The iconic Kwality restaurant in Delhi’s Connaught Place offers old-world charm, Anglo-Indian cuisine, and the city’s favourite – channa bhatura.
For 70-yer-old Arun Kapoor and his wife Priya, New Delhi’s Kwality restaurant in Connaught Place is extra special. It was here that they first met 45-years-ago in a typical arranged marriage setting. “After our families agreed, we met a few more times at Kwality before the wedding. In fact, I thought Arun was very stylish because he always ordered continental food,” laughs Priya.
Just like Arun and Priya, Kwality holds a special place in the heart of several Delhiites. The restaurant which is older than independent India (it was set up in 1940) has a loyal following among generations. Set up by P L Lamba initially as an ice cream parlour and later as a fine dining restaurant, it is where Delhiites learnt to eat out in a formal setting. Catering to the British and American GIs who were stationed in Delhi during the Second World War, and also the Indian elite who had studied abroad, Kwality served Continental dishes. It was here that Delhiites tasted Chicken a la Kiev and Vegetable au gratin. But it also served chhola batura (its most iconic dish even today) and taar meat, a reflection of Lamba’s Lahore origins.
As a child growing up in Delhi, one of my favourite memories is of having ice cream at India Gate from a Kwality ice cream vendor. I have P L Lamba to thank for that. Lamba started by making handmade ice cream and selling it door-to-door under the ‘Kwality’ brand. Later he learnt the art of making brick ice cream and the ice cream business took off. The family sold the Kwality ice cream brand to Hindustan Lever in the mid-90s. But the brand was so strong that though HLL co-branded it with Walls, it continues to be recognized as Kwality ice cream for most.
The restaurant which is celebrating 80 years reopened post-renovations a couple of years back. Stepping into it is like being back in the 1950s or ‘60s. The thick velvet curtains at the entrance, part to reveal gleaming interiors with wooden period furniture, piano lounge and a maharajah style polo bar littered with original antiques of cups and trophies. The flooring is mosaic, there are old colonial-style chandeliers, floral wall papers, a grand piano and a stage where live music plays. The staff wears an old-world uniform and the crockery is all Villeroy and Boch with silver cutlery. All around there are nearly 70 original photographs from Delhi’s famous photographer Madan Mahatta of Connaught Place. These black-and white pictures include the colourful Lamba smiling dazzingly in London’s Gaylord (a restaurant still owned by the family) with George Harrison, Peter Sellers and Pandit Ravi Shankar on New Year’s eve in 1972. There is another iconic picture of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi eating ice cream from a Kwality hand cart at India Gate. In another one, Indira, Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi sit back and enjoy a Pierre Cardin fashion show at New Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel.
While the restaurant’s menu changes periodically, it is known for its iconic dishes which are always there. Cheese balls, palak patta chaat, Tandoori Pomfret, Kakori Kebab, Taar Gosht and the most famous of all – chana bhatura. Then there is also Kwality special pudding, Tutti Frutti and Cassata ice cream.
Post the renovation, the restaurant also introduced a full-scale breakfast and a traditional colonial high tea menu.
During the pandemic the restaurant has been home delivering and old-timers are happy to order their favourite dishes.
Besides Kwality in Delhi, Lamba set up Gaylord in Mumbai which is an equally iconic restaurant. In the 1960s and 70s as Lamba expanded the business he set up Gaylord restaurants in partnership with local residents from Japan to Hong Kong to London. Over the years he had to give them up as it was difficult to manage. Now the company is being run by Lamba’s grandchildren – Divij and Dhruv Lamba.
The company operates its brands under restaurants – The Village Restaurant Complex; The Kwality restaurant; Gaylord Mumbai; Gaylord London, Kwality Club Dining (Oriental Lounge, Indian Restaurant; Chopsticks), bakeries (Bread & More- Delhi and Goa), and Kwality quick-service restaurants (Kwality Express, Chopstick Express). They also have a catering business.