New Delhi, India
May 28, 2012
Wenger’s is an institution in Delhi, and unlike other old-fashioned restaurants (Kwality, for example), Wenger’s hasn’t suffered the ravages of time and imports like KFC and Pizza Hut. Not that Wenger’s (or, Wenger & Co., to give it its official name) is a totally homegrown product either. This pastry shop began as Spencer’s, a confectionery shop in the area known as Kashmiri Gate. Kashmiri Gate was Delhi’s main neighbourhood for the city’s European residents—before 1912. Following the decision to shift the capital to Delhi, when Connaught Place was built, one of the first establishments to shift to the posh new commercial centre was Spencer’s, now renamed Wenger’s, after the Swiss couple who owned it.
In its heyday, Wenger’s wasn’t just a confectionery and bakery; it was a restaurant—Delhi’s largest and most glittering, with huge chandeliers, a fine ballroom and a live band. Today, the restaurant is gone, along with the chandeliers, the ballroom and the band—but Wenger’s reputation as a fine bakery remains unshaken.
The retail area of the shop is entered through a quaint old door looking onto the inner circle of Connaught Place. As you enter, you’ll find two sets of display counters. The one along your left has all the savouries: the breads, buns, sandwiches (all of which are made to order, though you can see one sample each on display), patties (or pasties, as the English would call them), quiches, and even shami kababs, the spiced, patty-like fried kababs so popular in North India. Facing this display counter, on the other side of the hall, is a set of display counters housing the sweets. This is more gorgeousness: tarts, buns, rolls, Danish pastry, an array of cake slices, French hearts—and, at the end—an entire display showcasing Wenger’s range of made-to-order (some of these need to be ordered in advance, so if you want to buy one, it’s best to order online).
We were looking for a light lunch to take home with us, and something for a bite at teatime. Therefore, we picked on a trio of things from the savoury section: a mushroom patty each, a chicken quiche, and a mushroom quiche (note that the quiches are mini ones). From the sweet section, we chose two almond Danish pastries, and two crostata arancias. There was now a little bit of confusion, because the system of ordering, paying and delivering isn’t immediately apparent.
So, here it is:
1. If you’re buying something from the savoury section, place your order with the person manning the counter. They’ll give you a printed slip with your order on it. Keep it.2. If you’re ordering something from the sweets, repeat this process at the sweet counter.3. Now, with your order slip(s) from one or both of the counters, walk to the far end of the counters on the left. This is where the cashier sits. You present your order slip(s) here, and pay up. Note that if you mean to pay by credit card, the cashier for that sits in the corner next to this guy.4. Finally, once you’ve paid, the cashier will give you a printout that acts as a receipt. You take this back to the counter(s), and collect your packed boxes from them.
It can be frustrating if you’re unlucky enough to arrive at a busy hour, in which case you might end up standing in one queue after another. Try to time your visits for weekdays, during the day.
Since Wenger’s doesn’t offer any place to eat—you have to take away whatever you buy—we brought our purchases home (we paid Rs 400 for the lot). The mushroom patty and the quiches, both chicken and mushroom, we had with our afternoon tea. All three, while not awful, weren’t very good, either. The mushroom quiche had too little mushroom (but an interesting addition of a few bits of green olive, which I liked). The custard was a good consistency, well-baked yet not dry, and the pastry was light and fluffy, but a little on the greasy side. The chicken quiche, similarly, had a good custard and pastry, but fell somewhat flat when it came to the chicken itself: far too little. This was in the form of a chicken sausage, which had been mixed with some fresh green capsicum. Nice flavours, but I’d have liked a bit more chicken. The mushroom patty was made of very light and flaky (but greasy) puff pastry, stuffed with a small helping of mushrooms cooked in a thick tomatoey sauce. The mushrooms, in fact, seemed to me conspicuous by their near-absence: I’d have liked more mushroom, less tomato.
Wenger’s, it seems, are better at their desserts. The crostata arancia—something I’ve never seen at any other eatery in Delhi—was a lovely combination of flavours and textures. The tart shell was nice and light, and filled with a perfect custard. Topping that was a thin orange-juice glaze, with threads of fresh orange zest scattered across. And a sprinkle of toasted slivered almonds. Delicious.
The almond Danish pastry was of a light puff pastry, shaped into a spiral in which almonds ground with sugar and cinnamon had been folded in. This was covered with a light glaze, sprinkled with slivered almonds. Nice, but both my husband and I thought it was a trifle too sweet.
There are certainly a number of bakeries that serve better products in Delhi. But if you do want the history and the experience, Wenger’s is worth a try—and the food, while not fantastic, is not bad at all.
From journal Celebrating 100 Years of New Delhi