Next time you go to Pragati Maidan, you must try out Café Lota

My young friend Kanishka shares two of my passions – food and travel. So the other day, when he called up to say that a new restaurant had opened in the heart of the city, I took a serious note of it. The restaurant was called Café Lota, he said, and was a part of the Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan.

Now I pass Crafts Museum every day, and always rue the fact that there is hardly any parking space there. It’s a beautiful place, with some wonderful artisans at work almost through the year. The little shop has excellent stuff. I remember years ago I bought a whistling bamboo flute from there. But those days it wasn’t as difficult finding parking space there as it is now.

But we were lucky one evening while going back home. It was an odd hour – too early for dinner and too late for tea. I thought this was the time to try out the café. I found parking spot just outside the gates of the museum, and though the guard demurred, I smiled at him engagingly and walked in.

The café is indeed very nice. It has an open air seating arrangement, and there are these cosy little corners with low tables and chairs. We occupied one corner and I looked at the menu. And I must say I was quite impressed.

The menu has dishes from different parts of the country, listed under different categories such as smaller plates, larger plates, sides, breads and so on. The smaller plates includes Gangtok gya-thuk – a bowl of Sikkimese noodles soup, palak patta chaat and arbi kababs (each dish for Rs.140). The non-vegetarian dishes include a chicken ghee roast (Rs.240).

From this list, we asked for a plate of Amritsari fish – batter fried sole, coated with popped amaranth seeds, served with sweet potato chips (Rs.240). From another list –larger plates – we ordered a Gujarat khichri, which came with a sweet and sour kadhi (Rs. 240). This section had several other dishes, including Kerala chicken stew and Konkan fish curry – sole in a tangy gravy flavoured with bedgi red chillies, served with Basmati rice and Kerala red rice, or home made spinach pao. The non-vegetarian dishes are mostly for Rs.340. There is also quinoa upma (Rs.250) – upma prepared with the now trendy cereals, cooked with southern spices.

While our food was being prepared we asked for a cup of South Indian filter coffee (Rs.50) and a glass of cold coffee with a shot of filter coffee in it (Rs.60). The coffee was delicious. They have various kinds of coffees from different estates – all for Rs.100 a cup.

Our food was very, very good. The fish was soft inside and crunchy on the outside, fresh and very mildly spiced. The khichri was superb – light and aromatic – and went wonderfully well with the tart kadhi. For dessert we’d asked for a bhapa doi cheese cake, which was again excellent. This Bengali sweet dish bhapa doi (which was one of my mother-in-law’s specialties) had been baked atop a crisp biscuit. They also serve apple cinnamon jalebi with coconut rabri, which our artist friend Mimi Radhakrishnan (who was also there, raving about the palak papri) recommends.

This is a place that you must visit. The restaurant is run by the people who manage a beautiful estate in Sonapani, in Almora. And I love the menu for showcasing dishes from all corners of India.

Café Lota – named after the craft shop called Lota – deserves to go from strength to strength. Parking or no parking!

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