Peter Morrell enjoys the unique flavours, tastes and textures of an Indian Street Food extravaganza
As someone who regularly eats out it becomes more and more difficult to find food that is truly different. My quest was more than satisfied recently with lunch at Chai Thali in Camden Town. This new restaurant is located away from the hustle and bustle of the area around Camden Road tube station in a quiet road and specialises in Indian street food.
The dining space is large and airy and the décor gives it it an authentic Indian feel. Seating is arranged as both booths and tables and signs over them displaying towns and regions like Madras, Jaipur and Goa are a nod to the fact that the inspiration for their menu is drawn from the length and breadth of the subcontinent.
The menu is simple and well laid our, there are small plates (Chaat Rekri and Tandoori), larger dishes of curries and biryanis and a good range of sides. The small plate selection has the most dizzying array of choosable dishes, It’s particularly in this section that you will find an exciting combination of flavours, tastes and textures. We were advised to have four small plates, a main each and two side dishes.
With 21 items in the Chaat Rekri list my dining companion and I spent quite some time refining our choice of four, although both meat eaters three of our four dishes were vegetarian. The delivery of four chutneys, chilli, mint, mango and tamarind heralded the arrival of the food.
Our only non-vegetarian dish, the four piece lamb samosa chaat, was a crispy delight generously stuffed with well seasoned meat. The next dish was paapadi chaat, a satisfyingly crisp base was covered with potato and chickpeas and then drizzled with yogurt, topped with crunchy sev (Indian noodle) and finished with chutney. This whole ensemble was utterly delicious.
The third dish was pindi chole Kulche, the chole was Punjabi style chickpeas in a thick gravy served with Amritsari kulcha, a flatbread. We folded the bread to make an envelope which we filled with the chickpeas and chutney, it was another flavoursome and textural triumph. Our final small plate was kurkuri bhindi, we both had our reservations about this as the base ingredient okra can be variable. We need not have worried, the vegetable had been thinly sliced, coated in a corn flour batter then deep fried and sprinkled with chilli masala. Our view of okra will never be the same again.
Even after the first course my companion and I both agreed that this was an exceptional dining experience. We optimistically started our mains, my friend had chosen the murg makhini and I had ordered a Goan dish, jheenga masala. Again the special combinations of tastes and flavours shone through. The makhini was tandoori chicken tikka which had been slow cooked in a mild gravy with ghee and then finished with cream. It was rich and had great depth.
My main was prawns cooked in an aromatic coconut gravy, the prawns were delicate and it was livened up with the introduction of chilli. As well as ordering a pulao rice our other side of garlic naan was used to scoop up the thick sauces.
As it was lunchtime we reluctantly skipped the cocktails which have a spicy Indian twist and chose a wine from the well curated list. It was the entry level red, the Chilean Vistamar merlot which was keenly priced at under £16. Deep red in colour it had intense fruit aromas in the bouquet which on the palate developed into a strong plum flavour with hints of oak. There were also spicy notes which worked well with the food and the finish was long and persistent.
If drinking wine with Indian food is not your preference then there is Cobra on draft and a good selection of craft beers.
We were full to the brim so couldn’t manage a dessert but if you have got room and a sweet tooth then Indian puddings are available including kulfi and ras malaai.
The restaurant in newly opened and chatting to the owner at the end of the meal we heard that it is already highly popular with both locals and visitors to Camden. There is a Sunday brunch session and there are plans for themed evenings including Bollywood, a magician and stand up comedy. There is also a bar and if you are a big group, a private dining area.
For both myself and my companion we had thoroughly enjoyed this unique eating adventure around the streets of India. The meal was also remarkable value, expect to pay around £30 per head including drinks.