THE LOWDOWN: Tucked away between Bond Street and Marble Arch, Roti Chai is a slick new venture from former Cinnamon Club MD, Rohit Chugh. On the ground floor, the laid-back Street Kitchen serves up authentic Indian street snacks, while the downstairs dining room is a more formal affair with a menu of regional specialties designed for sharing. When we visited on a bitterly cold December evening, the warmth and buzz of the subterranean dining room was a welcome respite from the chaos of pre-Christmas Oxford Street. As you descend the stairs and inhale the scent of freshly toasted spice, you can tell you’re in for something rather special.
THE LOOK: While the modern, minimalist Street Kitchen is perfect for lunchtime pitstops, the soft lighting, mirrors and sunset colours make the downstairs dining room a welcoming space for those who like to linger over dinner. In a nod to India’s most famous form of transport, there are luggage racks above the tables for two and train-inspired banquette seating. Quirky caged lanterns are suspended from the industrial ceiling and the larger round tables are perfect for groups who want to share their dishes tapas-style. At one end of the room there’s a well-stocked bar, and at the other there’s a smoked red glass window through which you can glimpse the kitchen.
THE FOOD: Downstairs, the menu is a mix of street food snacks, larger dishes from the various regions of India, and regularly changing specials which on our visit included winter game. Start by sharing small plates like crunchy papri chaat, seekh kebabs hot from the tandoor, tender spice-rubbed ribs, or the Chennai favourite Chicken 65. Roti Chai’s version is a rather polite interpretation of the original, but delicious nonetheless, the fried chicken strips encased in a feisty batter and begging to be dunked in the fresh tomato salsa. A surprise stand-out was the aloo tikki (potato cakes) served with homely chickpea curry, finely diced red onion, yoghurt, mint and tangy tamarind chutney – each mouthful a different explosion of flavours.
From the list of larger plates, we chose Chettinad chicken – a rustic dish from Tamil Nadu, redolent of earthy roasted spices – and an impressive bread selection that was big enough for three or more to share. Wrapped in linen to keep them warm, the basket contained fresh hot paratha, light buttery naan, and, best of all, triangles of veg-stuffed kulcha. With bread this good, you can skip rice and have more room for comforting dhal or Cochin-style seasonal greens with coconut.
Now, korma has a bad rep in the UK for being the curry equivalent of beige but our Awadhi lamb version was delicious, let down only by chunks of lamb that weren’t quite melt-in-the-mouth tender. The sauce, though, was mild but full of flavour, fragrant with saffron, and so addictive that we were mopping it up with naan long after declaring ourselves full.
After the main event, balance the spice with something sweet like chai brulée, chocolate and cardamom tart, or payasam – a creamy South Indian dessert. If you can only manage a few bites, go for the mango or pistachio kulfi - there’s always room for ice-cream on sticks.
THE DRINKS: Roti Chai’s drinks list offers carefully chosen wines, Mongoose beer (a welcome change from Tiger), and Amrut whisky amongst other top shelf spirits. Cocktails tend towards to the exotic, with the ginger and pineapple Bellini proving more popular than an overly perfumed rose and lychee Martini. (The latter packed a punch but didn’t feel quite right in a chunky glass tumbler.) After dinner, try the masala chai – their authentic take on the sweet Indian tea spiked with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. It’s wonderfully warming and great for digestion!
THE REST: A special mention goes to the friendly, clued-up staff. Throughout the evening, our empty glasses were whipped from the table ninja-style, and they were always nearby but never intrusive. Our Canadian waiter, William, admitted to being new but talked us confidently through the menu, pointing out his favourites, and even identified a mystery vegetable in our korma.
THE VERDICT: With its cleverly distinct dining areas, Roti Chai is on to a winner. The laid-back Street Kitchen is perfect for lunch or a post-shopping refuel, while downstairs is sleek and stylish enough to entice the dolled-up West End crowd. The food is fresh and vibrant, full of authentic flavours, and we were thrilled to discover there’s nothing timid about the spicing. Downstairs, the prices can feel a little steep – that lamb dish, for example, is £16.80 – but the quality of the food (and the service) more than justifies them. If you like the vibe at Dishoom and the food at Delhi Grill, you’re guaranteed to have a good time here.