United Coffee House

It is noon in 1967. People mill about Connaught Place’s inner and outer circles, a place everybody knows well. The sky is blue, roads have a beautiful symmetry, and are familiar and well-traversed. The buildings are, at this time, over three decades old, originally developed as a showpiece of Lutyens’ Delhi during the British Raj and today the streets are inhabited by students on cycles, and office-goers on Rajdoots, Fiats, and Ambassadors. The capital is a closed economy, and life is slow.

It is noon in 2017. Connaught Place is a hub for culture and business, and developed almost beyond recognition. Those once-blue skies are shrouded in smog and the lanes and roads are a flurry of activity: vehicles and people, shops and stalls. But even as Connaught Place shapeshifted, there’s a little pocket it contains that’s remained unchanged through the years.Welcome to United Coffee House.
Delhi’s little sweetheart still stands in its original spot, where it has been since 1942. Unlike counterpart Volga, it has stood the test of time. UCH (as it is fondly monikered by its patrons) has been the haunt of multiple generations, and continues to entice visitors, both regular and new, with its old-world charm. “I first visited UCH with my father when I was a young girl”, said Shobha Malhotra, a yoga teacher and animal activist. “It was his mecca every morning before work. He’d get there at 8am to meet his buddies, drink a coffee, catch up on the previous day’s gossip, and then proceed to work”, she recalled fondly. Malhotra grew up in the neighbourhood, and her father (then a banker with the RBI) would drive to UCH every weekday in his white Fiat. Five decades later, she continues to frequent the restaurant with her family and friends, not only for the memories attached with the place, but for its unchanged appearance. “It’s almost like stepping back in time.”
A collective narrative from every era (from WWII to post-partition to industrialisation) resides in spaces like UCH. “Food is one beautiful way to let people into your life”, said Bharat Arora, a familiar face on NDTV’s Band Baaja Bride. Arora and his sister recently visited UCH after a prolonged (and uncharacteristic) break, when his sister suggested that they ‘go have lunch with dad.’ “I lost my father not too long ago,” Arora explained, “and visiting UCH brings back a windfall of memories.” He often introduces friends to UCH over anecdotes from his past, and always over dishes that have never failed him, including his long-standing favourite, Tomato Fish. “Any place that reminds you of your roots, of your humility, or takes you back to the times of your fathers and forefathers, strengthens memories, and reconfirms your bond with the past.” he said.
UCH’s patrons span generations and professions. On any given day you’ll find an eclectic group of people spilling in, whether they’re ladies in their ’60s with mohawks, elderly gentlemen who’ve been around as long as UCH itself, or travellers living like the locals do. For first-time visitors, you’ll be welcomed into a parallel world as you walk through the glass doors, all cherry and teal wall-to-wall carpeting, gold and lavender decorated walls, and carpeted staircase. Apart from a recent (and subtle) freshening up, the restaurant has retained all its original features, but the menu has evolved substantially. A pared-back list of signature dishes has turned into a more immersive selection that features dishes from its patrons’ countries of origin.

Go for breakfast, whether sweet or savoury, and dig into their rustic apple pie paired with creamy cinnamon ice cream, or their moreish eggs Benedict washed down with an icy cold-coffee. Or go for dinner, and pick classic cocktails and dishes that have been on the menu since 1942.

We shot part of our Autumn Winter Lookbook at UCH (find those images here), and for more information on UCH, head to their website.