Is this the right door?
Drink before you go through. Thank-you, don’t mind if I do.
Continuing on. Beaming smile.
Enthusiastic chatter, pots and pans clatter.
The sounds of Bollywood. Hands clap, feet tap, light bulbs are screwed in.
There’s a rhythm to Chaiwala, the contemporary Indian restaurant from Pirata Group. It has vibrant colour, a wry sense of humour and, above all, real swagger.
It’s located in a large basement on Wyndham Street previously frequented by Zafran. But unlike the evicted tapas bar, Chaiwala knows how to fill the space, making a virtue of its convoluted layout. A Chai Bar, Kitchen and Dining Hall each possess their own unique design but all possess the same pulsing atmosphere for which Pirata prides itself.
Chaiwala has taken a hefty leaf from the rulebook of its sister restaurant, TokyoLima. Now, I wasn’t a fan of TokyoLima (after multiple trips I’m still not) but I admire its ambition. High concept, bold flavours and modern service. But, where TokyoLima fails to marry ambition with execution, Chaiwala does so with style and panache.
I’ve been to Chaiwala twice now (a new addition to my family put paid to any new reviews in the latter half of last year) and enjoyed excellent service and scrumptious fare from the set menu on both occasions. What follows is a summary of the best bits.
I started with my guilty pleasure, a pina colada. This was no normal pina colada; this was a Punjab Cadillac Colada; it had saffron aromatized Diplomatico Planas (nope, I’ve no idea either) and was served in vase. I liked it.
A procession of small plates began to arrive. I couldn’t really fault any of them.
The Pana Puri – crispy bird’s nest potato structures containing very nice vegetable bits and bobs – were a relatively new one for me. We were instructed to pour in some tangy cumin water and eat them in one go. Given they were slightly too large for a single mouthful, I was left like the hapless Pulp Fiction Gimp.
We also received a beautiful sloppy mess of an aloo tikka chaat. A bowl of seared prawns with an intoxicating Northern Indian fragrance of raw curry leaves, mustard seeds and fresh green chilli. And, some buttery roti (for reasons unknown labelled mexi-tali on the menu) covered in unidentifiable, yet delicious curried slop.
By this point – on both occasions – we were pretty much full. And so, the mains duly arrived.
A majestic lobster splayed at the torso, spilled with flesh rendered golden by a mild, sweet, tangy sauce. It was served with fluffy rice and crunchy fresh green vegetables. It was a decadent but well judged triumph.
The lobster was delightful but sometimes the lavish choice of ingredients went too far. In an unnecessary nod to the crudely extravagant palette’s of our city’ populous, black truffle was liberally shaved on perfectly good naan bread. And, Wagyu beef – famed for its flavoursome marbling and delicate texture –is ground-up, laden with spice and grilled to grey as a kebab.
With the possible exception of the lamb shank (more Cathay business class than haute Indian), the curries were delectable. And charred salmon was plump, juicy and flavoursome.
With overlooking locations, imported London chefs and raj-era appendage, comparisons between Black Sheep Group’s New Punjab Club and Chaiwala are unavoidable. Despite Punjab Club being recently minted with a Michelin Star (honestly, how much crack were the Inspectors smoking that day) Chaiwala is, quite frankly, a much better experience. This is no more evident than with desserts.
If you are still hungry after the starters and mains (you won’t be) there’s a small but perfectly formed selection of desserts. We received a house brick-portioned, albeit-cloud light spiced carrot cake, served with a heady kick of run and raisin ice cream.
Light head, heavy legs.
Can we box it up? I think you should.
Is it raining? TAXI! Cantopop.
Spice-induced Indian dreams.
Curry for breakfast?
Where? Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Who goes? People not wearing corduroy