Newly opened Chai Ki is inspired by south India’s roadside drinking dens, although there’s little that remains of this scrubbed-up venue to link it with the original spit and sawdust shacks back home. A sister concern to Roti Chai, it is a spacious all-day Indian restaurant and bar, frequented by mainly smart young professionals. Décor focuses on industrial chic – steel ducting pipes across the high ceiling, concrete walls, hanging lights and modern wooden tables.
The menu takes its cue from dishes often served with toddy, a boozy brew made from the sap of palm trees. Food served here is slanted towards the use of south Indian spicing, although a generous dollop of artistic licence is taken with the offering. It’s an extensive choice of creative cocktails and feel-good mocktails, spiced breakfast dishes, small plates and traditional curries. Expect the likes of bacon rolls sauced with tamarind-tomato ketchup, coconutty masalas from lunch onwards, and an occasional north Indian interloper of chicken tikka-topped naan alongside Indo-Chinese paneer dressed with sizzling green chillies.
Highlights on our visit included fried squid, sliced, lightly battered and dipped in crunchy jaggery-caramel coating. Equally satisfying was slow-cooked pulled pork shoulder, simmered in curry leaf-infused stock, before being piled onto a griddle-cooked Malabhar paratha. Other dishes were good in parts - flavoursome sambhar (lentils sharpened with tamarind) exhibited an appealing tartness, but was let down by stodgy idlis (steamed rice cakes).
Despite occasional disappointments, this restaurant puts on a good show of bringing affordable, sun-kissed cooking to the table. And, if you fancy a brisk walk afterwards, head to the rooftop garden at Crossrail Place for a spot of zen-like contemplation.