Roti Chai. Street food. Sort of.
It was one of those days (and they seem to be increasing in frequency),where the thought of cooking for myself just didn’t appeal. I’d been in the office for 6 hours straight, on a Sunday and not any old Sunday but the one just before Christmas, unpacking crates and dealing with nonsense emails. I’d had a little foray into Hellfridges, but the queue for the food tills made me want to gouge my eyes out with a stick.
So I immediately thought about Roti Chai, by the back of the pick-up-by-car point, behind M&S Marble Arch. The glamour.
Roti Chai is two restaurants in one. “Street food” upstairs and a more conventional Indian restaurant below. I’ve never managed to make it downstairs though, so this is all about the street.
And I expect that the irony of offering street food, in a W1 postcode, is lost on the owners. Much like a two-year “pop-up” it doesn’t have the ring of authenticity. But no matter, because if you can get past the concept, the food is actually delicious.
And despite the contrivance, it’s quite nicely done. There are lots of hard surfaces though – benches and wooden tables, bouncing the sound right into your ears. There are bright, vibrant graphics and young and enthusiastic staff. It can get noisy at peak times.
The menu has changed a little since my last visit in November, which is good, because last time they still had summer specials on the menu. Must have been an Indian summer.
And there are new specials. I chose one of them, the “Agni wings”, which came covered in a red chilli marinade with a side of mayonnaise dip. They were hot, sticky and delicious. I liked the mayonnaise too, not that it was entirely necessary . As you can see, rather a large portion for a starter. Not that I mind. Bigger is always better, in my world.
And then the Macher Jhol. which is a Bengali fish curry with kasundi mustard and rice. My food knowledge, did not quite extend to kasundi mustard, so you can click on the link. I’m not sure that this was quite it, but I’ve done my best for you.
It was hot, but not overpowering and the fish had been deep-fried. Important, as the fish kept its texture and the coating was sufficiently crisp for it not to get soggy in the sauce. It was a great dish.
Well-balanced, strongly flavoured, with fresh herbs and nigella seeds. I loved this.
And because I never knowingly under-order and because I tell myself that if I eat at 4pm, I won’t eat dinner, I had to have tarka dahl as well. Properly spiced and not overcooked into a complete bowl of slop, there was slight texture from the lentils and it was as good as tarka dahl can be, without crispy onions on top. Which is my very favourite. however inauthentic it may be.
The raita was good too. Topped with pomegranate seeds, the pine nuts de nos jours, fennel seeds and more coriander, it cut nicely through the richness of the fish curry.
The food is good for sharing and they seem to bring it out whenever it’s ready, so don’t expect and conventional starter/main course action. There is much to enjoy for vegetarians and non-meat eaters; spiced rice with cauliflower and paneer, or bhel puri or the lovely dhokla. Which I very much like. It’s all fresh and tasty and I am going to go back and have the few dishes that I haven’t yet tried. Which is not many. One day I might even have room for dessert.
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