Tandoori Nights

From the people who brought you the original Butter Chicken, Moti Mahal Delux reopens its South Extension 2 outlet, to the delight of the Capital’s diners. We speak to Yuvraj Kohli, grandson of the founder and Managing Director of Moti Mahal Delux about what makes their iconic dishes so special, coveted the world over.

Tandoori Nights The renovated interiors of the Moti Mahal Delux at South Extension 2

For the international visitor, a visit to Moti Mahal Delux to savour their succulent Butter Chicken is perhaps as important to a trip to the Taj Mahal – a must-do to be ticked off their bucket list. While this dish’s formidable predecessor, the very first Tandoori Chicken’s origins lie in the history of our nation – during and around Partition, when tandoors were used to cook the meat – the fact remains that the Moti Mahal Delux brand can be credited for giving a popular, delicious twist to North-West Frontier cuisine, and popularizing it in places like New York City. As Moti Mahal Delux opens its renovated outlet in New Delhi’s South Extension Part 2, we speak to the scion of the brand’s founder, Yuvraj Kohli, about his grandfather’s vision, taking the brand worldwide, and the secrets behind some of the most iconic dishes.

Tandoori Nights Yuvraj Kohli, Managing Director, Moti Mahal Delux

When did the first Moti Mahal Delux open in the Capital – was it your grandfather who founded the first restaurant in Daryaganj?

The first Moti Mahal was opened in Darya Ganj in Delhi, in the early 1960s and it was opened by Mr Kundan Lal Gujral who was a friend of my grandfather, Amrit Lal Kohli. They did not open the restaurant together but got involved in running the restaurant with Mr. Kundan Lal Gujral. My grandfather conceptualized the future of the brand in South Delhi. This later led to the opening of the Moti Mahal Delux restaurants in Greater Kailash Part 1 (1974) and South Extension 2 (1975). We have a higher stake in GK 1 Market, and the one in South Ex 2 belongs to us completely. Both are doing extraordinary business to date.

Tandoori Nights Moti Mahal Delux's Butter Chicken with Naan and relishes

And can you tell us about the Butter Chicken that was originally created in your kitchens – you are after all, the ones you created this dish…

The Butter Chicken was invented by Kundan Lal Gujral and my grandfather, Amrit Lal Kohli. Although the main dish was invented by Mr Gujral, my grandfather was involved in the various stages of its inception to all our other restaurants today.

Tandoori Nights Moti Mahal Delux's Prawn dish

Why and how has North-West Frontier cuisine remained so popular over the years?

North-West Frontier food has remained very popular until today, because of its incredibly old legacy from the Frontier province. Our food has an incredible history and even now, the lamb, chicken, and other dishes are made in the same way it was cooked in that region. In fact, during Partition, people were cooking these meals on their journey to India, and that was where Tandoori Chicken was also invented. No other dish from North India is a match to their aromas and spices.

Today, you have a Moti Mahal Delux in New York City – how is that restaurant doing, and how many other MMD restaurants do you have worldwide?

The restaurant that we've opened in New York on 63rd Street, 1st Avenue, is doing great business. It was incredible to see that it picked up so well in America right from its early days, that too because it was a reputed brand from India and the UK. The brand in New York is doing well even during these Covid days, which is a big boon for us. Apart from the US, we're thinking of reopening in the UK and Dubai, as we operated outlets in both locations for a few years. Apart from that, we have several restaurants running pan-India.

Do you have many restaurants on franchise?

We have several restaurants on franchise in and around Delhi, and as mentioned all over India. Some of the popular locations are in South India, Kashmir, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh.

Can you tell us about your personal journey into the restaurant business?

My personal journey did not start by my wanting to be the trade. In fact, I went through several stints before immersing myself completely, turning into a restaurateur. It was only after working in a huge export house did I conceive the idea of packaged food, and eventually to export Moti Mahal food abroad. It was along the way that I thought I needed a full knowledge of the trade before merging export and restaurants together. Since then, I've been working in handling our chain with the possibility of export in the near future. Spice Mixes is another venture I'm looking towards creating currently, which will help people cook with ease in their households.

Tandoori Nights Modern and chic - the new interiors of the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in South Extension 2 in New Delhi

Coming to this new location – why South Ex – and how was it to open an outlet during the pandemic?

South Extension is in the heart of the city and we’ve been running our restaurant there since 1975. But very recently it went through a full makeover and so we thought it required attention from the press. If it wasn't for the pandemeic, I would have ensured a lot more press activity within the restaurant, but that does not seem too far either. One must come and visit this renovated project, while relishing food that has gained great acclaim over the years.

Do you have online delivery side by side?

Yes, we have online delivery side by side which has brought us great returns too. Since the pandemic, we have seen a rise in sales in online orders because our customers missed being a part of the whole experience of Moti Mahal. We've tied up with almost all food packaging partners, who help us stay closely connected to all our valuable customers.

Tandoori Nights Moti Mahal Delux's Chicken Biryani

Now, I must ask you about the dishes – the seekh kebab was spectacular! What are you doing that is so different? Could you please tell us how it is made?

The Mutton Seekh Kebab is one of our hot-selling dishes and requires the best produce of lamb from the top butchers in the city. We never compromise on quality and delay the life of the meat, hence it always stays incredibly fresh when served on the sizzler. Moti Mahal does it from the start from the mincing, adding certain layers of fat, marinating, and finally finishing it in the tandoor to give it its unique tender and juicy finish.

The Butter Chicken is what made Moti Mahal world-famous – what are the secret ingredients there?

The Butter Chicken is definitely what made Moti Mahal famous, but it's not only the secret spices that give it its flavour, but also your raw materials. The main ingredient being tomatoes – these have to be of a certain kind to produce the right texture and taste of the pulp, without being too sweet or sour. Then the pulp is cooked for long periods of time until the gravy is ready for it to be bathed in the Tandoori Chicken, masalas, tonnes of cream, and butter. Therefore the dish is not entirely flavoursome due to its ingredients but the hands who're handling it – from the starting stages of peeling to finishing at the stove.

Is the Butter Chicken in your NYC restaurant the same as the Butter Chicken here or in Mumbai? Is the taste meant to be the same? Whose recipe is it?

The Butter Chicken in New York is the same as it is in Delhi and Mumbai, except sometimes we give it a fusion twist according to the taste buds of the American market. We have to alter the tastes sometimes (i.e make it less spicy) to keep the guest happy, and we also have a different style of presenting the dish in New York, since the market looks for the dish to be appealing to the eye from the very start.

The Rogan Josh was also very tender and delicious – please could you tell us a bit about this dish?

The Roghan Josh is also prepared by procuring lamb which is cut in a style only mastered at Moti Mahal; they're cut into small, succulent pieces and cooked in the best masalas and bubbled into the same gravies for hours. These masalas are procured from different parts of old Delhi which other restaurants are unaware of, and hence cannot imitate the dish.

Tandoori Nights Moti Mahal Delux's Dal Makhni, Naan, and accompanying relishes

Your Dal Makhni is one of the best I’ve had! What makes it so consistently good – why is this dish one of the most sought-after all over the world?

The Dal Makhni, like the Butter Chicken, involves various stages of cooking and preparation. Just the dals being washed and drenched in vinegar takes hours, after which those dals are cooked together, along with basic spices for hours. It is only then that we add exotic spices, butter, cream, and other secret ingredients! This dish has gained a lot of acclaim worldwide only because of the consistency which we follow by training our chefs at our main training centre in India. Also, it's a family tree of chefs growing at Moti Mahal, hence the skilled hands handling all our departments.

What is the USP of Moti Mahal Delux?

The USP of Moti Mahal Delux is its consistency, and the fact that we keep our family trees growing in all our various departments. We have generations of waiters serving our customers, generations of chefs who have seen the likes of Moti Mahal right from its early days. Our training centres to date have the best means of preparing our chefs whether they're recruited to a franchised outlet or set up abroad. As for our food, the recipes have remained the same for almost 100 years.

What is your formula for 2021 – how do you plan to move forward?

Our formula for 2021 is to ensure customer safety at the very least. We plan on handing out safety QR codes in all our outlets worldwide / increased sanitization at the outlets even with the packaging of crockery and cutlery. We want to promote social distancing and all the norms required for a safe dining out experience (not to leave out extremely safe and healthy takeaway practices). As for the dropping numbers of cases of Covid-19, this is only encouraging us to indulge in more franchised and partnership businesses, some of which are on the anvil.

Do you have any expansion plans within India or abroad?

Yes, we are thinking about opening up in several locations in the UAE, plus Qatar. The work is at a fast pace, and hopefully, by the end of 2021 we should have two new outlets in this region. Several locations in the USA too are in the process of opening, but this may take time as the Covid-19 situation there is unsatisfactory right now. Hopefully, we will open one more restaurant in the US by the end of the year.


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.

It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.

A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.

Priya Kumari Rana

Founder and Editor

Contact Us

Mail us @ lifestyleinsiderindia@gmail.com