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Worst ever restaurants: Where not to waste your money

A colleague narrated a hilarious story about his worst-ever food experience: A poilitical reporter, he was in Kanchipuram, the temple town in south India, covering the arrest of the Shankracharya, one of the most powerful Hindu leaders, on charges of murder. He, the reporter not Shankracharya, decided to take a break from the proceedings and find lunch. Now the thing with this guy is that he can’t eat anything vegetarian. In fact, he has given instructions to the office staff to the effect that “even if i am dying of hunger and there is a vegetarian restaurant next door, don’t bring me that food!” So you can understand the extent of his love for animalkind.

Kanchipuram, as one of the headquarters of Brahmanical Hinduism, is a fastidiously vegetarian town, on the other hand. Our friend, a Brahmin, high-born and therefore doubly not allowed to eat meat, was driven by the chauffer to, first, a Sarvana Bhawan that serves (veg) dosas, thalis and Tamilian food, and then to another place that specializes in dishing out, of all things, north-Indian style peas rice! Exasparated, the reporter finally told the driver, “just take me to a place that serves biryani.” The driver, also a Brahmin but obviously a more religious man, was apalled. He took my colleague to the town’s only Muslim place that served biryani but didn’t speak to him after that.

It is instructive to know about other people’s worst experiences. Another story I heard in office pertained to a bet that this same foodie colleague — with a gigantic appetite — had with a miserly person in our midst. This girl challenged him to eat 30 prawns at lunch, saying she would foot the bill if he did. He managed easily but she being the parsimonious person that she is went back on her bet and said the prawns were too expensive for her to pay.

Yet another friend remembers her worst ever meal being an oily peas-potoates gravy in a restaurant in Singapore. “Why did they (the organizers of her trip) think that I wanted to eat that in the food Capital of Asia?” she asks. I had a similar experience in Dubai when the group of Dirham-pinching film journalists I was hanging out with decided to scout for a Pakistani dhaba behind the electronics market near our hotel in blistering June heat. We ate cauliflower-potato and roti at less than a dirham each. But really, was I travelling to a foreign country to partake in such pleasures?

In case you are coming to Delhi, be warned and don’t have a bad experience yourself. As a food critic, I try out new restaurants all the time and therefore the scope for things going wrong is so much more: Here’s my list of places you should really avoid:

  1. Lido, Connaught Place: CP, as it is called, has no dearth of sleazy dens, dark, smelling of liquor. Ever walked into Volga or even Zen and the United Coffee House? These are all 70s style restaurants that used to serve up dubious Punjabi and Punjabified-Continental food. Lido used to be the sleaziest of them all with a floor show going as well. It has resurfaced in a new avatar, refurbished, in the outer circle (opposite Shankar Market), but still looks like a place out of the worst 1970s Bollywood film—Ajit’s den, if you have seen any of those. It is tacky, dingy and the air conditioning doesn’t work. It is overpriced too—a bottle of water may cost you close to Rs 60 and there is no floor show either!

  2. Route 04, Khan Market: This is an American style diner but the food is so terrible as to make you regret that you ever attempted it. The jerkin chicken that I had was the worst ever—smelly and stale. And even the drinks are tasteless. You are much better going to the American Diner at the India Habitat Centre.

  3. Punjabi by Nature: This is one of the most popular restaurants serving up north Indian food in Delhi and the NCR region. But highly overrated according to my opinion. Grossly overpriced (the chicken and the paneer cost roughly the same, so they are obviously subsidizing non vegetarians at the cost of vegetarians), it sells the same food that you can otherwise have at Pandara Road at far cheaper prices.

  4. The Kitchen, Khan Market: I am saddened to include this in my list. This used to be one of my favourites at one time. A tiny café style eatery with some good Pan Asian food. But the food quality has steadily gone down. Last time I was there, we were served vegetarian Pad Thai, Thai flat noodles cooked in sickly sweet chilli sauce, insipid and not a drop of oyster sauce. The veg dim sums are a disaster too. They say they come stuffed with mushrooms but all I could find was cabbage!

  5. Varq: The Taj’s ambitious new restaurant at Delhi, this one cost something like Rs 40 crore to set up. And they are hell bent on extracting the full value right away. The dishes themselves—experimental Indian fusion cooking; served up Western style—may be good but the pricing is atrocious. You pay something like Rs 500 or something absurd for precisely one small spoon of dal that comes as a side portion. Your tab keeps skyrocketing as a result.

  6. Sarvana Bhawan: This is a large chain serving popular breakfast and lunch items from south India. But take it from me, the quality isn’t consistent. You can have great lunch one day only to have a really appalling dosa the next. Besides, the owner has been charged with murder. Do you still want to go and eat? Smaller, local joints do a much better job at least in southern India. Look for them.

**** Send me your own worst experiences.

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3 Responses to “Worst ever restaurants: Where not to waste your money”

  1. Nupur Chandra says:

    Dear Anoothi,

    read the article..and want to share my worst experience that I had at Odyssey( Gurgaon)last night, – In the open area they didnt have any mist fans , the services were poor, we had to look every time for the staff to serve us drink,.there was no alcohol in our cosmos, baileys were too sweet, they refused to give us the bill for open area giving us some lame options…I called for the restaurant manager and got to know that he was also not present and the captain of the day attended us and he also refused to cooperate.. All in all I had the worst experience of my life at Odyssey where in I ended up getting embarrased infront of my friend whom came to India for the first time


  2. Sad that you had to have such an experience Nupur when all that we all like to do on a weekend night is relax. But what do you mean about not getting the bill for the open area? And did you return the drinks and food you found unsatisfactory? You should always do that without hesitation. Restaurants are not supposed to chharge you for what you have complained about and not eaten. I’ll try and send your mail to the people there.

  3. Nupur Chandra says:

    what happened was..we placed our first order and the moment the guy came with the order and served he said 1000 Rs, I asked for what he said for the order that you have placed, I said where is the bill he was like ma’am we dont give bill for the alfresco area, I kept on asking him about the reason and he said that’s our policy. I really couldnot understand it as I have never faced this problem anywhere, he scribbled down on a plain piece of paper and said here is the bill with out the details with the amount written.finally we gave him the card as he was arguing a lot and was actually spoiling the evening. would really appreciate if you could pass on my mail to the concerned person, coz what happens is because of such staff the customers suffer and end of the day its the brand which loses its value and credibility.