If, five years ago, you had looked me in the eye and said that “tea is better than coffee”, I would probably have laughed in your face, and then shoved my fist through it. It’s certainly no secret that when it comes to coffee, my passion lies somewhere between the spectrum of wildly fanatical, and downright psychotic. Recently however, I have started to develop a bit more of a soft spot for everyone’s favourite cuppa, and in particular – good old traditional chai.
For me, a wholesome cup of chai has become the ideal evening drink – the solution to the woes of the working day, and the perfect way to pick myself up, without turning into a maniacal insomniac. This is effectively why when Chaiiwala – the golden champion of chai in the North, announced that they would be setting up shop in London, I made sure to keep my eyes and ears open. Indeed, within the first few weeks, they began to stir up quite a storm, and as word of their offerings spread faster than the gossip at an Aunties’ tea party, Steak and I headed over to see what was brewing.
Halal status: All the food served here is certified halal.
We began of course with a selection of hot and steamy karak chais, and almost instantly, it became apparent why everyone had been losing their minds. The rich brew of chai was aromatic in every sense of the word, and a hefty dose of sugar did well to kick the senses – without throwing the other elements out of balance. Whilst my affections lay with the cinnamon karak chai, Steak preferred the no-nonsense “original”, but there should certainly be a brew for every palate.
Karak chais (£1.50) *Recommended*
As we approached the snack menu however, our relationship with Chaiiwala began to strain. First to arrive was the bombay sandwich – filled with a humble offering of potato, coriander-mint chutney, and “sandwich masala”. Though completely unassuming in its appearance, this simple sandwich offered a satisfying combination of soft and firm textures, and sharp and mellow flavours.
Bombay sandwich (£2)
The masala chips too proved to be fairly moreish, with a soft but soggy texture that had soaked up a reasonable amount of flavour. It could however, have done with a more generous dose of the masala coating, in order to truly earn their “masala” namesake.
Masala chips (£2.50)
Still, they fared far better than the chilli paneer, which fell completely flat in every aspect. Though texturally, the paneer boasted a crispy, caramelised outer layer, the shimmering sauce failed to deliver any flavour whatsoever, resulting in a fairly bland and rubbery experience.
Chilli Paneer (£3)
Sadly, the mogo chips suffered from the same tragic fate. As the lifeless sauce sat idly by, the cassava fries proved to be thick, tough, and dry – so much so that our plastic forks nearly snapped in two from the effort of trying to pierce through them. Like a middle child without a medical degree, they remained largely ignored.
Mogo chips (£2.50)
Alas, not even the cheese roti roll – a seemingly simple combination of mozzarella and roti, managed to leave a lasting impression. With little to no mozzarella within it, the entire creation really just ended up being a plain, empty roti – and a rather doughy and unmemorable one that that.
Hoping that Chaiiwala would be able to redeem themselves in the tooth-rotting department, we proceeded to order the signature chocolate chai mousse and the gajar halwa cheesecake. Having sat around in a cake cabinet for most of the day, the mousse seemed to have somewhat dried out, resulting in a slightly denser texture to that which we were expecting. The chocolate and chai elements however, remained relatively balanced, but this really only served as a silver lining in an otherwise underwhelming dessert.
Chocolate chai mousse (£3.50)
Alas, the gajar halwa cheesecake fared no better, and in fact, failed on all fronts. After carving our way through the excessively thick and heavy cream cheese layer, our spoons would ricochet off the rock hard biscuit base, highlighting a serious set of textural flaws. There was also very little in the way of “gajar halwa” within the cheesecake, and the whole thing seemed to better resemble a sweet block of cheese on a biscuit base, with subtle, citrus elements of orange and lemon. Perhaps if a healthy dose of gajar halwa been worked into a lighter, smoother cream cheese layer, and placed upon a more crumbled base, it would have left a more lasting impression – and indeed, been a little more edible.
Gajar Halwa cheesecake (£3.50)
Value For Money: 3/5
On a more positive note, Londoners from all walks of life will be happy to hear that Chaiiwala keeps the spirit of the North alive with an incredibly affordable set of prices. Hot chais and cold drinks come in at a reasonable £1.50, whilst snacks and sweet treats generally cost no more than £2 to £3.50. Compared to the cost of say – a Zone 1-3 travelcard, which roughly equates to a pint of blood and half a kidney, the bill you accumulate at Chaiiwala is almost certain to be a negligible relief. That said, the low prices do seem to be reflected in the quality of the snacks, which truth be told, is rather subpar.
Service too is fairly non-existent, and whilst it is a bit of a grab-and-go / counter-serve cafe, a bit of a smile could go a long way.
The cafe itself employs a mixture of contemporary and rustic styling – in keeping with the modern format of its traditional chai. There are only a handful of seats – (perhaps around 15), so do be wary if you plan on sitting in and sticking around. Chaiiwala can be found a short stroll away from Walthamstow Central station, and parking is available on nearby residential roads, but a variety of restrictions do apply.
After clearing away the noise and the hysteria, it quickly becomes apparent that Chaiiwala have a lot of room for some serious improvement. Whilst the chai is undoubtedly phenomenal, the snacks are anything but, and this mismatch must be addressed. Granted, one could argue that chai is the most important aspect of a Chaiiwala’s business, but for many Londoners who do not live in close proximity to Walthamstow, the chai alone may not be enough to warrant a lengthy trip by car or tube. From our perspective, Chaiiwala is well worth popping into if you’re already in the area and simply want a good cup of chai. Anything more however, and you may be in for a bitter disappointment.
Address: 225 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 9PP
Telephone: 020 8521 0203