Restaurant Review: Chai Pani
spacekadet.org - March 03, 2008
Travel: Marble Arch
Open Daily 6pm-10.30pm; Mon-Fri 12pm-2.30pm; Sat-Sun 1pm-10.30pm
Devotees of chicken tikka masala will be disappointed by Chai Pani’s menu, which proves that India brings more to the table than fried samosas and korma curries. Chai Pani is the only restaurant in London to serve the vegetarian cuisine of Marwar, a desert region in west India. With dishes like Bhindi Subzi Vg (okra in “a sauce”) and Ker Saangri (a “concoction of desert berries and desert beans”), the vast menu leaves everything to the imagination.
Times like these, it’s usually best to let the kitchen decide, so I ordered a vegan thaali (another tough choice as Chai Pani offers a staggering 16 thaalis, including wheat-free, low GI and ayurvedic). Everything arrived hot and on time, and the waiter was only too happy to decipher the mysterious array of dishes before me. I now know that “dessert berries” look and taste more like shriveled twigs than actual food, and “sauce” is Chai Pani’s code word for “oil”. Fortunately, other dishes were more inspiring. The veganized raita was good enough to eat with a spoon thanks to a liberal dose of salt and chili. The daal was the best I’ve had in London - simple, fresh and very spicy, just begging to be sopped up with Bajra roti, a traditional Rathasthan millet bread. The chilled Ghugri salad of wheat berries, tomatoes and tangy lemon dressing was a refreshing accompaniment. When it came to endings, however, Chai Pani pushed the envelope of simple cooking a little too far, with bowls of jaggery (sugar) passing for dessert. This was a poor lead-in to the bill, which came to nearly £40 a head (including drinks).
Adventurous diners will go giddy over the eclectic offerings of Chai Pani, and the dietarily-challenged will find comfort in their meatless and wheatless offerings. But others will be confused. Chai Pani means well, but they need to come to terms with the palate (and pocketbook) of its western audience.
Dinner for two with drinks and dessert: £66