History on a plate: These pre-Independence restaurants in India have stood the test of time
Here’s a list of some of the most iconic eateries across India from the pre-Independence era, which continue to serve heritage recipes from the past.
India’s culinary sector is making waves across the world, with its winning cuisine featuring an amalgamation of global flavours with traditional recipes.
Indian chefs and bartenders are making the country proud with their modern take on Indian cuisine and technique-forward cocktails. Many of the contemporary Indian restaurants and bars have also been featured on sought-after lists like World’s Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
However, in the midst of fusion food and contemporary offerings, there still exists the undeniable charm of nostalgia-laden meals that serve a slice of history and take you down memory lane.
This Independence Day, take some time off to relive the old-world charm of some of the most iconic restaurants in India with your loved ones. YS Life has curated a list of heritage restaurants that date back to the pre-Independence era, which continue to whip up recipes from the past.
United Coffee House, Delhi
Walk around Delhi’s charming central business district Connaught Place and you are sure to find United Coffee House (UCH) usually packed to the hilt. The restaurant that opened its doors to the public in 1942 continues to enjoy popularity among the young and old alike for its delectable Indian, European, and Continental menu.
Started by Lala Hans Raj Kalra, UCH is believed to be Delhi’s first Western-style café, frequented by the cognoscenti. Although the menu at UCH has evolved over the years, imbibing and highlighting the signature dishes of every passing era, it continues to serve the good old tomato fish, a dish that has been a part of its menu since its inception. Its coffee–frothy and balanced–also continues to be a hit till today.
It’s not just the food at UCH that has won acclaim, but its decor has also been much talked about. Enter the space and get enamoured by its British-themed aesthetics, with vintage colours and regal chandeliers.
Where: E-15, Rajiv Chowk, Block E, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Hours: 10 am–11.45 pm
Indian Coffee House, Kolkata
One of the most prominent addas in Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) is Indian Coffee House, which finds a pride of place on the bustling College Street.
Built as Albert Hall in April 1876, Indian Coffee House used to be the go-to place for the students of Calcutta University and Presidency College. Even today, it teems with college students, retired professionals, and business owners, among others.
The café continues to be a hub for exchange of ideas around culture, literature, politics, and business, over a cuppa and cigarettes. No wonder, legends like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and economist Amartya Sen were frequent visitors to this place. In fact, internationally acclaimed Indian singer, the late Manna Dey, had composed an entire song on Indian Coffee House’s adda.
Cross the lanes of bookstores and head to this place to enjoy a cup of aromatic coffee, along with memorable eats from the past–egg/chicken sandwiches and kabirajis (cutlets).
Where: 15, Bankim Chatterjee Street, College Street, Kolkata
Hours: 9 am–9 pm
Britannia and Co., Mumbai
If you are in Mumbai, you cannot leave the city without a visit to South Bombay–a suburb criss-crossed with stunning art deco structures and iconic heritage buildings. One such iconic building is that of Britannia and Co., which finds its way to every tourist’s list.
Founded in 1923, this Parsi restaurant housed in a colonial bungalow in Ballard Estate was established by the late Boman Rashid Kohinoor (who died in 2019) to serve British officers in the Fort area.
What should you not miss here? The striking decor, which is replete with bentwood furniture imported from Poland, when the restaurant set up shop. Have enough space in your tummy for the restaurant’s signature berry pulav, sali boti, and dhansak, which pairs well with refreshing raspberry soda.
Where: Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai
Hours: 12 pm–4 pm
Mavalli Tiffin Room, Bengaluru
In 1924, Parameshwara Maiya and his brothers left their village near Udupi to start a small restaurant called Brahmin Coffee Club on Bengaluru’s Lalbagh Fort Road, serving coffee and idlis.
After Parameshwara’s death, the other brothers, Yagnanarayana and Ganappayya, joined hands to rename the restaurant Mavalli Tiffin Rooms or MTR–named after the locality in which it was situated. In 1960, the restaurant, which takes inspiration from the Udipi cuisine of Karnataka, was moved to its current location on Lalbagh Road.
Today, MTR is one of Bengaluru’s oldest restaurants and a landmark too. This popular food outlet is well known for its rava idli, which was invented as a consequence of less rice supply during World War II.
While the brand has several outlets in the city, one must head to the original Lalbagh outlet from where its journey began. Get here early in the morning to enjoy your fill of South Indian fare, paired with strong filter coffee.
Where: 14, Lal Bagh Main Rd, Doddamavalli, Sudhama Nagar, Bengaluru
Hours: 6.30 am–11 am; 12.30 pm–8.30 pm
Even if you haven’t visited Delhi, there’s a high chance you know of Karim’s–the historic restaurant that makes everyone salivate with its selection of Mughlai delicacies.
Ever since it opened its doors to the public in 1913, the restaurant in Old Delhi’s bustling Jama Masjid area has been known for its kebabs, mutton stew, chicken jahangiri, and mutton korma. The story goes that Haji Karimuddin, the son of Mohammed Aziz (a cook in the royal court), desired to open a space that would serve Mughlai specialties to those who travelled to Delhi. From a tiny space in the 1900s, which only served two dishes (alu gosht and daal with rumali roti) to over 50 outlets in India and the UAE, Karim’s has certainly come a long way, but its heart is still in the right place.
Where: 6, Gali Kababian, Jama Masjid, New Delhi
Hours: 9 am–1 am
Another iconic eatery is Glenary’s in Chauk Bazaar, Darjeeling. The eatery was founded as Vado, by an Italian with the same name, over 110 years ago. It was taken over by the family of a local worker after Independence and renamed to what it is today.
The bakery is well-known for its chocolates and baked treats, particularly the toasty apple pie, cinnamon buns, and savouries that pair well with crisp Darjeeling tea. Take the staircase and head to the café to enjoy its legendary breakfast or savour an evening meal with a view of the gorgeous Kanchenjunga. The basement houses a bar–The Buzz Bar.
Where: Nehru Road, near Clock Tower, Chauk Bazaar, Darjeeling
Hours: 6.30 am–9.30 pm
Pritam Restaurant, Mumbai
Established in the bustling street of Dadar in 1942 by Prahlad Singh Kohli, Pritam Restaurant has a legendary legacy that spans over four generations.
Stars from the golden age of Bollywood have dined here with their entourage–from Madhubala, Meena Kumari, and Sunil Dutt to Dharmendra, Pran, and Dilip Kumar. Today, the restaurant is favoured by families, corporate firms, and couples, who come for its non-vegetarian delicacies, particularly the butter chicken that was born here in Mumbai.
Pritam also has one of the city’s oldest bars. It also houses the iconic Pritam da Dhaba, an alfresco dining spot, unlike anything the city has ever seen.
Where: 1, Swami Ganjivandas Marg, Dadar East, Dadar, Mumbai
Hours: 12 pm–12 am; 7 pm–12 am (dhaba)
Kolkata and Flurys are always mentioned in the same breath. Such is the charm of the tearoom that, even today, people of all age groups line up here for a bite of its gooey rum balls, crispy lemon tarts, and flaky chicken patties.
Over the years, Kolkata’s Park Street junction has seen the rise and fall of many brands, but the iconic pink outlet of Flurys, which opened in 1927, continues to attract visitors from all over the world, with its nostalgic treats and old-world decor.
Founded by Swiss expatriate couple Mrs and Mr J Flury, the tearoom was taken over by the Apeejay Surrendra Group in 1965. With over 40 outlets in and around Kolkata, and one in Navi Mumbai, Flurys continues to be popular for its chocolates, pastries, cookies, and cakes.
Where: 18A, Park Street, Kolkata
Hours: 6 am–1 am
Edited by Swetha Kannan