This post was first published in November 2011.
In many ways, Roti Chai lives up to the recent hype it’s been receiving. A visit I paid last Saturday as part of a birthday party revealed the food to be very good indeed. My starter, somewhat elusively titled ‘Chicken 65,’ is best described simply as little nuggets of kick ass spiced fried chicken – to say I really enjoyed it is putting it lightly. Al’s Bengali fishcakes got the thumbs up too, and she also approved of the main course, Awadhi lamb quorma (lamb korma to you and me), which I can confirm was spot-on, a delicately flavoured masterpiece. The use of rosewater and saffron gave the sauce a distinctive fragrance and richness that separated it from bog-standard curry house kormas, though the lamb could perhaps have been stewed a little longer so that it fell apart more easily. Still, it was good enough that I managed to forget that the roof of my mouth didn’t resemble a Croydon furniture shop in August. That it so say, it was very good indeed. The eponymous roti selection was stellar, some of the best bread I’ve had in an Indian restaurant, with the orange and cumin one standing out in particular.
My only real gripe with the place, therefore, is that £16.80 is a heck of a lot for a bowl of curry. It’s nouveau Indian prices – a curry at Michelin-starred Tamarind is only a couple of quid more – but this was not nouveau Indian food. It was, rather refreshingly I might add, brilliantly executed home-style cooking and contemporary takes on classic subcontinental street food. I was told that the larger plates we ordered from the ‘Regions’ section of the menu were just about substantial enough to share between two; that’s a distinct possibility, if the two concerned have supermodel-style appetites, though given my stature I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. The tag attached to plain steamed rice, £3.50, is more difficult to justify – surely it should have had something a bit unique about it to explain the price? – though a more realistic proposition for sharing.
Still, the food was definitely above average as was the service. I eventually coerced them into smuggling me a portion of their much lauded bhel puri from the street kitchen, despite it being apparently forbidden. It’s every bit as tangy and crunchy and delicious as people say. The fairly swanky bar also stocked Sam Adams, which is the easiest possible way for an establishment to get bonus points from me. Mongoose was the requisite sub continental lager offering, which is good in so far as it wasn’t the omnipresent Cobra. I was also informed by a number of members of the contradictory gender that the cocktails were excellent.
Atmosphere wise, the downstairs ‘dining room’ where we ate was clearly aimed at a different crowd from the upstairs ‘street food kitchen’: the trappings were quite plush, with the lighting being especially seductive in a slightly contrived kind of way. It would seem this part of the restaurant was being pitched at a fairly glamorous crowd, possibly hoping to entice the young, wannabe socialites who frequent the myriad fancy West End clubs nearby. I think in future I’d be more inclined to eat upstairs: there, according to my (admittedly dodgy) maths, £15 gets you chicken wings, a curry, rice, and bread. The downstairs premium for dining with the beautiful people is not inconsiderable: starters, mains, rice, bread, and drinks for 2 came to over £70, putting the price point on a par with a number of the capital’s best eateries. Roti Chai clearly considers itself part of this elite posse and, based on this showing, it’s not an unfair assessment at all.