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My Gymkhana meal (with S and A) and Delhi’s best Club food

By Anoothi Vishal

Over my monthly lunch with S and A (this time though it was more like a quarterly lunch), I discovered the best soup in Delhi. S is a member at the snobby Gymkhana; so we sat around a table in the dining hall, trying to look older and distinguished enough to fit in with all the other diners, to speak in hushed whispers and to not give in to the temptation of looking into our silenced-cellphones to check whether there could have been any other calls at all from non-random PR people.

When S turned 18, her father, a member of long-standing and repute, brought her to these hallowed portals for a meal. It was a rite of passage. And ever since then, she, a vegetarian, has possibly settled for paneer a la kiev that the club turns out in a paen to 1950’s-style clubby “Continental” food. When S ordered that once again at lunch yesterday, I was tempted to laugh, but looking at the butter and cheese oozing out of the roll, hastily changed my mind and begged her for a small bite, which, despite the paneer, is entirely edible.

For our part, A and I settled for fish—she for a simple grilled version, I for the famous baked tomato fish the dining hall here is famous for. And indeed this turned out to be the best food I have ever had at any Delhi club. We finished off our meal by sharing the famous caramel custard—the real thing, not out of a packet. But it was really the first course of beet soup that is going to get me all nostalgic. Never the one to choose anything healthy, I can, nevertheless, slurp on this soup all winter long.

Considering that standards at the other dining hall that I used to love going to—at the IIC— have been drastically slipping over the last couple of years, the Delhi Gymkhana now has no clubby rival to its food in the city. The last meal I had at the IIC was with author Chetan Bhagat (and his mother) over an interview, amusing for many things (including the grandiose, old waiters trying to bully poor Chetan) but certainly not the food. Even the apple pie that one had religiously sought on every occasion of IIC-eating had begun to lose its allure. I haven’t been there ever since.

Where I do go pretty frequently—given that that’s the only club I am actually a member of—is the Indian Women’s Press Club and I am indeed partial to its homely charms, even though sometimes they border on the plain ridiculous, like when serving up the comforting Indian-Chinese honey-chilli potatoes with a watery gravy. Nevertheless, for ghar ka khana, or bhelpuri and sarson ka saag IWPC has no rival. The food at the general Press Club, especially the snacks that you had with lots of subsidized booze (egg-on-toast, masala peanuts and so on), used to be pretty decent at one point. But I no longer have the will or taste to go to the Den, having acquired some grown-up sophistication at long last.

Panchsheel Club, newly-made over, has some decent food going, I have sampled some birthday fare at Friend’s Club that is nothing to write home about though the lovely location makes up for everything, but the Sarvapriya Vihar Club used to serve a mean rogan josh and kebabs at least till some time ago. There is, of course, the Delhi Golf Club (always memorable because I had my first glass of Rose wine there), where food and company have both been immaculate. Most recently, I attended a spectacular wedding on the lawns overlooking a heritage structure and the golf course. (Highly recommended to any one looking to get married or remarried.) It was understated, elegant, with a live jazz band and first-rate food that comprised everything from dim sum to a seafood buffet. I doubt whether the meal was catered to by the club though it would have been an interesting exercise.

(Do write in with your own Club favourites.)

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