Excuses. We all make them, we all hide behind them, and more often than not, we all love them for getting us out of things we don’t want to do, or places we don’t want to go. “Shopping mall? Sorry, I’ve sprained my ear”. “Family wedding? Sorry, I’m babysitting my neighbour’s lamp”. “Vegan restaurant? Sorry, *snaps his own neck*, I’ve snapped my own neck”. For those on the receiving end, excuses are a terrible thing, but what’s worse is when two close friends fail to turn up to a social gathering without even having the courtesy to provide one.
That’s what happened at the last Bartans dinner, when Fishwonger and Grumpy Dwarf simply failed to show up. (And as you can probably tell, I am in no way bitter about their absence). The scene of this unforgivable crime was none other than Chai Ki, sister restaurant to the highly regarded Roti Chai. Much like its counterpart, this mid-range Indian eatery is divided into a refined “dining room” and a rustic “street kitchen”, with separate menus for both. As such, it was the perfect place for our equally-divided friend circle to discuss the fate of our unloyal companions, as the cries for “exile” and “execution” clashed in the air.
Note: The chicken and lamb dishes are certified halal. Alcohol and pork are served on the premises.
After settling into the street kitchen or “toddy bar”, I dived straight into the burnt chilli chicken, a popular item which funnily enough, seems to draw more inspiration from Chinese cuisine than Indian. It possessed a strong flavour of Szechuan sauce and a mildly spicy zing, and each piece of tender chicken contrasted well with the crunchy spring onions and red and green peppers.
Burnt Chilli Chicken
Diverting my attention back to the more “Indian” items on the menu, I ordered the chicken tikka naan, which was, in essence, a “naan pizza”, topped with chicken tikka, peppers, red onions, yoghurt, mint coriander and chutney. Unfortunately, all it really delivered was a range of different textures, as the chicken – though soft, failed to deliver a significant amount of flavour, whilst the naan itself was lacking in thickness and density. The concept certainly made the traditional naan more interesting, but without a thick, hearty naan and a strong set of flavours, it failed to win me over.
Chicken Tikka Naan
The timid flavours continued with the black dhaal fry, which was far too mild for my liking. The flavours, spices, and aromas all failed to come through, and its thin consistency prevented it from having any significant presence.
Black Dhaal Fry
Surprisingly, Mrs. Bean had taken the adventurous route of ordering a bowl of “lamb porridge” and kindly offered me a couple of bites. This consisted of a lamb keema mixed with cracked wheat, hyderabadi spices and rosewater, which resulted in a light and creamy consistency, and a deep set of aromatic flavours. It was certainly a pleasant dish, but none of us were particularly blown away by it. Afroman’s “chilli paneer” on the other hand, blew a hole in our tastebuds, with a strong, spicy kick, and a fiery heat that intensified in the mouth. (I apologise for the lack of images – I didn’t have the heart to make Afroman and Mrs. Bean wait for me to take pictues).
Of course, no Indian meal is complete without a round of Masala chai, but at Chai Ki, you’d probably be better off giving it a miss. Though the chai carried a mild sweetness, it lacked strength, balance and possessed virtually no trace of a spicy kick. Chaiwala offered her own expert opinion on the formulation, and diagnosed it as having too much cinnamon, and too little ginger. Given that she has, to this day, brewed the best Masala chai that I have ever encountered, I had nothing more to say on the subject.
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Both the chicken tikka naan and burnt chilli chicken cost £7.90, whilst the dhaal fry cost £4.80, and the Masala chai cost £2.20, amounting to a total bill of £25 (including service) for myself alone. Main dishes from the street kitchen / toddy bar menu range from £6-£12 and sides cost between £3-£5, whilst main courses from the dining room menu range from £7-£18, and sides range from £3-£6. Given the location and the nature of the restaurant, the prices themselves are rather reasonable. However, after taking the calibre of the food into consideration, one must confess that it’s not really an overly impressive Indian experience, and in that respect, your money may be better spent elsewhere.
Numbers are certainly not an issue when it comes to Chai Ki’s service, given that the waiting staff could probably rival a large football team – (or a small Indian family). Communication and co-ordination ensure that Chai Ki operates effectively, and staff members are more than willing to cater to your requests. To use my ineptitude as an example, I had accidentally booked a table for the dining room, and despite it being a fairly busy Friday evening, the hostess was more than happy to relocate us to the street kitchen.
The restaurant itself boasts a sleek and contemporary persona, which carries through from its glass-fronted face to its wide, spacious, and highly polished interior. The dining room is bright and airy, with high ceilings and attractive light fixtures suited to any special occasion, whilst the toddy bar is dim and rustic. Despite this contrast, both divisions seem to blend together seamlessly. The restaurant is a five to ten minute walk away from Canary Wharf station, and public transport is most certainly advised.
Dining room (Image taken from http://www.chai-ki.com)
Toddy bar (Image taken from http://www.chai-ki.com)
Much like the decor, Chai Ki’s ambience is tailored to each side of its split personality. The dining room is quiet, calm and refined, whilst the street kitchen boasts a certain amount of lively vigour, and both offer a suitably comfortable environment in which to dine.
To me, Indian cuisine is a source of comfort, familiarity, and flavour, and although Chai Ki does a reasonable job with the first two elements, it falls rather short on delivering the third. Across the menu, the spices seem rationed, the flavours seem muted, and many of the dishes seem to have been restrained in order to cater for the reserved English palate. Whilst this may be well suited to the endless stream of bankers and tourists who make up the majority of Chai Ki’s clientele, it somewhat undermines the authenticity of their Indian kitchen. Consequently, I can’t help but feel that as an Indian restaurant, Chai Ki doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the competition, and beyond “giving them a go”, there’s very little reason to pay them a visit.
Address: Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AR
Telephone: 0207 408 7630