Pirata Group’s newest opening, Chaiwala, offers modern Indian dining in a traditional and quirky setting.
District: Central, Hong Kong
Cuisine: Modern Indian cuisine
How much: Dishes range between $40 and $340, Dabbawala tasting menu $480pp
The Best For: A celebration with a twist
Must Order: Pani Puri with Jal-Jeera and the Magic Lamp cocktail
Sassy Tip: Sit in the ‘Kitchen’ for views of the tandoor oven and the chefs at work, or in the ‘Dining Room’ central table for a colourful, celebratory atmosphere.
Chaiwala (named after a person who prepares, sells or serves tea on streets or small roadside shops in India) opened in August 2018 and is the latest restaurant from Pirata Group – whose restaurants include the ever popular Pici, TokyoLima and Madame Ching. Inspired by the colourful hustle and bustle synonymous with India, Chaiwala is a modern and playful take on Indian dining. Entering through the unassuming red door on busy Wyndham street, diners can expect to make their way through British salon-style bar Hugger Mugger before entering Chaiwala.
The restaurant is divided into three spaces: the ‘Chai Bar’ features a vintage Indian chai stand; the ‘Kitchen’ where diners can watch the chef’s in action and see the huge tradition tandoor ovens; and the ‘Dining Room’ with partitioned wooden walls and a stunning central table.
We ate in the ‘Dining Room’ beneath the ceiling installation of strips of fabric and strings of traditional trinkets and bells, which give a celebratory and special atmosphere to the room. Presentation was clearly key when developing the concept for Chaiwala, as reflected in the unique interiors – such as the vintage matchboxes built into the table, the witty messages on the fire escape, the cocktails accompanied by their own bird cages and the delicate food styling.
To start the evening I tried the playfully named Punjab Cadillac Colada ($120) which was served in a beautifully glazed vase style glass. However, the star of the table was the Magic Lamp ($120) cocktail (consisting of Butter washed Plantation 3 stars rum, banana, citrus mix, dill, all spice and sage) and served in a genie style lantern.
Crafted by Culinary Director Chef Bala, the food menu consists of small and large sharing style plates and is divided into six sections which spans across the whole of Indian. For those who want to try a bit of everything (like us!), you can opt for the Dabbawala Menu, which includes a selection of Chaiwala signatures and Chef’s favourites for $480 per person.
We started our meal with some Bhelpuri and Pani Puri. As a vegetarian, I opted for the classic potato and channa (chickpea) filling over the chicken tika for my Pani Puri – which is in a golfball sized crisp puri basket – and comes with a refreshing Jal-Jeera, spiced water. The instructions are simple: pour the water into the puri and eat it one mouthful. The execution was not so simple but it did make for a fresh and flavourful, if not unflattering challenge.
I then enjoyed Paneer 3 Ways ($160) which featured a classic paneer tikka, basil paneer and cheese marinated paneer kebab. My favourite was the vibrant green basil paneer – but that didn’t stop me trying them all again just to make sure! Other delicious vegetarian options include Malai Broccoli ($120), a whole broccoli with a subtly spiced tamarind sauce, Punjabi Chole (indian chickpeas) and plenty of Truffle Nan ($140). The truffle nan with the paneer was a particularly comforting mouthful.
Other guests tried the succulent looking ‘T.L.C’ Tandoori Lamb Chops ($310), with a papaya, chilli and black pepper marinade, along with Bala’s Fish Pakoras ($220), which is an Indian take on fish and chips. If you’re feeling decadent you should also try the Lobster Nerulli ($390), which features charred lobster with South Indian spices, lobster claw rice and vegetable poriyal (fried greens).
If you can save space for dessert, I tried the Bollywood style, Cardamon Panna Cotta and pinched one of a friend’s Gulab Jamun (spiced milk balls). As with all the dishes at Chaiwala the presentation of the panna cotta was beautiful with delicate mango salad, crumb, edible flowers and just the right amount of wobble; but the warm sugar of the Gulab Jamun with mint syrup and caramelised pistachios was melt in the mouth delicious.
The interiors and transportive experience evoked by the flavours at Chailwala is like stepping inside a treasure trove of Indian treats. So much so I was reluctant to exit back into bustle of LKF. However, when you do leave, you exit through the bar Hugger Mugger which serves a cocktail menu of drinks inspired by British icons such as David Attenborough and Banksy – perfect for continuing the evening late into the night.
Chaiwala, Basement, No. 43-55, Wyndham Street, Central, www.chaiwala.hk
Featured image courtesy of Chaiwala, image #2 and #3 courtesy of Daisy Dudley and property of Sassy Media Group, image #4 courtesy of Chaiwala, image #5 courtesy of Daisy Dudley and property of Sassy Media Group, image #6 courtesy of Chaiwala, image #7 courtesy of Daisy Dudley and property of Sassy Media Group