Kwality is still going strong at sprightly 80

Kwality’s founders Pishori Lal Lamba and Iqbal Ghai created India’s first international restaurant brand. The restaurant, which has turned 80, is famous for its Pindi chana and bhatura, apart from its mutton seekh kababs and tomato fish.

It is not often that one gets to write about a restaurant that has completed 80 years—after having written about it on its platinum and diamond jubilees. When Pishori Lal Lamba and Iqbal Ghai, two young men from Lahore, opened a shop named Kwality at Connaught Place in 1940 to sell slabs of hand-made ice-cream to American GIs barracked in the vicinity for World War II action, they must never have imagined that they would go on to create India’s first global restaurant brand, a number of trend-setting hotels of their time, and an ice-cream sensation, which is now a part of the HUL brandwagon.

The birth of Kwality, the ice-cream brand, in fact, was assisted by an American soldier, Irving Zimmerman, who was so impressed by the duo that, after the War got over and he had established himself as a celebrity vet in New York, he introduced Lamba and Ghai to American ice-cream makers. Kwality is one of those rare restaurants where you’re still served a Sicilian cassata or a tutti-frutti. In the early 1950s, the restaurant extended its operations to open a corner named Gaytime Espresso just below the Regal Building. It introduced Delhi to a novel coffee experience.

Over the years that I have dined at Kwality, I have been struck by the unswerving quality of the food served there. The Pindi chana, whose recipe Lamba had picked up from a street vendor in Mussoorie, still owes its rich dark hue to the tea leaves, which are added to the whole spices in a bouquet garni that is added to the chana when it is pressure cooked after being soaked in water overnight for eight to nine hours. And each bhatura has to puff up to a particular size and stay that way till the guest tears it apart. Even till this date, a bhatura that doesn’t come puffed up is not allowed to be served.

The leadership baton may have passed on from Pishori Lal Lamba to his son, Sunil Lamba, who, in turn, has handed over the leadership to his Yale University-educated son, Divij, who, incidentally, worked with Hillary Clinton when she was a US Senator from New York. Kwality looks all set for its century.