Food & Drink

Food Evening: Chai Street

(The shorter version of this is in the current print issue of Quench –

Ellie Philpotts – Cardiff seems like a city of two halves. In one sense, it’s rooted in tradition, with a number of venues in the entertainment scene that double as part of the capital’s furniture. Examples such as The Globe, Chapter and Owain Glyndwr have dutifully satisfied generations, from those who’ve lived in Cardiff their whole lives, to the students who were adopted by the city for the duration of their degrees. On the other hand, though, it’s a place that’s constantly regenerating – setting up independent shops and restaurants, and generally moving in a new trajectory. High Street alone captures this juxtaposition – on one side, there’s the traditional Goat Major pub, while cross over and you’ll bump into Chai Street, just one of the area’s new kids on the block.

Chai Street’s speciality is Indian street food. Originally only found a little further out of town, (but still well worth the trek!) on Cowbridge Road East, Canton’s core of all things foodie, incredible demand presented them with no choice but to expand, and so the more central addition joined High Street late last year. Co-owner Ajit Kandoran explained, ‘We’re delighted to be opening in the heart of Cardiff. It’s a busy, lively and exciting place, just right for a real Indian experience.’

Chai Street is an outlet of the renowned Mint and Mustard, which was launched by Ajit and Latheesh Kottilil, both doctors, after they fondly remembered the food they’d enjoyed back in Kerala, Southern India. The following year, their plan of transporting the Keralan philosophy – that food is ‘a passion and way of life’ to British diners became a reality, in the form of the first Mint and Mustard here in Cardiff – and since then, it’s extended to elsewhere in Wales – Penarth and Chepstow – as well as Taunton over the English border, scooping a range of awards in the process. They featured in last year’s Good Food Guide, and enjoy a reputation as one of the UK’s most authentic tastes of India. So while we’re lucky to have them so close to home – they’re just a stone’s throw from studentville on Whitchurch Road, we’re also fully backing their decision to set up a more relaxed kitchen.

After my first experience of Chai Street at their High Street launch party, it didn’t take much for me to hope they’d be eager to host our first Quench Food Evening of 2017, and once we all arrived, it didn’t take much to be glad they had! When you walk in, it’s hard to ignore the quirky décor – think bright bunting, strings of lights and blackboards handwritten with all the colours of the rainbow. The restaurant is quite an unusual shape, but its narrowness meant our table for 15 was a perfect fit, while the most important factor, the menu, definitely doesn’t disappoint. The Thalis – an Indian street platter – alleviates any pesky indecisiveness because it encompasses six distinct flavours – ‘sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy’. These come in Lamb, Chicken, Fish, Vegetable and even the intriguing-sounding Chai Special – so you can combine the main dish with smaller bites like dal and raita. With other favourites including Indian street rolls and Bhaji Baskets, the spicier end of the spectrum prevails throughout, but other tastes are in no way neglected. The highlights of my own meal had to be the masala fries – not exactly associated with Chippy Lane – and the mojito, which is a far more generous size than most other places, yet reasonably priced at just over £5.

All in all, Chai Street do Indian with a twist. Proving the team are a multi-talented bunch, whether at the pricier side of things over at Mint and Mustard, or centering on the cheap and cheerful at both Chai Street branches, they, like Cardiff itself, manage to encapsulate an interesting combination – of old-school and modern. Here’s what our contributors made of it!

Sanya Budiraja  – As soon as I stepped foot into the restaurant, I was overcome with a gush of nostalgia. From cute fairy lighting to Bollywood pop-art, Chai Street delivered on its name by providing warm, friendly service and authentic Indian street food. From Bread Pakoras to Aloo Tikki Chaat, a look at the menu and it almost felt like I was back in Delhi.

However, it was not just their wide variety of food selection that surprised me, but also an innovative drinks menu with Indo-Western fusion cocktails in massive pitchers. Nevertheless, the non-alcoholic drinks collection was equally as impressive, including classics such as Mango Lassi and Masala Chai.

At the restaurant, I tried a vegetable stuffed paratha. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that it was tawa-cooked, with just the right amount of ghee. This was a lot better than some of the other Indian places as their breads are usually drowning in oil. The stuffing was very similar to the classic mixed vegetable sabji and even though filling was not too sickly, much like one would expect Indian curries to be. The dish was served as a wrap and thus is a total recommendation for someone venturing into Indian food for the first time!

Georgia O’Brien – From the infamous Mint and Mustard just outside the city centre, to the more locally positioned Mowgli’s on Crwys Road, Cardiff’s vast and vibrant Indian food scene spoils us for choice. So when I heard that another independent restaurant Chai Street (run by the owners of Mint and Mustard) was opening on High Street, I was eager to give it a try. On arriving to the restaurant the first thing I was impressed by was the quirky and dare I say it rather ‘edgy’ décor. The graffiti, designed by a local artist, was tastefully done in a way that recreated the authenticity of India but with a modern twist. I decided to go for the Fish Chai express meal, a succulent blend of mild spiced curry accompanied by white rice for a  student friendly £7.25. The fish itself was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, while the curry sauce was just spicy enough to avoid being bland. The portion however, was a little bit on the small side and I did find myself envying the more substantial Thali meals that came with an array of dal, raita, pickles, mini poppadoms, rice and naan bread but at a more expensive £8.95. For anyone planning on paying Chai Street a visit I would recommend opting for 2 or 3 of the smaller ‘street delights’ to avoid this. That way you can try out a few dishes that take your fancy without leaving hungry. Overall, a pleasant experience with friendly service and yummy food that is definitely worth a paying visit this term.

Beth Griffiths – Chai Street offers a range of authentic and delicious Indian dishes at incredible prices – what’s not to love?

On arriving at Chai Street I was immediately taken in by the beautiful décor. Brightly coloured prints and patterns donned every wall, eagerly welcoming you into the restaurant. After taking a seat I was offered a menu by one of the many friendly waiting staff. The menu included a variety of Indian dishes, ranging from ‘Chicken Lollipops’ to simple curries. I was especially pleased at the variety of vegetarian dishes available, as I know that this is very uncommon in many restaurants – nearly all of the main dishes could be made vegetarian if required.

After much deliberation I decided on the vegetarian ‘Chai Express Meal’ and a mango smoothie. The mango smoothie was delicious and was excellent value for money, costing a little over £2. The ‘Chai Express Meal’ was also good value, costing £7.25, yet because you had to choose between rice and Indian bread, I felt that it was lacking without one or the other. The vegetarian curry itself was delicious, and the rice served with it was cooked to perfection.

So, if you’re ever wandering around Cardiff looking for a place to eat, or planning an evening meal out with friends, I would definitely recommend Chai Street for friendly service and delicious food!

Hannah Hopkins – Chai Street is nestled away on Cardiff’s busy High Street – a sister restaurant to the branch already open in Canton and related to the highly-acclaimed Mint and Mustard on Whitchurch Road – branding itself as an Indian street kitchen. Inside, the restaurant is bright and colourful with a casual-dining vibe and the décor is enough to get any keen Instagrammer reaching for their phone for a few photos (I know I certainly did!)

The menu is made up of smaller tapas-style nibbles and larger dishes, such as the Thali. I opted for the latter, selecting a vegetable thali which was a great choice (even if I do say so myself), and I was pleasantly surprised by the portion size. Served on a single plate in line with Indian food customs, my dish was made up of tofu in a tasty (but rather spicy) sauce, with separate servings of potatoes, raita, mini poppadoms, naan, a lentil daal, rice and lime pickle. All were really good and I couldn’t help but think what great value for money this was. As a bonus, the cocktails are also a student-friendly price (£5.25), and Chai Street certainly didn’t scrimp on the size – mine was served in what I can only describe as a large bowl-like glass!

An independent restaurant with great food, great prices and a friendly atmosphere.

Bob Wigin – While other diners chose mains, I selected two smaller courses, starting with Chicken Lollipops. These were the middle of a chicken’s wing, probably the best fried chicken I’ve had. With these I had Poori Bhaji, a flakier version of pitta bread. Having visited India during Summer, this dish transported me back. I drank Indian lemonade – the biggest surprise, as it was incredibly flavoursome. One criticism I had was the seating area being quite cold, but I heartily recommend Chai Street – just expect quality over quantity.

Gabbi Wan – As I walked into Chai Street I was immediately impressed by the cool interior design that covers every inch of the restaurant. Everywhere you look there is something quirky or funny to notice. The place is full of bright colours and patterns which help to create a fun and friendly atmosphere. On arrival, it didn’t take long for one of the friendly staff to come over and explain the menu to us – you can buy a main meal or a variety of smaller plates. There is also an essential mild-to-hot rating on each of their dishes so you don’t accidentally order something that sets your mouth on fire. I went for their lamb thali which came on a metal tray with different compartments for lamb curry, vegetable curry, mini poppadoms, naan bread, rice, pickle, raita and potatoes. I loved this mixture as it gives a real Indian street food experience rather than just trying one dish. Each part of this dish was full of flavour and spice. Along with my food I tried one of their cocktails ‘Mantra’, because they’re only £5.25 and they’re huge! The mix of coconut water and gin amongst other ingredients is exactly what was needed to accompany the medium heat dish I chose. Overall, the Chai Street experience was great and I will be revisiting to try more of their dishes.

Christopher Jones – If you enjoy Indian food and are willing to spend a few extra pounds on your meal, you should check Chai Street out. I had the chicken dum biryani, and Lentil of the Day. The spiced rice and vegetables were peppered with a generous amount of chicken. I found the chicken sauce spicy without the yoghurt, but that could be down to my shortcomings in curry tolerance. I’d also recommend the strawberry smoothie.

Olivia Botting – As a group, Quench Food descended en masse to the new branch of Chai Street. (It took me three days to figure out it works as a pun on ‘high street’). It claims to serve authentic Indian street food, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Admittedly, it was difficult to figure out what I was ordering from the start because it was all completely authentic cuisine and rather different from the Westernised view of Indian food. But after some deduction and a quick Google, the dishes were easy enough to understand and the staff cleared up any queries.

I ordered a Chicken Biryani, which is conventionally a rice dish served with yoghurt. In my infinite wisdom, I also ordered the lentil curry of the day to smother on top of the biryani, because I hail from the land of the Balti and I wasn’t going to be defeated by some rice.

I was defeated by some rice. Whilst being delicious, the dish had a definite kick to it, and my eyes and nose were streaming by the time I relented and turned to the yoghurt. It’s quite hard to explain – it wasn’t an uncomfortable amount of spice, just enough to make you realise you hadn’t grown up with it.

Maria Mellor – To start with, Chai Street is aesthetic central. There are cute little twinkly lights, bunting and cleverly painted walls that make the whole place incredibly cosy. I looked down the drinks menu and couldn’t not order a mango lassi – smooth, sweet and tropical, it was exactly what I needed. You know that a meal is good when the food arrives and everyone goes silent just to concentrate on eating. I had ordered the fish thali, which came on a cute school lunch-style tray with the curry, rice, naan bread, poppadoms, dhal, potatoes and raita all included. Talk about value for money! With each forkful I just kept thinking ‘Now THIS is real Indian food.’ The curry was a little spicy, but the menu did have an effective traffic-light warning system and in my opinion the heat was a welcome complement to the mild raita. I practically wiped the plate clean with my naan bread, just to get every last bit of flavour. I’ll definitely be going back there again!

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