For Indian families, food is everything. We pick trips based on what we’ll eat, we celebrate happy occasions by gifting those we love with our favourite foodie sweet treats and we plan our days around our meals. Well, at least in my family, that’s what we do! Food is part of our cultural identity and a huge part of my personal identity too.
I’m not sure when exactly weekend brunches starting booming in London but they certainly have, you can barely go a few streets on a weekend here before you pass a bottomless brunch with variations of Bloody Mary cocktails and alternative takes on smashed avocado and toast. Chai Ki prides itself on modern Indian food with a twist, described as “soul food” and their weekend brunch is exactly that. We recently sampled the “Recovery Brunch” and were seriously impressed.
I love an Indian brunch but, generally speaking, this is only ever something I have at home on the weekend. Mum will make piles of gorgeous parathas (flaky, buttery savoury flatbreads) which are a treat with hot masala chai.
Given that my mum is the queen of Indian brunch food, I didn’t expect to be dazzled by any Indian restaurant brunch, but I was intrigued. The flavours we tried at Chai Ki’s Toddy Shop Bar were bold and unapologetic – zingy and flavour packed. I loved it!
We arrived for 10.30am on a Sunday, it was quiet (the Wharf clearly doesn’t wake as early as we do!). We were warmly welcomed and offered our choice of table in the Toddy Shop (the more informal dining area). As we perused the menu, glasses of masala chai arrived in their hot, sweet, spiced glory. They were perfect, there really is no better way to kick off a Sunday!
We scoured the menu. We were truly spoiled for choice.
After much deliberation, here’s what we ended up trying:
The Garam Masala Tikki Hash consisted of classic Aloo Tikki, which are spiced potato cake served with a fried egg and tomato chutney on a crispy brioche bun. I loved the crispy exterior and the tender centre. It was incredibly moreish and a huge portion. We opted for crispy bacon on top which came perfectly crisp and added a subtle smokiness. Together with the ooziness of the egg yolk it was an irresistible combination.
Miso scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked and subtly fragranced with curry leaves and turmeric, and completely worked. I was hesitant whether miso and eggs would be a tasty combination, but to be honest I couldn’t taste much miso and I love the flavour of curry leaves so I’d totally recommend this dish. It was highly aromatic and something I’ll definitely try to recreate at home. Chai Ki served the scrambled eggs with hot parathas, on which to pile high your eggs, with the option to add bacon too.
The highlight of the meal for me was the Shakarkandi Chaat, a sweet potato, spiced chickpea, sev, tamarind chaat with crisp papri and mint yoghurt. This dish epitomises everything I love about Indian food; with sweetness, sharpness, spice and a multitude of textures, it’s one you mustn’t miss! It’s moreish and complex and refreshingly different from the majority of chaat’s served in London. The sweet potato is so unique in this dish that I’ve mentioned it to pretty much everyone I know!
Himalayan baby back pork ribs were spicy with Nepalese chilli rub and pineapple and served with beautifully crispy morsels of bacon bhel. I’ve had bhel hundreds of time at home but never with bacon – it was a perfect contrast to the ribs! The ribs were outrageously sticky, sweet, juicy and fiery with heat. They’re the kind you keep going back for more for even when you find your lips won’t stop tingling with chilli. For anyone who likes a chilli challenge, these are for you! As I alluded to in my Zengo review, I love when a chef is gutsy and not afraid to spice food with fire and punch. The ribs here certainly pack a punch; they’re really not for the fainthearted and actually very spicy.
For me, the only dish that didn’t quite hit the mark was the Chicken Tikka Naan, which had succulent tandoori chicken, peppers, red onion enveloped in fresh naan, with yoghurt and a mint coriander chutney but the naan was more of a thin flatbread than the fluffy, tandoor-flamed naan we’d hoped for.
Finally, our last-but-not-least dish arrived: A mini mountain of ‘chaas’ buttermilk pancakes, soaked in honey and maple syrup, topped with fresh blueberries. They were soft and fluffy and everything a pancake stack should be. We deliberated for ages about what was in the syrup as we were certain there’s some spice in there somewhere, reminiscent of the syrup used in classic Indian pudding, Gulab Jamun. Clearly, we’ll just need to go back soon to find out!
I washed my meal down with a Strawberry Chai Bellini, which was sweet and refreshing. Though I couldn’t taste much spiciness, I loved the fresh sweetness of the strawberries and it served as a chilli-quencher. For the Doc, the Kovolam Beach juice; a blend of tropical guava, coconut lychee and ginger ale. He described it as sweet, cooling and ideal for those with a sweet tooth.
The food at Chai Ki is startlingly good, they dish up vibrant dishes, each with its own unique twist on modern Indian classics. It’s the kind of place you leave with a filled belly and an excited buzz on whether to share your new discovery or whether to keep it to yourself. The flavours are moreish, vibrant, and a pleasant change from the norm. The dishes at Chai Ki have a good bit of attitude and bite. They’re memorable and they’re fun. The menu is progressive Indian, a brilliant change from the usual eggs benedict/avocado options that make up so many brunch menus in London. They offer takeaway twists on bacon rolls with tamarind ketchup and offer iced Chai and Coffee, as well as inventive cocktails in the Toddy Shop Bar.
When an ex-Investment banker turns into a restaurateur, many purists would turn their noses up. But, based on my experience, they’d truly be missing out. Big time! If you’re anything like me, you’ll walk out with a wide smile and it’ll be the sort of Sunday where ideally you’d head home, straight for a nap. You’ll look over your shoulder one last time at Chai Ki, and wish you had space for more.
Go soon, whether it be for brunch, for a takeaway breakfast-to-go, for a cocktail or for iced chai’s to-go. Just go soon!
Chai Ki can be found at Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AR. For more information on the restaurant and to make a booking, click here.
We were guests of Chai Ki, but my opinions are completely my own.