Blurb: above a fairytale candle shop by the same owner
Atmospherics: good places are worth a steep climb. Illuminatii the store is on the first floor, while the café is on the second. There is a tiny terrace that seems to be the most popular area in the café, even when the temperature is 44. The furniture is a cheerful, informal mix of squashy sofas and upright chairs with a vaguely Turkish sensibility. The young owner is from Kashmir and Illuminatii is the nearest thing to her own drawing room. Twice a week, there is a tarot card reader (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and most visitors seem to know each other, heightening the drawing room likeness. Service is affable rather than smart, but the owner has been there on each of my visits – three times in as many months.
Table talk: The owner hails from an illustrious family spread over Kashmir, Mumbai and Bangalore and members of the family have given her their signature recipes. Thus, Iram Kebab Burger (₹ 425) and Harissa (₹375) find themselves on the menu along with volcano of nachos (₹250 that is enough for a table for four) and biryani (₹475). Iram is an aunt; Harissa is a standard Kashmiri recipe; the biryani is from another brand of the family. Only the nachos are the same as you would find elsewhere.
I did not try the pizzas or any of the western options because I wanted to sample at least a few Kashmiri dishes. The best is tabak maaz – the lamb ribs that are pan-fried to acquire a crisp exterior and meltingly tender insides. It has to be said that eating a Kashmiri meal in Café Illuminatii is akin to visiting a friend’s home in the Valley. The little knots and kinks that crop up in home-style cooking are here too, and what would be unacceptable in a restaurant selling only Kashmiri food, is charmingly authentic here. The dishes to order include Khubani chicken (₹525), mutton yakhni (₹625) or the vegetarian nadru yakhni (₹425) and tomato paneer (₹395). Though the yakhni could be more tangy, all the food has a home-style appeal.
Plus and minus: whether you come here for a hookah and a Morroccan spiced coffee or a Kashmiri meal, you will feel like part of a club.
Must try: monkey madness pie in a jar; Iram kebab with Kashmiri roti; lotus stem fried
Food 3; Service 3; Décor 3
18 Khan Market, Middle Lane, above Ishatvam
Open from 11 am to 11 pm
Alcohol served. Credit cards accepted
Meal for two : ₹2,000