THE LAST few years have been remarkable for the food and beverage ‘scene’ in Khan Market. Frankly, it’s a wonder that there is a scene at all. Sure, for those who grew up in Delhi, Khan Market, always a tony marketplace, boasted many firsts such as a bespoke Biotique showroom in the early Nineties and other pre-liberalisation novelties, but it was always older, its dining options dull—a Chonas, with its frenetic energy and tasty food, didn’t aim to be trendy and the reliable Khan Chacha, in the back lanes, was a late-night pit stop. The stodgy Soviet Era lookalike, Lok Nayak Bhawan, with its government offices, is housed here, looming over the marketplace that even back then catered to a mostly expat crowd. Here was a place where errant school children, as we often were, could easily be spotted. The safety and buzz of Greater Kailash’s M-Block Market, which transformed into a hangout spot post 4 pm, was denied here. This was the pre-mall era and, though it remained posh, Khan Market wasn’t, as they say, ‘all that’.
Its transformation over the past few years has been interesting, especially in light of the emergence of Hauz Khas Market as a trendy dining destination once again. Khan Market has evolved at its own pace and into its own space, keeping with the temperament of its clientele. It has—by an uncanny knack of natural selection—picked restaurants that add to its charms. For many years, one could list the five options available to eat at this market, but today, that has changed dramatically. The back lane buzzes with restaurants and short climb-ups into loft-like spaces open up into dining options that one may find around the world. There is some chatter of it being a parking-free zone and the space being converted into cafe-style dining in winter months with al fresco seating under large umbrellas. All this is talk as of now, but the visuals are immediately relatable. The only surprise would be if the administration actually gave it the go-ahead!
However, it is with little trepidation today that one ventures into a new restaurant at Khan Market—although some would snigger, ‘Does it need another one?’ But with Perch, now some 60 days old, it couldn’t have come soon enough. For long, there has been a paucity of restaurants that have been able to interweave the elements of dining with effortless ease. All too often, the focus is either on the food, ambience or even the style of service, which creates an imbalance in the experience. Many have hot-hoofed over these elements by taking respite in the clientele a neighbourhood like Khan Market offers.
Location, location, location and with that its guests. Many experienced restaurateurs will tell you (in a moment of candour) that a restaurant owes 60% of its success to the people who dine there. With the deceptively simple Perch, its minimalist decor and sparse interiors aren’t enticing at first glance. Sure enough, its slim wooden chairs and flat surfaces may have you asking, ‘Is there a more comfortable place to sit?’ And you will find it on the next level: more intimate, with sofas attached to stucco walls and no overcrowding. A small bar works more like a service bar than a cocktail-dispensing machine. Perch positions itself as a wine and coffee bar—and takes this mandate seriously, serving wine by the glass, carafe and bottle. A crisp Chardonnay or a Pinot Grigio, floral and light on the palate, are perfect lunch accompaniments to maybe a cheese board, which is generously overloaded in stark contrast to the decor. The cheese on offer does not expand your tasting repertoire—there is cheddar, mozzarella and even a Monterey jack—as it’s all mainstream, but in generous portion sizes, with a homestyle bread basket. It works with the wine and it’s the kind of cheese board you would put together if you were to throw open your refrigerator on a slow night. There is a lack of pretension that is forgiven by the sheer balance of flavours and urgency to appeal to taste. It’s a new confidence one notices in dining places like Perch that is refreshing. These places don’t open the textbook on you, don’t try to replicate standard offerings or, worse still, display the ‘free standing’ stinginess that others do unapologetically with the excuse that only five-star hotels can really get and offer the good stuff.
Perch has been reviewed often enough, but for me, it is really about how it extrapolates on a certain coming-of-age of easy dining in India that has remained out of reach either overwhelmed by the ‘me too’ syndrome or lost in translation. Try it for your own tasting notes, this place is really about how it makes you feel because it’s not trying too hard to be anything.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad.