Indian Street Food at Roti Chai


My first introduction to Roti Chai was through Paul Winch-Furness photography* and his photos alone convinced me to visit this Indian street kitchen!

Roti Chai is the first solo venture of Rohit Chugh, former MD of the Cinnamon Club, centrally located just a few minutes from Bond Street, but at the same time hidden in a mews, away from the noise and crowd of Oxford Street.

I first visited Roti Chai for a mid-week dinner with friends. As we decided to have different plates to share, I didn’t put much attention at what I was ordering and somehow ended up with the most spicy dishes on the menu! To say that I don’t do well with hot food is an understatement! No matter how hard I try (and I have been forcing myself to eat chilli regularly for the past 4 years since meeting my fiancé), even the mildest Indian dish will make me sweat. So despite liking the flavours of my first dinner at Roti Chai, I really could not eat much and left the restaurant longing for more!

A week later I was back, this time for lunch on a Sunday. In the meantime, I had got in touch with Rohit through Twitter, so he kindly made sure to be at the restaurant to meet me and sat at the table with us after our lunch, to tell us more about Roti Chai and ask for our impressions.

As we have already established that I don’t eat spicy food, I am certainly not the right person to review Roti Chai. Which is why I invited along my fiancé Sandy and a few other Indian friends to judge the authenticity of the food. At the end of the meal they all gave their seal of approval! :)

Hakka Chilli Paneer, the “fiery Indo-Chinese speciality” and culprit of my watery eyes, is one of Roti Chai’s signature dishes. It can be addictive, apparently there are loyal customers coming back 2-3 times a week only to eat this dish! We thought it was very well marinated and displaying the authentic Indian flavours.

Spicy pea & Potato Samosas: while I loved this starter for being mildly spiced with pastry that’s crunchy but not greasy, my friends said it lacked the real Bombay flavour. I guess that means it wasn’t too spicy, which I am quite glad for! ;)

The Papri Chaat is a dish well adapted from the streets of Delhi, made of wheat crisps, potato and chickpeas covered in yogurt. It had perhaps too much curd to be authentic, but I liked it as it tamed down the masala flavours.

Chicken Lollipops: even though I didn’t taste these spiced chicken wings typical of Kerala, a quick web search revealed that they are among the Roti Chai bestsellers and it’s worth visiting for these alone! I must not miss them next time!

The Tarka Dhal was the undisputed winner of the day! It’s a simple recipe of yellow lentils, spices, onions and chopped tomatoes that you will find in every Indian home. The Roti Chai dhal was made in the traditional Punjabi style and it really took my friends’ taste buds back to their home country!

While the signature dishes are perhaps all from the Street menu, Roti Chai also excels in the Road & Rail menu: “rustic dishes from the roadside Dhaba cafés & bustling train stations of the sub-continent”.

I tried the Lamb Curry and Shahi Veg Pulau, this last one instantly becoming my favourite Roti Chai plate, though according to my friend Imran it was missing the khada garam masala, ie. pieces of the spice rather than the powdered form.

Roti Chai has also recently added a few Indian Chinese dishes to the menu, which made my Mumbaite friend Mayur very happy as he could finally eat Chicken Manchurian again after many years. He told me that the chicken was perfectly cooked and there was the right amount of spring onions, though perhaps it had not enough garlic compared to the Bombay version of the dish. Unfortunately I didn’t get round to photograph it when the plate was full, so won’t posting the photo as it would not make justice to its beauty!

Moving on to the desserts, we tried the Kulfi, Indian ice-cream on a stick in either mango and pistachio flavours, and Paysam, fresh fruit salad with a custard of saffron & almond. I liked both, with my favourite being the pistachio kulfi! My fiancé would have liked a Malai flavour (literally “cream of milk”) so Rohit, if you are reading this, please think about it! ;)

A special mention to the coffee: me and my friends rarely order espresso outside Italian restaurants, but this time we risked it and got lucky! Instead of the glass-full black beverage we are commonly served here in UK, at Roti Chai we had a really good, short and strong ristretto!

Both times I visited Roti Chai I had a great time and really good food. While the first time I overdid with the spicy food and couldn’t eat much, the second time around I sensibly asked the waiter to recommend me the milder dishes and ended up eating loads, finishing my plate as well as some of my friends’! ;) The restaurant was very busy, but this didn’t affect the quality of service.

The decor is simple, polished and understated, both in the street kitchen upstairs and the dining room downstairs, with little references to Indian streets and railways, like the toilet board and colourful wall paintings.

Rohit was very friendly, as well as the other members of staff, and they really made us feel at home and being taken care of. This is such a great quality for a restaurant and so hard to find, especially in busy central London. Hopefully Roti Chai will remain successfull for long without losing this connection to the customers, which really is what makes you want to go back!

A little note about the Dining Room downstairs: don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is JUST a bar or an additional seating space. Think of it as a different restaurant altogether! They have a separate kitchen, chef and menu (which you can view here). Next time I will visit Roti Chai I will surely eat downstairs. I am already savouring the Butter Chicken in my mind!! ;)

*If you’ve been following my blog since the start, you will remember that Paul is a (very talented) food photographer I did a workshop with back in November (at A La Cruz restaurant).

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  • Reply Kamal Gaur 07/02/2012 at 15:37

    I am impressed at the fact that Roti Chai exists… my experience of Indian food abroad has largely been limited to really fancy Indian restaurants run by non-Indians or mass-produced Indian buffets that largely taste the same around the world. Having specific dishes get popular, especially of the snacking variety like samosas and chicken lollipops, is definitely good news to hear!

  • Reply thelittleloaf 07/02/2012 at 17:40

    I love Paul W-F’s photography – he could make most things look incredible!

  • Reply Maria Cristina 07/02/2012 at 18:11

    The first time I’ve tried Indian food I wasn’t really impressed by it: so spicy and, unfortunately, the same taste covering all the dishes, whatever they were, so I never felt the need to try that food again…! But now your photos make me reconsider the question: they are so inviting and your descriptions so detailed that I’ll certainly give Indian food a second chance!!!

  • Reply Pooja Vir (@TableforONE_PV) 07/02/2012 at 18:17

    Lovely photos! But guess we disagree on quite a lot of the rest…

  • Reply Sara Hafiz 08/02/2012 at 18:18

    Lovely photos & a wonderful post! I’m so jealous, we have nothing like this in the US, London is Amazing!


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