Connaught Place, 1940s:
Drawing leisure seekers with deep pockets, Connaught Place is a ‘cool’ hangout place. Who’s who of the city can be spotted here. There are bakery shops run by British officers’ wives, eateries, and cinema halls.
In the midst of all the magnificence, a certain Lala Hans Raj Kalra notices a small cafe owned by a man who runs a grocery shop near it. Seeing business opportunity, Kalra buys the café and decides to give it a complete overhaul. Victorian décor and regal chandeliers, the small shop gets a facelift. Chefs from the most exclusive and high-end clubs in the country are called in. The menu is Indian to begin with but on popular demand incorporates European cuisine as well. The café-cum-restaurant becomes a hotspot for politicians, journalists and high profile gourmands across the city.
The café-cum-restaurant has survived over seven decades in the cut-throat business of hospitality. Several cafes & restaurants have opened and shut shops while UCH retains its past glory yet manages to charm the youth. College students, business associates, foreign tourists, senior citizens – the patrons are diverse. Wandering tourists and locals apart, it has also hosted visitors from the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru to Dharmendra & Hema Malini.
It takes more than a long menu – serving everything from waffles & pancakes to dal makhani & butter chicken – to please such varied palates. The recipe for UCH’s success has many more ingredients.
As a foodie and a regular visitor to this legendary café, we have a few observations.
Old is Gold: Old-world charm is United Coffee House’s biggest USP. The charisma comes from Victorian décor, unhurried service, vintage furniture, and of course recipes from the past. Classics from the menu of 1942 (the year the restaurant was launched), European dishes popular since the ‘60s, Continental gems introduced by ‘bong’ chefs in ‘70s and much more.
No Substitute for Good Service: Three things that are prerequisites for success of any hospitality brand are service, service and service. Now, before you judge this place for service, you must know that the service is slow on purpose. If you’re looking for a quick meal, UCH is not the place. Go to the restaurant when you want to enjoy a nice laid-back lunch or a long “let’s catch up” evening with a friend. The waiters will not stand on your head to order quickly nor will they hurry you up even though there’s a long queue outside. The idea is to let you savour your time at United Coffee House.
Quality of food: According to us, the ambience lends character to the food that is served here. Loyal customers rave about the consistent quality and relish how the flavours take them back in time. The younger generation might find the taste of Cheese Balls and Tiramisu ‘different’ from other restaurants but the quality is assured.
United in Diversity: One of the main reasons for the wide-ranging patronage is the diverse choice for food. Sandwich, pasta, steak, grilled prawns, tomato fish, Moroccan Tajine, butter chicken (named Makhni Chooza on the menu) – everything is on offer here.
If you, like us, enjoy sitting in one corner observing people, we recommend a late afternoon here. Order a Cona Coffee and Keema Samosa perhaps and sit back in one corner of the ground floor. Relax, be amused, and go out refreshed!
WHAT TO ORDER AT UNITED COFFEE HOUSE?
The menu is elaborate and how! Choices are aplenty but here’s our list of must-try items (we tried most of the non-veg dishes):
- Kona Coffee: Served in what looks like chemistry lab equipment, it is an iconic beverage. (Also available at The Embassy Restaurant)
- Keema Samosa: “Nobody makes this giant size samosa like we do,” rightly says the menu.
- Fish Cutlet: Crispy
- Cheese Balls: Classic.
- Grilled Prawns: Served with saffron cream sauce, it is rich and delicious!
- Syrian Chicken Kebobs: Served in a Moroccan tagine, these are succulent and delectable.