roof and where discerning clients could sit, relax, interact and have a rendezvous and hold an intellectual discussion. 75 years later, it is an iconic restaurant operated by generations of the Kalras. The legacy continues with United Westend in the bustling Punjabi Bagh market in 2000 and then a Catering division of the United Group in 2004 and finally the United Coffee House Rewind, a young, casual dining place in the DLF Mall, Noida.
But if you ask me, I enjoy the original stuff more, so it’s always going to be the United Coffee House in Connaught Place for me. Though the Noida outlet is so much closer to where I live. And honestly, for good food, especially continental stuff, just land up here!
UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, CONNAUGHT PLACE, NEW DELHI