City Hangout – Dining Hall, India International Center Annexe
The lesser-known IIC.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The rainy day’s subdued light deftly streams through the misty windows, filling up the interiors with a diffused illumination. While the framed artworks on the walls glisten with the reflection of diners.
The members-only Dining Hall at the India International Center’s (IIC) Annexe receives fewer guests than the members-only Dining Hall at the main IIC. A few years ago, an acclaimed author confided that “no one in the main IIC building knows anyone who frequents the Annexe: that’s a less important country”.
The main IIC, next to Lodhi Garden, dates back to the 1960s. The Annexe came up later, in the 1990s. Compared to the Dining Hall at the main complex, which can be as tradition-heavy as a historic city centre, the Dining Hall at the Annexe exudes the vibes of a cool modern suburb. No, this is no cheap attention-seeking attempt to throw stones at an icon. The prestige that the main complex’s Dining Hall commands is a consequence of many years of hard work. That place feeds those people who feed our daily news feeds: power fixers, bureaucrats, editors, Supreme Court lawyers, socialite-artistes and other well-networked VIPs. To be seen there, and to be pointedly distinguished by the longtime stewards, is a matter of esteem. The food is great, the service impeccable. The original Dining Hall remains classy.
But the Annexe’s Dining Hall is more relaxed. One is less alert about fellow diners—maybe because the place is rarely filled with celebrities. It also feels less clubby, the ambience more casual. You imagine that unlike at the one in the main complex, you will not be denied service if you dare to show up in a collarless shirt (you will be denied!).
This late afternoon, the lunch rush is ending. The clinking of spoons and forks is as soft as a Kenny G instrumental. The blue-shirted stewards are discreetly going about under the glare of meditative lamps. Not many are aware that the Annexe’s dal makhani enjoys a longer cooking duration than the dal makhani at the main complex, but that cannot be a scoring point. The main’s Dining Hall feeds 700 people daily; plus, its madly busy chefs also have to take care of the catering w elsewhere in the IIC. The Annexe’s chefs have it easier with 300 covers everyday, giving them more room to play with select recipes.
Whatever, despite the two dining halls having separate sous chefs, most dishes have the same taste (and the IIC’s universally loved fig and honey ice-cream is sourced from the same freezer). Even so, the Annexe has a few delicacies exclusive to it— prawn coriander with butter sauce, roast chicken with applesauce, and the popular moong dhuli dal.
By now, most guests have left, making it possible for stewards Bhupal and Amit to pose for a portrait. See last photo.