Roti Chai is, quite literally, a restaurant of two halves. Upstairs you’ll find the ‘street kitchen’, serving snacks and small dishes inspired by Indian street food, while downstairs is a more formal dining experience with a menu split between starters, ‘comfort food’ main courses, and specials.
It’s a hot summer evening in the street kitchen and the room is buzzing; packed with diners, their chatter is bouncing off the walls and their dishes clattering onto tables. The pace of service is fast here, and two excellent caipirinha cocktails, thick with coconut and crushed ice are barely sucked down before starters arrive, weaving a hot and fragrant path to the table.
Chicken lollipops have been carefully butchered to leave nuggets of meat on the end of bone handles – very easy to eat and dip into a super coriander chutney, grassy and fresh.
Chilli paneer is reminiscent of Chinese preparations, as if the cubes have been coated in cornflour, then fried. Whatever happened they’re rendered addictive, crisp outside, soft within and jumbled in a bowl with lengths of spring onion and chilli – the heat quickly builds.
Fire wings come with a warning, and rightly so – the sauce is made with the naga chilli, one of the world’s hottest, but it’s used to skillful effect as the sauce is as much about chilli flavour as it is punch. That said they’re a dish to pick at throughout the meal rather than gobble in one.
A main course of ‘duck porridge’ is much better than it sounds – ground, spiced duck meat with pounded wheat, Hyderabadi saffron sauce and a pao, which is a sweet bread roll, perfect for scooping from the bowl, or making a huge, messy sandwich. A cooling raita is essential alongside, particularly on a steamy summer evening.
To finish, kulfis which come in pistachio or mango varieties – both of them reminiscent of childhood milk based lollipops, in the nicest possible way. They soothe mouths, which have been a little too keen to nibble on wings touched by naga.
The flavours at Roti Chai are bold, fresh and bright and the spicing skillful. It’s all too easy to muddy these flavours, but here they remain distinct, keeping hands armed with roti coming back to each dish for more. Dare anyone suggest that leftovers might taste even better for breakfast the next day?