South London, Indian street food, a Cambridge alumnae founder: all promising ingredients for a Friday night summery-(ish) family supper (sub)urban style. Chit Chaat Chai’s founders, Tani and Dhruv – who incidentally my sister knew at Cambridge – weren’t able to find good Bhel Poori. (Clearly they haven’t tried Mummy Shah’s creations which I ended up chatting to them about!) They wanted Indian food full of flavour and texture, the sort only found on a stall on the street. Taking things into their own hands, they trawled the shops for the best ingredients, trialling out dishes on their friends and family before swapping corporate jobs for sell out supper clubs and stalls at food markets. These market stalls and Hackney pop-ups were so successful that they founded a permanent home in the charming Wandsworth Town to bring authentic, honest Mumbai street classics and all its oozing flavours to the masses.
A stone’s throw away from Wandsworth Common, Chit Chaat Chai’s décor is one of its best features. The white wall is covered in bright hand-painted murals, vintage travel posters of India and a retro floor. Even the toilet reminds of an Indian train cabin, reminiscent of Bangalore Express’ design. The upstairs, meanwhile, has a flashy sky-light; it would be ideal for a private party. At the centre of the restaurant downstairs stands a two-metre long cocktail and chai bar, serving up Indian inspired cocktails and mocktails. Spices are used creatively to give classic cocktails Indian twists. We happened to arrive on their one month opening anniversary and so ordered the 2-for-1 Goa Sunset: a hibiscus, lychee martini which was deliciously sweet. My companion loved their “Cat in the cage” mocktail, with apple juice, lime, cinnamon and tamarind! I was also eyeing the neighbouring table’s lassis which arrived in cute little milk bottles. It’s like a younger sibling of Dishoom. Their Chai-jito certainly springs to mind.
Chit Chaat Chai, if you didn’t already guess, is not your typical Indian restaurant, with the focus being chaat rather than curries. Chaat is a term used to describe savoury snacks, which are mainly served from street carts in South Asian countries. The Bombay Bhel (£4) which came out first, encased in a playful ice-cream like cone, was my favourite. The flavours and textures of the dish were great: crunchy but soft because of the potatoes, and spicy but sweet because of the pomegranate – a great addition to bhel. I also ordered the Okra Fries (£3.50), mainly because I wanted to compare them to Dishoom’s yummy version. These were a touch thicker and more flavoursome. My companions enjoyed their Yogurt Puri and their Pani Puri (£4.50). The messiness of eating pani puri makes it very fun to watch. For them it was sweet, spicy and tangy, just the way it should be. I loved the Chana masala served on potato bhaji. On the whole, however, everything was a touch too spicy for me, particularly the Chilli paneer. They should probably add “chilli” to their C compendium.
For mains, my companions couldn’t resist the Pau Bhaji (£5), a mashed mixed vegetable curry served with buttered brioche and a fresh salad medley of tomato, red onions and cucumber. Having eaten this dish countless times as a child, it certainly brought back childhood memories. The Baby Aubergine (£7.50) were, as described, melt in the mouth with their peanut masala sauce. However, the portion size was so tiny that I don’t think it counts as a “Large Chaat”. Nevertheless, with so much choice, it’s great that this is Indian tapas style, with small plates priced at £5-£6 per portion, allowing you to load up you plate with a bit of everything.
The deserts was outstandingly experimental: the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chai Custard (£6) – a deliciously sinful but gluten-free treat served with dashings of their signature chai custard (which unfortunately was not available on our trip); the Coconut Samosa with Himalayan Salted Chocolate Sauce (£4.5); and the Carrot Halwa with Vanilla Ice Cream (£5) – which was outstanding for all. We were also brought complimentary Mango Lassi ice creams, with delicious pistachios and mint leaves. Sharing a combination, these were perfect finishes to the meal – not too sweet but leaving you craving for more. They even do a version of the Nordic cinnamon bun, which here is recast as a Sticky Cinnamon Chai Bun (£3) – a perfect accompaniment to a hot steaming chai.
All in all, the food was tasty, flavourful and well-presented. Although pricey, slightly small portioned and very spicy, the homemade street-food theme makes a welcome change from usual Indian restaurant fare. All in all, the place has a certain buzz of excitement.
Chit Chaat Chai, 356 Old York Road, Wandsworth Town, London, SW18 1SS