In 2015 when I wrote about Moti Mahal, at one time, Delhi’s best-known restaurant, the article went viral since it presented an accurate picture of the place and how three friends, all refugees of Partition, carved out a place for themselves in the culinary history of the country. The Moti Mahal story ended when the partnership broke and both Kundan Lal Gujral and Kundan Lal Jaggi parted ways. Thakur Dass, the third co-founder, had withdrawn himself from the venture earlier. The present Moti Mahal Delux restaurants are a different company which has the patronage of Kundan Lal Gujral’s grandson, Monish Gujral.
Those familiar with Delhi would recall that the Moti Mahal in Daryaganj attracted a clientele which was international. It served Tandoori Chicken and Fish as so many other items, the kind of which, very few may have tasted. The eating place enjoyed the patronage of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who would often order food from Moti Mahal during official banquets. It was also a favourite place of Soviet Premier N. Khurschev who loved the dishes so much that he would many a times get chefs and food flown in to Moscow for special occasions. The only other restaurant that matched Moti Mahal was Khyber at Kashmeri Gate which served a similar variety of food. Both these restaurants were inspired by the recipes from Peshawar where the original eating places existed.
Moti Mahal was owned by Mokha Singh and Khyber by the Sethi family. Kundan Lal Gujral who carved out a success story in Delhi worked as a waiter. Thus, post-Partition he got together with Kundan lal Jaggi and Thakur Dass to recreate the magic of Peshawari food. Mokha Singh, who came to the capital, allowed them to use the brand name. Similarly, Sethis opened the Khyber at Kashmere Gate. Kundan Lal Gujral became the face of the restaurant since he received the guests at the gate and looked after the public relations. Kundan Lal Jaggi was the nuts and bolts man and was in-charge of the logistics and kitchen which served sumptuous food cooked by chefs from Peshawar. Thakur Dass controlled the financial aspects. In fact, to eat out at Moti Mahal, one had to wait for up to an hour since there would always be a heavy rush. The wait was worth it and one could also in the meanwhile listen to Qawallis by noted singers such as Shakila Bano Bhopali and others. The waiters were dressed in Salwar and Kameez with Pagris on their heads to recreate the Peshawar ambience. However, after the closure of the company, the same food was never served in any restaurant though the closest Tandoori Chicken to the original one was available at the Moti Mahal Delux. Butter chicken was also a speciality but there were other restaurants such as Peshawari next to the original Moti Mahal and the Tandoor in Hotel President which also excelled in cooking the Butter Chicken.
The Jaggi family that had withdrawn itself from the food business has now come forward and along with a partner launched a chain of restaurants in the Delhi-NCR region with the brand name, Daryaganj. Kundan Lal Jaggi’s grandson, Raghav, has taken the lead and is determined to make the Daryaganj restaurants a household name. The magic food secrets of Peshawar have been brought back, and since I happened to taste a few items, I can vouch that Daryaganj has excelled in presenting the Tandoori Chicken, Burra Kabab, the famous Moti Mahal Dal and Butter Chicken, all served with fresh mint chutney and onions pickled in vinegar. Eating there was like reliving the Moti Mahal experience at Daryaganj.