Having heard only positive things about Roti Chai, renowned for its ever-returning clientele, I was excited for my first visit. Owned by Rohit Chugh, the previous managing director of The Cinnamon Club, Roti Chai is renowned for its supposed authenticity and quality of cooking. Similar to Dishoom, the Bombay style café in Shoreditch and Covent Garden, which I have visited and loved, Roti Chai has a reputation for its twist on the subcontinent’s street food. Situated on a quiet mews just opposite Selfridges, the location is ideal for Oxford Street shoppers and Marylebone residents.
On a Friday night the place is full, both the downstairs ‘Dining Room’, and the ‘Street Kitchen’ on the ground floor. They work as two discreet operations, with separate head chefs and kitchens. The Street Kitchen is open all day, and feels more appropriate for a swift workday lunch. The décor is bright, mock-industrial, and almost canteen-like, with a menu typical of an urban Indian snack shack offering a lively selection of samosas, bhel pooris and dhokla. The restaurant downstairs is more elegant, with softer lighting and a bar, and therefore more suited for a Friday night. The menu is justifiably more expensive: far less finger food, with the option to choose from street-style dishes as starters, and a small selection of elaborate main-courses from different regions.
To start, we chose to share the Dhaba tandoori chicken and the Bengali crab and fish cake. Both were fresh and lightweight, and vibrant in colour and flavour. The chicken, served with a traditional tandoori masala rump, was plump and satisfying, and served with sliced onions and a tangy dressing. It was carefully spiced, without in any way disguising the flavour. The fishcake, described as a ‘rustic railway station pattie’ was particularly tasty, with a light and crispy crust, and served with onion seeds, cumin and a well-judged tamarind dip.
As for the larger dishes, we opted for the Parsi chicken dhansak, a delicious sweet and sour dish with lentils, butternut and spices, and my personal favourite, the aubergine steak (Baigan mirch ka salan). Served with stuffed romero pepper and salan sauce, this was undoubtedly the tastiest, and demonstrated the difference between a place like Roti Chai and your typical British high-street Indian restaurant. The paneer, marinated in salt, pepper, garlic and fenugreek, and fried with green chillies, was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and perfect as a side dish. Each of the dishes give typical Indian curries an edge, though the sophisticated mix of spaces elevates them quite some distance from your average street food.
What stands out in all the dishes is the lightness of touch. Roti Chai does flavour well, but distances itself from the overly heavy sauces typical of many Indian restaurants. The waiters were helpful and attentive, and the overall atmosphere on a Friday evening is buzzing. For anyone who enjoyed Dishoom, Roti Chai is definitely worth a visit. I would certainly return, and next time to try the Street Kitchen upstairs.
3 Portman Mews South
Nearest Tube: Marble Arch/Bond Street
Phone: 020 7408 0101
Website: Roti Chai