Chaiwala Episode II - The OCC Returns
Customer Care 6.85
Overall average: 7.22
Chaiwala Brunch is OCC recommended
We live in unprecedented times: the OCC returned to Chaiwala for a controversial re-review, following the debacle a year previously (‘The Night of No Beers’). After much debate, our Dear Chairman had decided Chaiwala deserved another chance, and their free-flow Saturday brunch provided just the opportunity. ‘The OCC having a brunch curry?!’ we hear you cry: unprecedented times indeed.
We’ll dispel with the decor - this was covered previously - but for those not in the know, Chaiwala is an upscale, modern Indian restaurant from the proliferate Pirata group of Hong Kong restaurants. It’s HUGE (spanning a large basement in Lan Kwai Fong) with a ‘sense of intrigue and a creative energy that flows through’…basically it looks the part. There are three different areas - a bar, a kitchen and a dining hall - and once again, the OCC were hosted in the dining hall, albeit not on the long stretch of glass-top bench which houses a secret OCC badge from the last meet.
Last time, Chaiwala suffered on service and customer care - our table was over an hour late, the ‘free-flow’ beer and wine package yielded less liquid than a Gobi summer and the staff were painfully slow. This return visit was a complete volte face - the table was immediately ready (split for social distancing regulations) and the beers and drinks flowed freely all afternoon. So far, so good.
Starters consisted of an excellent chaat (palak pattar) - light, crunchy and fresh - and their signature pani puri - the chickpea and potato tumbler balanced with a smattering of tamarind and coriander, then filled with a sour-spicy pudina jal-jeera and popped into OCC gobs with coos of delight. These were trumped by the tikka and tandoor selection - flaky, pink salmon; an earthier, thyme-infused chicken; lip-smacking lamb chops with a perfect pepper punch. All washed down with more beers, some lassis, even the odd prosecco coming and going as freely as a UK government advisor on a heritage excursion during lockdown.
But then came the mains. Unfortunately the gosht kofta curry tasted like a dry ball of wall insulation that had been dunked in Prego. The paneer - usually a favourite – was really lacking in flavour, though it was swimming in a rich cumin-y spinach sauce. The rice felt like it had been engaged in a 12-hour sit-in, most probably in protest against the butter chicken, which was as underwhelming as a poor descriptive simile.
The desserts were a return to form - though they were certainly leaning towards the ‘modern’ and ‘fusion’ aspects of Indian food (e.g. ice cream rather than kulfi; more of a Mr Kipling’s gulab jamun).
It must be acknowledged that it is a popular restaurant - a great date restaurant, for sure. Perhaps their cuisine is therefore aimed at a different (and safer) market than to the curry connoisseur? But once again, a proper curry proved conspicuous in its absence. Behind all the front - it’s fabulous decor, the great service that we received this time, the instagrammable dishes - you are left asking yourself - is Chaiwala actually any good?
At the second time of asking, Chaiwala did receive the coveted OCC Recommended status - but only just, and certainly with the lowest Quality score of the bunch. A lively atmosphere, speedy service and incredible value (brunch was $300pp + $180pp for free flow) were the Jim Redmond to its main courses’ Derek, carrying it limping over the line. Plus the bribe of a fistful of Daba Dollars (redeemable for one post-brunch gin and tonic) probably helped the cause too. Great for a date night option or a boozy brunch, but if you want a proper curry, the OCC still suggests you look further up the list.