Roti Chai: Street Life

What to make of Roti Chai? Identity crisis could be one answer. Now read on. I last came here six years ago, loved the food in its downstairs dining room, but felt uncomfortable amidst its formality and palpable lack of atmosphere. My lunching comrade had booked the venue and arriving prior to him, I asked the front of house if we could eat upstairs. It being a Monday on a hot summer’s day, my fear was that downstairs would lack not just light but people too. So, we opted for what Roti Chai calls its ‘street kitchen,’ a more informal setting based at street level. At 12.15 on arrival, it was pleasant, with a certain buzz. An hour later, it was hell: packed, noisy with screaming kids. Service was almost incoherent. Maybe the angle is to create ‘street life,’ but it’s not what I would consciously choose to experience. It certainly wasn’t relaxing. The food, however, impressed and speaks to the potential of what the chefs at Roti Chai can achieve. Diners have the option of ten starters and ten mains, with most dishes intended for sharing. Our agni ‘fire’ wings showed an intelligent integration of spice, the marinade covering our chicken displaying both heat and flavour. Similarly, the samosas were non-greasy and the accompanying chick peas spoke of thoughtful balance and texture contrast. Mains were similarly impressive, with lamb porridge being a lot tastier than it sounded and the restaurant’s signature biryani leaving me wanting more. What I’ll remember though is the service: almost impossible to get the servers’ attention, and an embarrassing disjunct where one of our mains was brought five minutes before the other with barely a hint of apology. At least Roti Chai was good value (less than £50 for two, all-in), but I’d rather walk up the road to Hoppers for a better all-round experience.