I was more than a little excited when out and about after Christmas, I spied a shop front on Cowbridge Road East, Canton in Cardiff sporting the sign “Chai Street”.
Could this be, I wondered, the same sorely missed Chai Street specialising in Indian street food, which use to reside on Whitchurch Road in Cardiff? The self same place whose disappearance about two years back to accomodate the expansion of Mint and Mustard (who owned it and still do in its new guise) led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
A quick check on the internet (how did we find things out before) confirmed it was and that it would be opening on the 15th January. I texted some friends to see if they fancied it (which they did).
The premise behind Chai Street is serving up the street food of the cities of the Indian subcontinent and to create a place that, in their words, is the Indian equivalent of a New York coffee shop.Somewhere to relax and have a natter, with the added benefit of good Indian food and drink.
In the day (as and when it opens on that basis – see below), I think this will probably be the case – not so sure in the night as it was seriously rammed when we were there on a Saturday night. Any attempt at lingering would have been met by death stares from those waiting for a table.
For those with kids they have a childrens menu (be warned this is still Indian based – with spice albeit toned down a tad but not that much).
I am a bit confused as to the openings hours as the concept suggests it will open all day, with the on line menu referring to the majority of dishes being available all day (there are a couple of dishes – in the street classics section – that are only available 12-3pm and 6-10pm) . The website, however, currently refers to opening hours being 5pm – 11pm only. I assume they will extend the hours out from this over time, so best to check.
The website clearly states they do not take reservations (some people arriving as we ate seemed to have booked though – again something worth checking) so we just rocked up hoping there was space.
We arrived at just after 6pm and it was already quite full , but they squeezed us in. Within ten minutes, it was totally rammed.
I hunted in vain for a poster of the lovely Shilpa Shetty on the walls. Have a bit of a soft spot for Ms. Shetty.
To commence proceeding, I had a selection of mini samosas (£3.75).
There were three tasty morsels, with the outer shell light and crispy without a hint of greasiness. The interior of lamb, chicken and cheese respectively were all nicely spiced, with the cheese one being the pick of a good bunch.
Other starters ordered included some lamb pattice (£3.75) (two fried bread crumb minced lamb balls – nicely spiced with good flavour) and a rather superior poricha kozhi (£3.75) (chicken fillets marinated in garlic and ginger, fried in a light crumb). The latter had a pleasing chilli afterburn to it.
We also had a basket of poppadums (£1.50) (cones rather than the tradional flat shape), which came with three (lime/lemon, mint and onion) excellent chutneys (£0.90). The lime/lemon one was the pick of an excellent bunch.
These were strangely on the kids menu and both the poppadums and chutneys had some spice and heat in them (bit too much for child we had with us)
Following this, we all went for the chai special thali (£9.95).
This comprised of a lovely crisp, light onion bhaji, a chicken curry, a lamb curry, a veggie (potato) curry and a nicely spiced dhal. Added to this was a decent sized pile of rice, a lovely plain naam and a spicy poppadum (again in a cone shape), with a really nice onion chutney (sweet and spicy).
All were good, with the chicken curry the pick of the lot (all were nicely spiced and flavoured), closely followed by the dhal. The lamb curry was perhaps the only slight bum note, with the lamb itself just a touch dry.
On the booze front they have those curry house staples, Cobra and Kingfisher beer, as well as an interest selection of hot and cold soft drinks.
These include marsala coke (not come across that before), nimbu pani (Indian lemonade – with cumin and salt added to the usual mix) and a selection of teas (including chai, with free refills, for £2.25).
Intriguingly on the wine front (with an otherwise uninspiring but pretty cheap list – would be nice to see a riesling on there rather than a, undoubtedly dull as ditch water, pinot grigio), the list includes an Indian white and red from Soul Tree which were very competitively priced at only £11.50 a bottle.
It was also nice to see reasonable per glass prices, with a 175 ml glass at £2.75 and a 250 ml glass at £3.95 for the Soul Tree wines.
I have had a few Indian wines before (M&S have their Jewel of Nasik range and the Purple Poppadum did do an Indian shiraz – not sure if they still do) and they were ok, if hardly mind blowing. I was happy, especially at the £11.50 price, to give these Indian offerings on the list at Chai Street a go.
Soul Tree Wines come from the Nasik Valley (in the uplands north of Mumbai, the principle wine growing region in Indian, and is known as the Indian Napa) and their range is made up of six wines (three reds, one white, one rose and a fizz). On offer here were a sauvingnon blanc.
and a shiraz
I had to try both (purely for research purposes, of course).
Whilst nice enough, the sauvignon blanc was a bit bland. OK for the £11.50 price tag, but nothing to write home about. The shiraz on the other hand was really rather good. Nice aromas of black pepper and espresso, with a smooth mocha, dark fruit and spice finish on the palate . At the same £11.50 as the white, it was a serious bargain. Ideally if could have been a touch cooler as it was presented a bit too warm in my view.
The damage was just under £90 (with drinks, but without tip) for four adults and one child.
Service was OK, but a bit haphazard at times. They, of course, need time to bed down and on our visit they were much busier than I suspect they were expecting. As a result they were rushed off their feet, with some table having to wait a while of drinks and food and we had a bit of confusion with our order (all sorted with minimum hassle).
As they had only been open a few days on our visit this is hardly surprising and I am sure they will get it all running smoothly soon enough. I do think they need more staff front of house, when rammed, which on the evidence of our visit will happen a lot.
With great food, for a cracking price, and interesting wine and soft drink on offer, what’s not to like about this place!
A very welcome addition to the eat street that is Cowbridge Road East in Cardiff.
I hope they do well and am sure they will.
Would I go back? Absolutely.
153 Cowbridge Road East
Tel: 02920 22 88 88