I saw Roti Chai mentioned in Timeout last year and it has been on my must-try list since. Problem is Indian food is rarely, if ever considered, when making dining out choices. I associate it with heavy, creamy curries and deep fried bhajis, the stuff that gives you heartburn and blocks coronaries. When I saw Roti Chai mentioned again as a runner up in the Best New Cheap Eats category in Timeout’s Eating & Drinking Awards, I could resist no more and scheduled a dinner to try it out. Besides, spicy food is perfect in winter-- all the chili and spices bring the heat your body craves.
Tucked away in Portman South Mews, it’s convenient (a few minutes walk from Selfridges) but hidden, away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford street. Upstairs (street level), Roti Chai serves “Street food” while downstairs is a more proper restaurant. We wanted something quick and easy, so we opted for street food.
What we liked:
I’m a wing and thigh girl; the flavour and meat texture is far superior to the coarse and bland breast. The combination of chicken and chilli never fails to whet my appetite. The wings were succulent and the sauce spicy. Thankfully the accompanying yogurt sauce helped chill our palettes. This was my favourite, so much so that I was picking up half finished bones from my boyfriend’s plate, eagerly gnawing at the last bits of meat and gristle.
Hakke Chilli Paneer
|“Fiery Indo-Chinese speciality from Kolkata”|
Paneer is a fresh cheese used in South Asian cuisine. Cut into small pieces, tossed with chilli, spring onions and peppers, this was bursting with flavour and appetising.
Punjabi ‘Tikka Wala’ mini burger -- Bun Kebab
|“Spiced Lamb Kebab”|
Juicy patty served in a soft bun, topped with pomegranate seeds, mint sauce and spring onions. This was delicious and gone in 3 bites.
Railway Lamb Curry
“Earthy Dish of lamb & potatoes served with two chapatis”
This was a great dish. The curry sauce was thick and tasty, lamb was fall apart tender.
“Classic Bengali fish curry with kasundi mustard and served with rice”
This was good, but not as good as the lamb curry. Big chunks of fish served with a slightly sweeter and lighter sauce than the lamb curry.
“Creamy Indian ice cream on a stick”
After all the chillis and spice, I can’t think of a better way to end a meal than an ice cream. My boyfriend was dubious, saying Indian food wasn’t renowned for their desert (he said the same about Chinese deserts, which was a cause of heated discussions in the 2 weeks we were in Beijing/Hong Kong). The icicle soothed my burning tongue but it was the creaminess and fragrant pistachio flavour that made this an outstanding ice cream. We ordered another one and debated ordering a third.
Give it a miss
|“Puffed rice with chopped onions and a tangy tamarind sauce”|
This got rave reviews, some saying it was the best bhel puri they’d ever had (even compared to ones found in India). It was good, but not THAT good. Granted, I’d never had bhel puri before, so perhaps it’s the most superior bhel puri ever, but we didn’t find it that exciting. The puffed rice wasn’t crunchy enough and the flavours were mild.
This was by far the blandest dish on the table. Quite a few reviews mentioned this dish and how good it was for dunking the roti. We found it totally lacking in imagination.
Almond & Saffron Phirni
“delicately flavoured ground rice & milk dessert”
They were right in describing it as "delicately flavoured". There was a hint of almond and the texture was grainy.
In a nutshell-
It’s casual place where you would be comfortable using your hands, picking up chicken wings, tearing naan breads and dunking them into curries. It’s a great place to order tons of little dishes and share, which is the style of eating we favour. Service was quick and the food was of good standard and value. There were many Indian customers dining there, which is always a good sign! The downstairs dining room looked good, so we will be trying that next time.