14 Defence Colony Market, Defence Colony
011 2433 7538 swagath.in
Other branches in Noida, Malviya Nagar and Naraina
Diwali earlier this month was my very first diwali in India, and I must confess I didn't really know what to do. So I asked a local friend: what are you meant to do for diwali?
I dunno, she shrugged, looking bored. Eat. Visit people. Have people round. Eat sweets. Drink.
Aren't you meant to clean the house? I asked.
Oh yeah, she said, brightening. The maids do that.
As it turned out, Diwali Day saw us nursing sizeable hangovers after an impromptu Defence Colony balcony drinks party ran till the early hours. For a festive lunch I suggested Swagath, Delhi's home of coastal cuisine, as I was feeling nostalgic: after all, my parents are from vaguely coastal regions down south. My hangover partner quickly agreed, I think picturing spicy prawn curry helping to break down errant alcohol cells.
Swagath, decked out in festive garlands of marigolds (it doesn't normally look like this) for the occasion, is considered one of Delhi's best seafood restaurants. It serves cuisine from India's southern and western coastal areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.
Swagath looks small from the front, but goes up three floors and through to rooms in adjoining shopfronts. It is also fairly swish, and we very quickly felt sheepish for underdressing. I expected Swagath to be most like Bombay's Trishna or Mahesh Lunch Home, but I suppose it needs to cater for local tastes as well, so has extensive sections covering North Indian and Chinese cuisines.
I went there with a hankering for some butter-pepper-garlic crab, but in the end opted for the classic hangover pairing of beer and biriyani, while my partner chose the Swagath Special Fish: a choice of different fish (rawas, pomfret, lady fish, prawns, and more) marinated in Mangalorean spices and cooked in a tamarind red chili paste.
Also on the 'Mangalorean' sectin of the menu are options for fish fry (again, a number of choices including pomfret and bombil), the coconut gravied fish gassi, fish Malabari, Chettinad specials (chicken, mutton, prawns and more) and accompaniments such as the south Indian dosa and appam.
We began with the Platter-Ke-Khas, a platter of four different tandoori kebabs: two chicken, one mutton, one fish (although we substituted the fish for a chicken). The kebabs were delicious: soft on the inside, crusty and caramelised on the outside.
Then came the fish. Pomfret wasn't available so the restaurant took the initiative to serve rawas instead. I knew it would be spicy but I didn't know it would be so spicy my eyes would water just looking at it. It was bright, glossy red: the colour of warning, the colour of weatherbeaten and potent chilies.
Still, my partner dug in and in between gulps of beer (water is useless when your mouth is on fire because it just moves the capsaicin around and makes it burn even more) pronounced the dish to be eminently satisfying: deep, rich flavours that didn't mask the juiciness and flavour of the fish despite the heat. And importantly, not oily at all.
I didn't have any of the fish but stole some of his fluffy appam - a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice flour - which was heaven.
Eventually my chicken biriyani arrived, tasting overwhelmingly of ghee and cloves, not that that's a bad thing. And there was a massive quantity, more than two people could comfortably manage. It was the same story with the fish, so we got them bagged up to take home.
Turns out, they lasted two more meals. Now that's the diwali lunch that truly keeps on giving.