Cafe TBQ (chalung house, leh, Ladakh)

This is a review of multiple meals we had at this homestAy in leh, Ladakh & also about the homestay itself. At this cafe all meals are made to order. Walk in customers (not guests at the homestAy) Can also order a day in advance from a set menu Or can discuss with shivendra (the one man chef cum home stay manager cum proprietor)

In a NUtshell

All meals in this place were so good that the only meal we had outside of this place in leh seemed to be cooked by novices!!! The competition of food at cafe TBQ was between the dishes served here, rather than with everything served outside, in the big competitive world !!!!

Address & other details: cafe TBQ

Meal for 2: ₹1000

Cuisine type : vegetarian & non vegetarian

Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.

We stayed at this homestAy. So do not have any separate food bills.

I rate all the food items & then give a final overall rating which is a simple average of the individual item ratings. What the ratings stand for: 5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Good, 2 = Fair, 1 = Disaster

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

Cafe TBQ is the second venture by its creator, shivendra sharma, the first being tasallibaqsh in Gurgaon. Read my earlier review of the unmissable tasallibaqsh here. Still drooling as I remember it!!!

Shivendra stays in leh for 6 summer months, runs the home stay & the restaurant. In the winter months he descends to Gurgaon & runs tasallibaqsh.

we had thought that in this lifetime we will not b able to do leh Ladakh as my partner has mild breathing challenges. However, food historian, chef & journalist, pritha sen, who is a director in this company, convinced her to go for it.

The homestAy is not what exactly a homestAy means in the classic sense. The building in which the homestAy is, had been built in traditional Ladakhi style by its owner, namgyal, who also stays in the same campus, in a similar traditional house. The homestAy has about 6 rooms across both sides of a corridor, more like a guest house. This building is solely used for guests to stay & the cafe.

The open kitchen cum dining hall is where all meals r served. Seldom do you come across a kitchen that is as well maintained thruout the day (any random time that you walk in).

Outside the building there is a small farm in which shivendra grows greens – spinach, bokchoy, rocket , Swiss chard etc. an hour before the meal, the girl in the kitchen would go to the farm & pick leaves, to be made into a salad!!! Can’t get more organic & more hyper local.

I remember shivendra telling me that next year he is thinking of starting an animal farm too!!!

The view from the tiny farm is beautiful. We were lucky to have full blown sunlight during the days we were here. That surely added to the magic.

We got the ‘corner room’ which has, I guess, the best view of the mountains. One can lie in bed & keep gazing at the mountains at sunrise / sunset / any other time.

The floors are wooden & ceiling is also made in the traditional Ladakhi style – with tree trunks. The wood is Just polished, no colour added.

While we were there, a couple was working in the kitchen. They were very nice & warm people. I was impressed how they were constantly asking questions to shivendra , on the logic of what they were being asked to do – so that they learn.

They got chatty when we wanted to. They gave us space when we wanted silence. Can’t get better.

Food – While the vegetarian fare here was par excellence, the magic & the absurd goodness lied in the meats served here, coz shivendra clearly is a meat magician. He smokes his own pork, fish etc. He ages cheese. He collects ingredients from the best, all across the country. He served us yak cheese in one of the items , which he had sourced from a guy in Nepal & he left it here in Ladakh for a year to age. Needless to say the cheese was mind blowing. He serves salad with feta cheese made by him !!!!

He has made meat smoking into an art form – I heard him speak passionately about how Hard wood is better for smoking than soft woods. Shivendra uses apricot and/or apple wood for smoking coz soft woods have a resinous residue which settles on the meats and ruins the taste!!!

Detailed description – in case u hv the time to NJoy reading:

Day 1

breakfast

Cookies made in the restaurant – sesame (flat) & peanut butter. These cookies were stored in a large plastic jar , inside which there was a partition made with a cardboard sheet!!! I named the jar India pakistan jar!!!

The cookies were not as high on fat as the commercial ones. They were crisp but not fluffy. Very good to taste. Rate them 4/5 each.

For breakfast we were served egg rolls with not a paratha but Pancake made from a lentil base – the outer layer that usually is the paratha, was replaced with thin crepe made out of fermented urad and moong dal batter. Loved the idea & the execution. The pancake was nicely crisp on the outside, yet had enough pores that made it foldable. Rate the pancake 4.5/5

I did not like the bell pepper in the middle. These had lost their crunch & seemed to be distracting the taste of the fab roll. Rate the filling 3/5

Thick grainy peanut & coconut Chutney was perfect to taste. Rate it 4.5/5.

Overall rating of this dish averages out to 4/5

Lunch

Potato, Aubergine & onions dry curry was home like – Super simple. the veggies retained their respective texture & firmness & yet complimented each other & coexisted very well. Rate it 4.5/5

We super enjoyed the Super simple daal that beautifully captured the fab flavours of the daal – Arhar & malka (masoor). To have disproportionately more dal & to avoid eating up lot of rice / roti I enjoyed sipping it just like that from a bowl!!! Rate it 4.75/5

Tail pepper (kabab chini) mutton was Cooked in no oil but only mutton fat!!! It had in it, powdered sundried tomatoes made in-house!!! The distinct flavor of kabab chini made a huge difference. The mutton fat gave a robust & rustic flavor & also a distinct taste. The gravy was almost thin but it packed a punch of a different level. Rate it 4.95/5

Daal halwa was perfectly cooked, low on sweet, ghee not floating around (of course, as it was in solid form) & yet was simply brilliant. Rate it 4.5/5

Loved the simple crunchy vegetable salad.

We had the above with freshly made phulkas & local short rice. Words cant express How much I liked that local rice over the ubiquotous packed perfect looking basmati rice.

Dinner

Crunchy veggies , greens from the garden outside the dining hall & in house made feta cheese, in house made honey-mustard vinaigrette. We had earlier had this dish at shivendra’s tasallibaqsh in Gurgaon. Loved it. Hv rated it earlier as well.

We them had Cooked Bell pepper & sausage salad. We hands were Unstoppable – they were making frequent trips from the plate to the mouth, of course with immense encouragement from the taste buds. Flavours of bell pepper were beautifully retained & smokiness added. Rate it 4.5/5

Smoked pork was par excellence. Hv rated it earlier as well. A shivendra masterpiece.

We had Smoked goat meat for the first time. I became a fan. My partner liked the pork one better. The smoked goat meat was less juicy due to no / way lower fat in it. It had robust flavours of goat meat , of course sans any spices / ghee etc that usually distract the goat flavours in an Indian goat meat dish. The smokiness was perfect. Rate it 4.5/5

Chorizo sauce with juicy chicken wings was another outstanding dish. The chorizo sause captured the chorizo flavours beautifully & pork fat helps it get the glaziness. The already juicy chicken wings got super upgraded to first class, straight from eco, bypassing premium eco & business class. Rate the chicken wings 4.75/5. Reminds me of fab chicken wings by erstwhile chef of Pintxo , Sushmit daniel’s excellent chicken wings – both were very different though.

Tofu wrapped in haaq Saag leaves was something we have had before. The difference is that this time it had been made from haaq saag grown in the garden outside. Rated it before.

Loved this bokchoy with the in-house made sauce. Rate it 4.5/5

For main course we had a ‘khichadi’ with 2 kinds of millet, 5 mushrooms – porcini shiitake oyster button tremella , very nice garlic crisps & tiny pieces of pork fat that totally changed the dynamics of the dish. The millets were perfectly cooked. The mushrooms were very good & we thoroughly enjoyed the flavours & the taste.

The tiny pieces of pork fat did magic to the texture. It was overall unforgettable. Rate it 4.95/5

For dessert we had the incredible creme brûlée made with hung curd !! Twist of sweet, sour & hint of bitter from caramelisation. It had in-house made apricot jam with real fruit & nutmeg on top. Super fun dish. Rate it 4.75/5

Day 2

breakfast

Fresh fruit & juice gave us a good break after lot of food the previous night.

We were served crisp bread toast with jam made from locally grown apricot. Loved it.

The star of the meal was an omelet that was served to us. On the first note I realised this was super different than anything I have ever tried b4. It turned out to be yak cheese that was bought by Shivendra a year bk, from a specialist in the trade in Nepal. Shivendra had then aged the cheese for a year!!! The result was mind blowing good. Intense , robust flavour of the cheese , it’s creaminess, the juiciness of the semi cooked egg in the middle of the omelet – wah. Sheer magic. Rate it 4.95/5

We had lunch at a restaurant in the day as we were ‘sight seeing’. The differences level of that food with cafe TBQ was like a masters vs primary school,

We loved the unplanned sandwich with chicken & some lovely cheese. This was after we returned hungry from the day’s trip. Rate it 4.5/5

Dinner

We started with Salad with veggies from the garden, in-house made feta cheese & vinaigrette!!! Cud not get better.

Mutton steak was served in strips – not a chunk. These were juicy, intense, had robust flavours & were just unstoppable. Rate it 4.75/5

Thukpa was the grand meal of the dinner. Meal in a bowl. Mutton pieces, loads of veggies, noodles, dried yak cheese called churpi from Dharamshala & the impossibly outstanding broth that pleasantly shocked me. The best thukpa I have ever had anywhere. Rate it 4.95/5

Day 3

Breakfast

The magic yak cheese mentioned above, now appeared on a sunny side up. Crazy. Again, the best & MST innovative sunny side up I can remember. Rate it 4.95/5

We also were given apricot juice that was made from apricots grown in the region. The juice was very nice. Rate it 4/5

After this we left for tso moriri (lake) as suggested by Shivendra. The journey was difficult but visually stunning. So was the destination. Will write a separate post on that.

Day 4

We returned from tso moriri in the evening & were given a super exotic dinner.

However b4 we ate dinner, we were given these lovely baked flats with cheese on top. Mind u, all cheese here is interesting. Plasticky Amul & other processes cheese are not entertained here. Loved the crisp ones & the flavours of the cheese. Rate it 4.5/5

Blood sausage made in-house, stir fried& served. For the uninitiated, blood sausage has animal blood in it & that gives a particular kind of taste & flavor. After having it several times in the last one year, I am able to call out food with blood & without.

The casing of the sausage was obviously traditional – made from intestine of animal. The taste was intense & excellent. The flavours were robust. Not for the faint hearted. Rate it 4.95/5

Goat brain curry was one of the Simplest ones I have had anywhere. The ones in mughlai shops are too oily, rich & has too much spices. The taste & texture of brain gets lost. The one good brain curry that I remember was at the Chettinad festival at the Bombay canteen. The one at cafe TBQ leh was superb. Rate it 4.75/5

Goat offals curry was a mix of different parts of the goat. This was relatively richer than the other two curries but way more balanced than most mughalai restaurants. Every bite was a new experience as different pieces from different parts of the body would come to mouth. rate it 4.25/5

We also tried Goat lungs curry (called lowa khatsa) for the first time. This was a dry preparation. Absolutely different from goat liver that we are used to eating. A bit more brittle than mutton liver. Loved the taste. Rate it 4.5/5

We ended the Meal with a lovely in-house made baked dessert – from apricots. Khasta , layery outer casing & thick chunky cooked fruit in the middle. Rate it 4.5/5

Breakfast day 5

We were leaving for home this day & had requested for a light breakfast.

We had thick papaya shake that was cooling & nice.

The poha was just excellent. Rate it 4.5/5

Overall rating of food here averages out to 4.6/5. Terrific I wud say, considering it is an average of so many dishes!!!

Look forward to another trip here (drive from delhi).

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