New Delhi, India
June 18, 2012
So we decided to approach it the other way: since Elma’s opens at 10 AM, we decided we’d do a relaxed Sunday brunch here.
To get to Elma’s, you walk down the lane to Hauz Khas Village and take a sharp U-turn to the right after you’ve passed Kafe D’Or. Walk down the narrow lane here, keeping an eye out on your left; near the end of the lane is a small sign—lettering on a black background—Elma’s. A short flight of stairs leads up to the tea room. And it really is a room—a fairly small room, in fact, with only seven tables, of which three seat only two people each. Elma’s is tiny, no question about it. We didn’t do an exact count, but I’d guess fifteen people could fit here at one time. Or a couple more, if somebody was willing to sit at the piano.
But, small or whatever, this is a delightfully quaint little place, which immediately brought to mind all those lovely little descriptions I’ve read in 19th and early 20th century English novels of tea rooms: windows looking out on trees; a sideboard with racks full of pretty hand-painted crockery, drawers of cutlery, jars and cake stands, delicate coffee cups, and vases of fresh flowers. There’s a white piano against one wall; an umbrella stand with umbrellas; a suitcase-sized ancient radio against another, and tables in between.
Sunday mornings at Elma’s seem to be quiet, because even at 10.20, only one other table was occupied—and only a couple of staff members were present. Worst of all, the ‘bartender’, the person in charge of making the all-important tea—was running late. We were assured, however, that sandwiches were available. So we sat down and had a look through Elma’s menu.
Elma’s serves breakfast (you get different types of scrambled eggs, for example), a range of sandwiches, grilled toasties, and—the specialty, teas. There’s a large variety of unusual ‘boutique teas’, as well as the usual Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Assam, Earl Grey, and other common teas. And, if you’d rather not order à la carte, you can order a high tea (served only between 3 PM and 7 PM), which comes with a three-tier rack full of cakes, pastries and biscuits, along with a spread of finger sandwiches, and tea. Or, you can order (all through the day), a less substantial cream tea.
Since we’d had to wait for the bartender to arrive, we decided we’d order sandwiches to start with, and decided on tea later. My husband chose a spicy sausage sandwich with caramelised onions; I chose a honey glazed ham sandwich. These arrived within a few minutes, served up on pretty white plates with a white-on-white ‘embossed’ pattern of flowers and leaves. Very pretty! Both sandwiches came with their crusts neatly cut off, and each sandwich cut into four large fingers.
My honey glazed ham sandwich, with mayonnaise, mustard, and a little red cabbage, was delicious: a wonderful mix of flavours and textures, to which the little heap of coarse-grain mustard alongside provided just the right bit of spice. My husband liked his sandwich a lot too, but the bit I took from him was a little too strongly flavoured for my liking. The caramelised onion seemed to have been browned a little too much, and the herbs and spices could’ve been less liberally doled out. Still, my husband liked it, so this was probably just a matter of individual preferences.
The bartender arrived (as did some more staff members, including the sweet, shy young lady who acts as hostess and waitress). She let us know that we could order tea whenever we wanted, so—since our sandwiches were nearly finished—we ordered two cream teas. We were allowed to choose the tea we wanted, though the assorted eats with that were standard table d'hôte. "Since you’re ordering two cream teas, you can choose two different types of tea," she told us. So, out of the list of teas, I chose my favourite (Darjeeling), while my husband chose a Nilgiri green tea.
About five minutes after we’d finished our sandwiches, our waitress brought us our tea tray: two white china teapots, a milkpot, two floral-painted teacups with saucers, and a tea strainer. (The only things missing were the tea cosies, but I guess even Elma’s draws the line at how ‘original’ it can be)! Then she got us two dessert plates, loaded with goodies for us to eat while we had our tea. There were two large cheese straws each (very flaky and light, but neither of us really liked the taste too much); two French pastry hearts each (beautifully crisp, and with just the right amount of sugar to make it delicious) and two thin slices of a wonderful coffee cake. This was really a coffee cake rather than a cake to be eaten with coffee; the sponge had a good dose of coffee in it, and so did the thin, light icing on top.
Best of all—and this both my husband and I agreed on—were the four absolutely divine scones. Hot from the oven, studded with raisins, light on the inside and with a perfect little crust on the outside, the scones came with a small bowl of strawberry jam and another of clotted cream. Perfect!
Our bill at Elma’s came to a total of about Rs 1,400 (including VAT, but excluding any tips you may want to leave). It is a little on the expensive side, but well worth it. (Incidentally, my sister and her family, who’ve feasted on good cream teas in Devon, said Elma’s cream tea could match up to many of those). I am certainly going back—perhaps this time to attempt a high tea.
Note: Because Elma’s is so tiny, you might need to line up on busy days—especially about 11 AM onwards, throughout the day on weekends. Try to go there on a weekday, or early on a weekend—or be prepared to wait.
Note: I went back to Elma’s about two weeks after this review was first written, and, alas—some disappointments. While the hot bacon loaf (served with coarse grain mustard, and olive oil) and the spicy chorizo toasted sandwich—covered with chopped chorizo, cheese, etc—were very good, the scones were obviously last night’s leftovers. We knew they were, actually, because the waitress said there were only two scones available, and this just five minutes after Elma’s had opened for the day. The apple cinnamon cake was sadly dry, had raisins sunk to the bottom, and tasted very little of apple. Worse, it seemed to have been nuked, as a result of which the buttercream it had (I assume) been covered with, had separated into a rather unpleasant grease.
And, yes, despite the fact that Elma’s ‘officially’ opens (according to their menu) at 10 AM, both times we’ve visited so far—about 10:10 or 10:15—we’ve had to wait for them to open up.
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The Many Flavours of Hauz Khas Village,
A sandwich, coffee and cake in Delhi