Indian street food, you would think has its place in India, available on roadsides and at train stations thanks to a multitude of station hawkers and roadside vendors. Well, yes it does, but those of you who are yearning to recapture that unique taste or are just curious about trying one of the subcontinent’s hidden talents should make time to visit Roti Chai. In fact the location lends itself to a comparison of the bustle of India – it’s just off Oxford Street in London, one of the busiest shopping thoroughfares in the capital.
There is a calm collected efficiency that greets you as you enter Roti Chai, charming staff, are on hand to explain anything you might want to know about the food or how they serve it. They were very helpful with our children regarding spicy dishes and what could be suitable. The food here is not your flock wallpapered chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo and popadoms at all. There is a real sense of adventure and authenticity in terms of the dishes. Unless you are familiar with this style of food (forgive me if you are) then there are a lot of surprises in store for you from this vibrant ‘soul’ food. Many of the dishes have been created from family recipes handed down through the generations.
The idea is to order quite a few dishes, as they are not that large. This is a sharing place, a place to try things out and hopefully discover something new. The food arrives when it’s ready so just tuck in as it comes along. There are three main parts to the menu – Street, Road & Rail and Sides. Street really covers starter type plates, which if you think of it as tapas will serve you well. We had some crunchy Papri Chaat, made of potato, chickpeas and crunchy wheat crisps with hot and sweet chutney. There was a Parsi Chicken Farcha in a light masala marinade with curried ketchup, which we all enjoyed, though it was spicy our six year old had no problems. Also we ate (and this came with a warning) Hakka Chilli Paneer a fiery vegetarian salad that looked beguiling mild but had a kick like a mule. Not one for young people. A popular dish at this stage was the wonderfully named Chicken Lollipops from Kerala – almost exclusively eaten by the children. These crisp coated spicy chicken wings fooled the children into thinking they were something to do with Colonel Sanders – this couldn’t be further from the truth. They were splendidly crisp and delicately spiced and came with a green coloured dip, which name escapes me but it was all gone when I last looked.
This type of grazing food is perfect for a long family lunch and we were to spend over 2 hours there chatting and nibbling our way through what seemed like a continuous procession of delights.
The Road & Rail dishes came as we were still working our way through the Street, but it didn’t matter as we found we quite liked returning to the earlier dishes still left on the table. The Railway Lamb Curry was the standout dish for me, it had the look, feel and taste of something not full of food dye or E numbers. This was freshly made and tasted superb. There is also the possibility of a slight deviation from true Indian cuisine in the form of a Chicken Naaza, which is an Indian take on pizza – only on Naan Bread with Tandoori spices. This was a fun way to eat the tandoori chicken, which the children enjoyed, I think because it seemed to hold no surprises for them. Some Tarka Dhal, Rice and Idli Sambar (steamed rice cakes with lentil vegetable stew) finished us off with the savory food.
There was room for something sweet (when isn’t there when children are involved?) My youngest son went for a really good Mango Kulfi on a stick, I had a Pistachio one both thoroughly exquisite. The other opted for Keralan Fruit Salad with rather scrummy Almond Custard – more of a cream really and Chocolate and Cardamon Tart served with Cinnamon Cream. This was a full on chocolate hit that although had all the right notes going for it seemed a touch out of kilter with the rest of the food. I washed down the last remnants of dessert with a house special of Masala Chai a sweet Punjabi style spiced tea which felt just right after the multitudinous assault on my taste buds.
So, would I go to Roti Chai again? Yes, I would but not for an intimate date but with a group of friends or family certainly. It is not very expensive, most small dishes are less than £5 and the larger ones under £9. The whole feel of the relaxed atmosphere could, if you were not careful let you idle the afternoon away and before you knew it you’d be ordering dinner there. That may be no bad thing before steeling yourself to face the hullabaloo of London that awaits outside the calm.
3 Portman Mews South
Tel: 020 7408 0101