Chit Chaat Chai is one of the newest places you can score tasty Indian street food. You’ll find the restaurant a short walk away from Wandsworth town station in South West London (zone 2). I live and work in East London, so for me to venture off my regular beaten path takes a little motivation, even if it is within the same zone. It turns out though that I should do this a lot more often: it took me only 30 minutes to get to Chit Chaat Chai from Bank station, and in London terms that is more than acceptable. It is no longer than it would take me to get to a Soho hotspot (and I’ve done that plenty of times). Factoring in the likely 45 minute (minimum) wait time at other restaurants makes this a far less time-consuming option. But try this place before the line starts going around the block, it is too good for it not go in that direction very soon!
The restaurant is set on two floors, and if you are planning to celebrate your birthday or another event, get a reservation for the upstairs. The floors are plastered with vintage Indian newspapers, and the wall is covered in larger than life street art you just can’t stop looking at.
Until the food arrives, because if you are eating in company, your conversation partners better be quite fun to be around to keep your attention. Or the conversation just turns to the food and drinks. Our group got a nice spot downstairs, but this place is going on my shortlist as an option for my next birthday and with some months to plan I definitely will get the upstairs for it then.
The evening got luckier when we had a chance to meet up with the brains behind the cocktails. The unique blend of Indian flavours have been mixed together by Shake&Stir, local experts in all things that go into and come out of a cocktail shaker. The Shake&Stir team spent months designing the perfect blend of flavours to complement the food menu. The results are nothing to shake your head at.
Like the start of any good Friday night, we started with a few cocktails and mocktails.
The best part of dining in a group? You get to try all the different flavours without having more than 1 or 2 drinks yourself. They’ve made bold choices, including ingredients like masala and turning it into a refreshing drink. You can expect surprises like burning lavender, eucalyptus leaves (I never knew what they looked like before this evening!) and dehydrated pineapple pieces to top your cocktails. Smell, taste, and texture all blend together perfectly and I am normally not even much of a cocktail drinker, so coming from me this says a lot. I loved that the cocktails are not overly sweet, but instead bursting with flavour. The reason I often don’t choose a cocktail, is because they tend to be overloaded with sugar and I don’t find them as interesting as wine. These drinks were different, they don’t rely on an overdose of sugar so the complex flavours of the ingredients got to shine through. And it made me love cocktails again!
From a food perspective expect to order a few plates per person. You don’t need more than 2 or 3 each but you’ll probably want to keep eating because it is that tasty. Another great advantage to coming with at least one other person, you can treat the food like tapas. Sharing is the best opportunity to try as many flavours as possible.
Keep in mind that the small plates are really not that small, so do bring an appetite! Just as an example, the Keema Pau is the Indian take on ‘sloppy joes’, and it is a very generous helping. Three buns and a mountain of spiced meat can be treated as a full meal for one, or a great starter for two or more people.
The place is everything that is good about a family run business. Owners Tania and Dhruv were running around with plates of food and giving us pointers to the menu. I’ve recently gone gluten-free, egg-free and dairy-free (due to food intolerance) and the menu already indicated gluten-free options. All I needed help with was steering clear from the dairy that can creep into Indian cuisine. Easily done by avoiding yogurt toppings and sauces, and Tania was extremely accommodating with the dietary needs.
I love all things chickpeas, so I had to try the chole chickpea tikki, which is listed as gluten-free and vegetarian on the menu. The only adaptation I needed was getting the yoghurt on the side. They may have been my favourite thing that evening, but it is a close race with some of the other food. We ordered the Wada Pav burger as well as okra fries, pani puri, one pot chicken biryani, and lamb railway curry.
I had a bite of the burger, without the bun. It may be void of meat (vegetarian), but it was full of flavour. I’d have it on my own with just some rice on the side, next time. Chit Chaat Chai is a nice option for gluten-free and vegetarian diners, taking the guess-work and annoying questions out of the evening with so many options already listed on the menu. I think I can speak for all people who have dietary restrictions when I say that the thing I dread the most about eating out is being that annoying person who has to ask a million questions (and who may end up with nothing to eat). Not the case here, which is awesome!
I am always curious about what drives people’s passions, and whenever given the chance to strike up a conversation with entrepreneurs, I do. Tania and Dhruv didn’t work in the hospitality of food industry before starting their restaurant. Instead, both were driven out of the corporate sector by their shared love for Indian street food. They told me that they always wondered why food in mainstream Indian restaurants is so different from what Indians actually eat. Instead of continuing to look for a restaurant that served what they were looking for, they left their jobs to start Chit Chaat Chai and do it themselves.
Their approach was an interesting, and sensible, one. Instead of jumping into the deep end of the entrepreneurial pool, they tested their audience by servicing plates of chaat (Indian street food) at food markets and graduated to supper cubs and pop ups in central London. All events were a massive success, and it gave them the confidence to make it official and open a full-fledged restaurant. As a former researcher and now as a product manager this approach resonates with me. Market research prior to making a big investment just makes sense, but not every business makes that choice.
It made a lot of sense for Tania and Dhruv, both leaving promising careers to follow their passion. The call was too strong to ignore, and they are proving that you don’t need to be a chef to know great food. A lot of what you taste and see at their restaurant stems from their culinary philosphy: Food is Art. Tania shared with me that she wants to delight all the senses when a dish arrives on the table. It is meant to be seen, smelled, heard (sizzle!), and tasted (in flavour and texture). The street food goes with the street art gracing the walls. The food, the drinks, and the decor have each taken substantial time to orchestrate to perfection. Tania left me to contemplate a saying that sums it all up for them:
“Indian Food is like Music Raga. It takes time to build to a cresendo” – Shobna De
We left round like beach balls, and happy as can be.
4 things I loved most about Chit Chaat Chai
- Gluten free and vegetarian items are clearly listed on the menu
- There are both alcoholic cocktails and alcohol-free mocktails on the menu. Both are equally delicious, so alcohol is optional. If you are abstaining from alcohol, ordering a mocktail helps you blend in if your crowd otherwise questions your sobriety (yes, this happens, hence why I am mentioning it specifically. Not drinking in London is apparently exotic, but it is a choice some of us want to make either sometimes, or all the time. Preferably without having to explain why.).
- The restaurant has a really cool vibe, and the interior design rivals with the food and drinks in awesomeness.
- There is not or hardly a line-up, in comparison to a cool 2 hour wait at, for example, Dishoom. While the food is actually way better.