The best kind of friends are those you see the least. As miserly as this statement may sound, there is something endearing about a group of friends who can go months on end without seeing each other, and simply pick up where things were left off. For me, those friends are Groot and Rocket, and in the months since our last catch-up, a lot had changed. I had graduated as a fully-fledged dentist, Groot had entered a new job, and Rocket had had a haircut. Naturally, this called for a small feast of celebration, and so, we made our way to Hankie’s cafe.
Embedded within The Piccadilly hotel, this cosy eatery is yet another member of London’s surge in contemporary Indian street food. Compared to their rivals, their tapas-style menu is relatively small and concentrated, but this does not seem to detract from its appeal.
Halal status: All the meat served here is halal.
To begin, we ordered a bucket of bhindhi bhel – composed of crispy rice puffs in a coat of chilli tomato chutney, and laced with okra, onions, and pomegranate seeds. From the first bite to the last, it proved to be a textural delight, with a contrasting mixture of crisp crunch, sweet stickiness, and a refreshing succession of juicy bursts.
Bhindi Bhel (£5) *Recommended*
The dahi puri fared just as well, with a softer selection of textures, and a combination of potatoes, pea purée and yoghurt, which was moreish enough to start a Mexican standoff. Being the considerate gentlemen that we were, we let Groot have the last one, on account of the limited options for her pescatarian diet. (Her being a giant Lithuanian woman who could pummel us into the ground may also have played a part).
Dahi Puri (£4.50) *Recommended*
Of course, the centrepiece of Hankies cafe – (and the source of their namesake), is the roomali “handkerchief” roti – a thin, wheat-based flatbread that is perfect for soaking up oily curries. As well as gorging on their regular roomalis, we tried our hand at their “truffle roomali”, which comes stuffed with cheddar and truffle butter. Whilst both versions were soft, supple, and pulled apart with ease, the combination of butter and cheddar in the truffle roomali provided an additional savoury kick. Whether the extra dose of cholesterol is worth an additional £3 is a different question entirely, but either way, the thiner, lighter roomali is a welcome change to the heavy naans to which we are accustomed.
Truffle Roomali (£4).
(Plain Roomalis – £1.75)
To accompany them, we ordered a selection of curries, including the “chicken dhaba”. This “dry chicken curry” was soft and flavoursome, but lacked a substantial kick.
Chicken Dhaba (£6)
The black dhaal on the other hand, had a little more to offer, with a thick and creamy consistency and a wonderfully rich flavour. It could however, have been improved with just a touch more sweetness.
Hankies Dhal (£4.50) *Recommended*
We also tried a plate of “murgh ke wings”, which were lightly coated with a sharp chilli glaze. Paired with a good amount of heat, these tender wings delivered on multiple fronts.
Murgh Ke Wings (£5.50) *Recommended*
The chargrilled beef was equally aggressive, with a firm charcoal-induced crust that was a little too harsh than it needed to be. Still, this did well to deliver a deep, smokey essence to the chilli-covered chunks of beef flank.
Chargrilled beef (£6.50)
The most enticing plate of meat however, was the duo of chilli lamb chops. Though relatively small in size, these juicy chops were wonderfully thick and fatty, with a crispy, textured coat that was enriched with a salty and spicy flavour. Costly though they may be, they were enjoyable enough to warrant a recommendation.
Lamb Chops (£4.50 for 1 / £9 for 2) *Recommended*
Value For Money: 3.5/5
As is the way of the increasingly popular sharing menu, Hankies’ plates and portions are small in stature, but, thankfully, the prices are too. Most items come in at around £5, with just a few that creep closer to £10, whilst sides and chutneys cost no more than £2. For a tapas-style menu in central London, this is certainly reasonable, and you should be able to eat to your full for under £20 per person. Better yet, if you happen to own a Tastecard, you can enjoy 50% off for two people. Alas, it was not a deal that I could reclaim without using a roti to suffocate at least one of my dining companions – (and the temptation certainly did arise).
Service is also speedy and efficient, so if you’re worried about over-ordering, take no fear in holding yourself back and ordering more later if need be. You also won’t be hassled or pressured to finish your meal and leave if things get busy, so you really can pace yourself without any worries.
Perhaps in the pursuit of authenticity, the minds behind Hankies cafe opted for a minimalist decor with dim lighting and plain wood. Together with its diminutive size, this certainly gives it a cosy feel, but it isn’t quite rustic enough to be a “roadside cafe”, nor modern enough for a contemporary Indian eatery. Still, the food is good enough to ensure that you won’t be hung up about the interior. The restaurant can be found a short walk away from either Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square station, or a slightly longer walk away from Covent Garden or Tottenham Court Road.
As a ravenous neanderthal, I’ve never much seen eye to eye with tapas-style menus. SMALL plates? SMALL plates are for minions and weaklings and little boys and little girls. But, for some reason, there is something incredibly moreish about the food at Hankies cafe. Perhaps it’s just the soft and stretchy roomali, which I suddenly want to dip in every curry and dhal that comes my way, or the juicy chops which are sized so as to leave me wanting more. Either way, Hankies does well to provide a reasonably-priced street food experience, and may have just restored my faith in the new wave of “Indian small plates” that is spreading across the capital.
Address: 67 Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, London W1D 6EX
Telephone: 0207 871 6021