Streets Eats and Leaves
Roti Chai l https://www.rotichai.com/ l 3 Portman Mews S, Marylebone, London W1H 6HS l 020 7408 0101 l Visited September 2017
How do you solve the problem of making everybody happy? Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, everyone has their different wants. If some like it hot, you can almost guarantee that others like it cold; or cheap; or exotic; or plain; or undiscovered with exposed lighting. Never is this more apparent when organising dinner with a group.
Some will come out and say what they want, some will sit silently until the final 90% are organised and happy with the plan. Then meekly raising a hand to torpedo the best-laid plans of mice and men. Fortunately, most of my friends fall into the former category, but none the less Venn can sometimes need a Diagram to work out the perfect location. Otherwise, sacrifices need to be made, and only the Aztecs like making sacrifices.
It’s become more fortunate in recent years, as the trends of street food and sharing plates rise, that pleasing everyone has become slightly easier. Tonight’s wants are feeding a newly reformed vegetarian, a need to temper the bill (our budget went on rum) and all in a central location. Luckily, I had just the trick up my sleeve from a colleague’s recommendation of Roti Chai.
It’s safe to say that if you want to please carnivores and vegetarians alike, then food from Asia will always be a success. I think it comes from a different way of thinking about food and creating dishes; start with the carbs and work back to the more-expensive protein.
Roti Chai is split into two halves in the centre of Marylebone; A downstairs dining room with a more formal menu and a bench-seating, street food cafe above. Each has different menus, with upstairs being ‘inspired by street hawkers, roadside cafes and railway stations’. Maybe it’s romantic idealism to assume that that has been encapsulated so close to a Jaguar showroom in central London, but my colleague of Indian decent swears by it.
It does strike me as unlikely that my watermelon-based cocktail has ever been supped at an Indian railway station. That unlikelihood makes it no less quenching and a flourish to an inviting menu. Divisible into Hawker-inspired snacking food, Indian mini-burgers and train station homage. The later is curries, to you and I.
For the second time in a week, my eyes are drawn to Bhel Puri and my friends’ dream of my mouth finally being glued shut. But we’re here for a good time, not a long time, and with sufficient rum already imbibed, it’s only befitting that we danced through the rest of the menu.
It’s the flexibility of the options that makes restaurants such as Roti Chai so appealing for a catch up with friends. It’s the foodie equivalent of the all-around gymnastics events at the Olympics. Not that hungry? Pick at chicken samosas with chaat. Unwilling to compromise and share? Huddle over a bowl of kasundi mustard fish curry and rice. Vegetarian or similar dietary considerations? Have a non-meat take on everyone else’s dish without compromising yourself into a nut roast.
The Chicken Samosa Chaat is like a deconstructed cheesecake, without the culinary offence. A long, snaking plate of crisp pastry, chunky spiced chicken and a sweet and sour combo of the chaat and tamarind. It looks like a roadside accident involving a Danone truck and a samosa delivery. I mean that by way of a compliment. It’s moreish and the potato-laced vegetarian version is equally accomplished.
Chicken lollipops are ordered because I fear, we may still be children. Not a million miles away from the KFC-style trend mimicked everywhere these are made by a fresh vibrant mint and coriander chutney. The Bhel Puri is not quite as much of a highlight as Kricket’s take but it’s still a sticky, satisfying mess. You feel like Winnie the Pooh, slowly chomping through the mixture of textures. It’s little wonder that no English pub or craft beer shop has cottoned on to this style of snack to serve with their beer.
The real victories here are the Railway Lamb Curry and Kabli Chana (curried chickpeas). The later is thrown over the table like a Jackson Pollock, hungry spoons fighting for another mouthful. One of our table has decided that he wants to bathe in the spiced, tomato sauce. The lamb curry is sweet chunks of meat and inauspicious potato in a relatively thin but well-rounded sauce. The deceptively large bowl is lovingly mopped up with wafer-thin, soft chapatis. At £8.50, it’s a similar price to your local curry house but with the bread included. It’s comfort food at an even more comfortable price.
The bill arrives and it’s as surprising as the array of plates ordered. With a few cocktails and three replete diners, we spent an average of £26 a head including service. It would be interesting to gauge this against the more formal, downstairs restaurant but the street food format is a triumph. Kricket might be slightly more cultivated against Roti Chai’s more rough and ready approach, but the two prove that Indian-inspired street food is thriving in the centre of London.
It’s tough to please everyone, but Roti Chai will give it its best shot.
Perfect for a Chaat
Although less polished than Kricket, Roti Chai is no less charming. With options to suit everyone and well-executed curries and sharing plates at prices that will please everyone, this is a great way to catch up and unwind.