Delhi by the Way looks like a swanky Indian hotel. All the tables are luxuriously spaced, the seats are enclosed in flashy animal prints, there’s a courtyard with a tree protruding through the ceiling and at the front desk there’s a guest book. It’s not snooty though, far from it, atmospherically it’s more like a hostel. This in part is down to owners Himanshu Kalidhar and Susheel Kumar, two brothers who are also veterans of India’s hotel industry. Their stamp on the restaurant is everywhere.
The brothers and their family created the menu and took care of the design, the concept and literal fit-out. “It has to have the spirit of Delhi, both of us are from Delhi. Delhi is a very tricky place; people are very friendly, but aggressive as well. We wanted to bring our values, we're bloody friendly people,” Kalidhar says.
The food is a mixture of the boys’ favourite Delhi specialities and international Indian dishes. The most-typically Delhi meal they say is dal tadka, with tandoor chicken and roti. Typically it’s served from a dhaba, a highway-side stall serving honest and easy food. “Most of the truck drivers eat it,” Kumar says.
Those same dhabas double purpose their tandoor chicken – what doesn’t get sold fresh is slammed into a pot of tomato-cream mix to make butter chicken. The notorious dish was born in post-war Delhi, and now it’s one of the capital’s favourite street snacks. “Butter chicken is a very common dish, it's generally sweet but we try to give it a different taste,” Kalidhar says. The brothers and their team are extremely proud of their butter chicken and rightly so, it’s thick, savoury and full of enormous soft chunks of chicken thigh. They eat it with kandhari naan, which is just like regular tandoor-baked naan, but stuffed with pistachios, raisins and gooey coconut.
Another typically Delhi dish is ram laddu – soft, chewy almost tofu-like chickpea dumplings served under sweet tamarind sauce, hot chutney and yoghurt. “This is what you get on the streets of Deli. You don't get it in the restaurants,” says Kumar.
In between rounds of soft naans and skewers of chicken tikka, Delhi by the Way’s tandoor churns out Middle Eastern-style kebabs. Kalidhar’s favourite is based on an interpretation he ate in a Dehli restaurant, minced, marinated chicken stuffed with salty goat’s cheese. Kalidhar says in the future they hope to start making some of Delhi’s street-fusion dishes, such as momos, Tibetan-style dumplings packed with chicken tikka.