Just imagine Connaught Place, New Delhi in 1926. After the great Durbar of King GeorgeV, The Capital of Of India had moved to New Delhi, In the 1920's the work on New Delhi with Edward Lutyens had begun. Connaught Place was to develop as the High Street under the guidance of Robert Tor Russel an engineer with CPWD. A block, with Nath and Co as Tailors and Drapers, Devi Chand and Co with a Uniform and Apparrel store, a Novelty Chemists round the corner and a Swiss couple (Jeanne Wengerer and her husband), own and run a wonderful restaurant called Wengers.
Wengers is a throwback to more genteel times at CP, of buggy rides and live bands, afternoon teas and evening promenades around the fountain.
But, unlike them Wengers has perfected the art of deceptive ageing. The upper floor once a ballroom and three tea rooms, might have been sold to bank. Creamy tarts with Kiwifruit and morel lo cherries might have nudged out staple strawberry, vanilla, pineapple and chocolate pastries, but old timers would insist Wenger's has not changed at all.
The story begins with Jeanne Wenger and her husband (called the Wengers) set up various outlets a wine store, a restaurant/ canteen in the Delhi University, a sweet shop in Daryaganj and the catering cafe at WHO (World Health Organisation). The legend has it the husband (I do not have the name as yet) died in a air crash in Europe. The lady Jeanne Wenger handed over or sold the business to Brij Mohan Tandon the Manager in 1945. The Tandon family with his three sons Ranbir Singh Tandon, Om Prakash Tandon and Anoop Tandon took the business forward. Today the third generation, Atul Tandon (son of OP Tandon) and Aman Tandon (son of Anoop Tandon) run the business with of course the survivor OP Tandon.
Charanjit Singh the current manager (who joined in1965), reminisces, he was an AC engineer fromLucknow, the management saw his interest in catering and experimented, by giving him the job of contributing with running the restaurant. The restaurant was on the first floor (where American Express Bank has its office). He talks of times when a small set was priced at Rs 1.25 and had a set of tea a bread pakora and a pastry. The large set with four snacks, Sandwich, Mixed Vegetable Pakoras, Chaat and pastry and of course tea for Rs4.00. The menu was a lot different then.The restaurant shut down in 1979.
The pastries as were in only four flavors and margarine was used which made them lighter and fluffy, they had not heard of butter and fresh cream. These were buuzzwords which were to be used later.The other signature dishes that evolved, were Shammi Kabab (still a signature dish), Cheese balls (which no one has been able to replicate, including Wengers themselves, although all old timer CP restaurants attempt it, Embassy restaurant suceeeds somewhat) and Vegetable Cutlet.
My earliest memories of Wengers are when we moved to Delhi (in 1979), my father IK Malhotra would talk about his salad days as a salesman of the early 1960's (an inspiration of this edeavor of finding and writing about places to eat local exotica for under Rs 100/- for of course the salesman). He would say, the day would begin with parking the sparkling Lambretta scooter at Wengers restaurant, have a cup of tea with a scrumptous patty with green chillies in vinegar and then kick start the day.Wengers for us was important, to picking up a patty and Keventers milk when me and dear wife Praveen were visiting CP and were on a budget or picking up dropping someone at the Railway station. Or packing food for the journey. This is in the early 1990's. Ofcourse Mom, the eternal foodie would treat herself and us to Wengers while she continued to call Janpath,Queensway, well into the 80's.
Then in 1996 or was it 1997, dear wife Praveen sent a treat for everyone in office at Discovery Channel at Gopal Das Bhawan, it was my birthday (she was a neighbor at Star Tv at Amba Deep Building). An then Wengers was on the menu for life, the plain cake, the shammi kabab, the paneer roll. And, of course the Christamas shopping with mince pies, christmas pudding and plum cake. On Easter, the ginger bread man, the signature hen and of course Easter eggs. Every time anyone goes to CP it's time for Wengers. Quick lunch at office Wengers. A birthday celebration, launch of Mint (the newspaper), wine and shammi kababs from Wengers. Who do you call......., Wengers !!
And now Detective (our Daughter) and the third generation just loves the food from Wengers, The chicken patty, the Mushroom patty...... mmm light crust, just right sized with the right texture. Pretty much like Nirulas. What make these outlets continue Wengers 83 years and Nirulas 75 years, much before we were a modern nation. I am so surprised so little is written on Wengers which continues to thrive and grow on us and the generations ahead all out of one outlet and a humble bakery with a legendary status.
Whats your favorite Wengers Story ?
Parting shot, whats the price of Shammi Kabab, Paneer roll, Chicken patty and Mushroom Patty.
So Long !