Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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A space in the Durbar 

The year 1911. A year no Delhiite can forget. For that was the year when the then Viceroy Lord Hardinge pulled off a coup by shifting the capital of the British regime from Calcutta to Delhi. And King George the V became King Emperor at the pompous Coronation Durbar ceremony held near what's now Chhatrasal Stadium.

After the coronation ceremony, Lord Hardinge gave Sir Edwin Lutyens the task of building New Delhi. Imperial Hotel, which has been part of the British legacy, has chosen 1911 as the name for its refurbished coffee shop. And the restaurant is a historian's delight, full of memorabilia from the days of the Raj.

The entrance to 1911 is from the atrium just beyond the lobby. It has a small gallery that houses memorabilia from the days of the Durbar. Rare paintings, lithographs and photographs form this gallery, the highlight being a panoramic photograph of the coronation ceremony, probably the only copy in existence.

The list of firsts does not stop here. All along the wall on the left hand side of the restaurant and bar is a 70 foot long, hand-block mural that was painted in 1807 by Frenchman A P Mongin. Three copies of this mural were made and one of them found its way into the collection of the Imperial Hotel's owners. The mural was made using 1,265 blocks and 85 colours. The hotel used a British restorer to install the mural on the wall. The mural depicts life in India as the Frenchman saw it. The restaurant is done in brown and aquamarine upholstery, in keeping with the regal colours of the period.

A glass wall cordons off the bar area from the main restaurant. The bar is largely done in the style of an upturned Viking boat and has two private rooms as well, the Harding and Lutyens & Baker rooms. Here, the hotel has showcased its collection of medals, including a Victoria Cross. The furniture is all in muted browns with special wallpaper in a fleur-de-lys pattern. The bar list seems promising with a large range of cocktails and spirits on offer. And nine kinds of fruit beer. But I did not get a chance to test out the bar.

The restaurant spills on to a verandah and garden. This portion of the coffee shop remains open 24 hours; the other portion shuts by 12 midnight.

The restaurant is so overwhelming with memorabilia, that somewhere along the way, food seems to have taken a back-seat. The mixed cuisine menu has a few dishes from here, there and everywhere, and is quite a disaster. The French Onion Soup (Rs 125) had a heavy, soggy crust. For the main course, I had a Goan Prawn Curry (Rs 485) that was too mild for the Indian palate. The Dal Imperial (Rs 175) and the Murg Tikka Makhani (Rs 300) were nothing beyond the ordinary. Better stuff can be had at the all-time favourite, Moti Mahal.

I don't know whether it was a mistake to order Indian food, maybe the Continental or Oriental selection would have been better. But one thing I can say: For two days after, I had to make several trips to the convenience stall. Try 1911 for the history, I'm not sticking my neck out for the food.

-Vidya Deshpande

Copyright © 2001 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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