Chai Thali Indian Street Food Bar & Restaurant Camden
19 Mandela Street, Camden, NW1 0DU
Indian street food is definitely having a moment. I loved Chef Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Bazaar in Covent Garden where the chaats zing with flavour (see my review) and just when you thought things couldn’t get any more exciting along comes the recently opened Chai Thali in Camden. Owners Raj, AJ and Neil have scoured the subcontinent to create a menu that brings together kerb-side snacks sourced from the Punjab to Kerala. And with a drinks menu that includes cocktails, lassis, turmeric lattes, kadak chais, Indian beers there is lots to investigate; so I was really pleased to be invited to sample some of the highlights from the menu.The interior crosses over the street food ‘shack aesthetic’ with a contemporary London twist to create a vibrant interior that is a great showcase for the food.And there’s even a private dining room for business or private parties. The restaurant boasts a team of Punjabi chefs gleaned from from the kitchens of the Taj and Ambassador hotel groups and has a dedicated Tandoor Chef with all the meat being strictly Halal.But before we got down to the food it was time for cocktails (£8.50). The Chai spiced Mojito was a sweet dark mojito made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, mint leaves, lime chunks, Chai tea bags and syrup with soda. It was great to try the mint and lime with dark rum. The Goan Bay is a cool fruity blend of vodka, passion liqueur, watermelon liqueur, passion and cranberry juice. My favourite was the Chai Thali Mary, a grown-up blend of house whisky, Southern Comfort, guava and pineapple juice, tabasco, Angostura bitters and Chat Masala with a salted glass rim.If you’re on the wagon a Mango or Cardomom and Pistachio Lassi (£4.50) gives a rich, creamy base for the upcoming spice.Appetisers started coming thick and fast. Kurkuri Bhindi were thinly sliced slivers of okra fried in gram flour batter sprinkled with chilli masala. An exercise in crispy salty goodness.A mini papad basket came with mango, spicy tomato, tamarind and mint and yoghurt chutneys – perfect with the cocktails!Paani Poori were wheat puff balls filled with masala potatoes which you fill with tamarind water. Down it in one shot for a mouthful of crunchy sweet and sour goodness.Then it was time for a selection of starters. Punjabi Samosas had a delicious wheat pastry and were filled with peas and potatoes.Spicy grilled Lamb Ki Chaampe chops came marinated in spices and were served with kachumber.Maharaja Prawns were probably my favourite of the dishes – fat and juicy King prawns marinated in spices and cooked in the clay oven.Salmon tandoor was the best tandoor fish I have eaten coming crisp and lightly spiced out of the oven.I love chaat and Samosa Chaat, mini samosas laid flat on a bed of of chole, yogurt and chutney was an explosion of textural and flavour pleasure. A Fondue of a creamily mild mashed vegetable curry came served with grated cheese and a brioche bun for dipping. Mains included Tandoor chicken tikka curry slow-cooked and garnished with cream and a Daal Fry – assorted lentils cooked dhabba style.I didn’t make it as far as desserts but a pistachio Kulfi ice-cream, Gaajar Halwa, carrots slow cooked in milk topped with ice cream and pistachio nuts, and a Mango Mousse flavoured with safffron & cardamom rass malai all sounded like the perfect way to end the meal.
I ate and drank far too much at Chai Thali purely in the interests of research. My conclusions dear reader are that if you love small plate dining/sharing and want to try out the latest in Indian street food trends as well as some classics then Chai Thali is an affordable and fun place to do that.