Iconic restaurant Food

Stories from the oven

Sometime in 1924, enterprising Swiss couple Jeanne Sterchi Wenger and HC Wenger began a catering venture called Wenger’s for the British troops operating from Kashmere Gate.

The food must have been good, as a portion of A Block in the then-being-built Connaught Place was reserved to house Wenger’s. Wenger’s officially shifted to its present location in the early 1930s, with a confectionery and tea room – Rendezvous (the café), La Mer (the ballroom) and Green Room (the party room) spread over two floors.

In true Raj style, during summers, Wenger’s downed its shutters to move to Shimla, the summer capital. Soon, a young Brij Mohan Tandon joined as general manager. In 1944, Jeanne sold the business to Tandon and retired to Dehradun.

Atul Tandon, the current owner/partner who runs Wenger’s with his cousin Aman Tandon, recalls: “I still remember going to Dehradun during the summer holidays in the late 60s. In the evening, we would visit Mrs Wenger and she would treat us to home-baked goodies and take us for a ride around town in her car. We used to call her Memsahib!”

Passing on a legacy

Atul learnt the ropes of the business and carried forth the legacy of the establishment, with an emphasis on quality; everything was made in-house. “What my grandfather bought was the brand name, utensils and some equipment. Over the years, we have innovated, closed some operations, introduced new variants, started the deli, opened a manufacturing unit at Noida and overhauled the production process.”

Manager Charanjeet Singh, an old hand who joined Wenger’s in 1965, says: “Then, we had four types of pastry made using margarine — pineapple, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. They cost ₹5 a dozen, and people would buy not less than six or a dozen. Today, we have over 70 varieties, all made from fresh cream. In chocolates, there were seven to eight varieties; now, we have 22.”

At one point of time, Wenger’s also had a range of Indian mithais. The ground floor patisserie shop is the only iconic landmark reminder, though.

Famous visitors

Wenger’s also had its share of celebrities walking in just to try its delights. Laughs Atul: “MF Husain would sit in the restaurant and speak to my tayaji. He would doodle and sketch on the cotton cloth napkin and leave it behind. My uncle would promptly throw it into the dustbin; it was considered a wasted napkin.” Apparently, Husain would walk in barefoot, and he loved the shammi kababs and chicken patties.

There are more star-speckled stories. “Actress Helen was fond of our wine chocolates and used to visit us often. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, before becoming the Prime Minister, would simply walk in and buy vegetarian products. The late Indira Gandhi considered our plum cakes a great gifting option.”

The plum cake, where the fruits are soaked in rum for over a month, continues to be a popular.

From the over-250 products on offer today, pineapple pastry, black forest cake and truffles rule the roost. Traditional preparations such as the plum cake and pudding are still made using an old recipe that was perfected by Jeanne decades ago.

The Easter specials of hot cross buns, marzipan and Easter eggs work well too. Recently, Wenger’s introduced a custard-based peach tart pastry and panettone.

Despite the onslaught of competition, Wenger’s has managed to strike a fine balance of quality at an affordable price. However, what touches the heart most is the institution’s old-world hospitality; its personalised service and polite unhurried charm are a throwback to a Delhi past.

In this weekly column, we peep into the histories of some of the most iconic restaurants


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 9:27:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/stories-from-the-oven/article17986210.ece

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