Softly, Softly, Catchee Chai Ki | Toddy Shop at Chai Ki, Mall Level -1 Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AR
What’s this? Another good restaurant in Canary Wharf? I didn’t think I’d ever be typing those words. Before Crossrail, our dining experiences in the area had been pretty poor, but things are on the up thanks to the train people (thanking train people – didn’t think I’d be typing that either).
OK, so it’s still a bit of soulless weird place but once you resign yourself to this fact, it’s OK. If you’re a fan of tunnels, the walkway across to Crossrail Place is pretty cool. Not as cool as the roof garden that really is a proper roof garden, not like somewhere else we won’t name.
Toddy Shop at Chai Ki is brought to you by the same people that brought us Roti Chai. But you’d never know as they’ve quietly opened and haven’t made a big song and dance about it. I suspect if they were in Shoreditch, Soho, Spitalfields or anywhere else beginning with the letter S, it would be a slightly different story. The more formal restaurant is yet to open and the menu will differ from the bar area in which we ate.
We popped along before Ade headed off to Star Wars Secret Cinema dressed as an X-wing pilot (don’t worry, he wasn’t wearing his ‘outfit’ whilst we were there.) It was a funny old time to eat – 3pm, this made it quiet but that’s OK, it meant we could take in the surroundings a bit more. It certainly filled up by the time we left, lots of families which is always nice to see. Chai Ki is inspired by south India’s roadside drinking dens, beautifully designed and with character – headlamp lights on the wall, clever use of iron work and mesh screening and cool calming colours.
We even took notes of the colour scheme in the toilets for future redecorating at home – a dark turquoisey teal with grey. The mirrors were fab too, Ade wants some in our house but of course they’re bespoke.
The menu is frustratingly good, we really could have ordered anything and I don’t think we’d have gone wrong, great bold flavours that we love so much. The only error we did make was in ordering too much, the sharing plates aren’t small by any means, they really are meant for sharing. I must add how honest the service was, none of those cliches like ‘that’s one of my favourites’ to anything we ordered, they didn’t hold back on what they thought we should or shouldn’t order.
I couldn’t not try the Chai Ki Toddy (£8.50) – a brew made from the sap of palm trees, I didn’t get round to trying one of the chai-spiced ales unfortunately. I preferred my next drink, the Chilli Martini (£8.50) – chilli vodka, vanilla vodka, coconut water. Ade’s Chai and orange martini (£9.50) was Christmas in a glass, close your eyes and ignore the hot weather and the taste transports you to the festive season.
Hakka Chilli Paneer (£7.20) – a fiery Indo-Chinese warm salad with fresh green chilli and spring onion was the only dish I couldn’t eat, even though Ade insists paneer doesn’t taste like cheese, whatever. I’m not taking that risk. Ade couldn’t get enough of it, regardless of the fact I can’t eat cheese, I don’t think he would have been sharing this dish. It was spicy but not in an eye watering, tongue flapping way – the other spices still had the chance to burst out.
Instead I pretty much had the Burnt Chilli Chicken (£7.90) to myself. Now I didn’t spot the whole Indo-Chinese description when ordering as I don’t normally go for fusion, it’s not my thing. Or so I thought anyway, this was so good, the Indo-Chinese Szechwan sauce bloody spicy but incredibly tasty, god, that chicken was incredibly well cooked, such an underrated meat.
The almost dessert-like Dahi Puri (£6.50) – crunchy semolina shells, potato, sweet yoghurt and ‘imli’ tamarind sauce proved to be quite efficient little mouth coolers. Koliwada Calamari (£8.20) – with curry leaf, pickling spices, ‘jaggery’ cane sugar, roasted cumin was one of the most unusual calamari concoctions we’ve ever eaten. Not the prettiest dish, and a little chewy – not just down to the fish but the heavy-duty coating also.
Now I’m not comparing Chai Ki to Dishoom as they are quite different. But the dhal at Dishoom is practically the only thing I’ve ever eaten there that I don’t like, purely because it tastes too creamy for my cheese-hating tastebuds. The Dhal Fry (£4.80) with little crispy bits of onion at Chai Ki was probably one of the best things I ate that late lunchtime. Scooped up with the light Naan bread it was a proper hug in a bowl.
We ended up sharing mains also, the Himalayan Ribs (£8.90) – babyback ribs, Nepalese chilli rub and pineapple served with a super-sweet and sticky bacon bhel. We love this style of cooking and I had to defend my half from Ade.
Luckily our waiter had talked Ade into ordering the special which I’d nearly ordered instead of the ribs. Coconut prawns (£15.50) – coconut milk, Chai Ki seaweed podi, red chilli, turmeric, curry leaves, coriander and basmati cumin rice. There was a lot of colour going on with this dish, who needs food colouring when you have turmeric? Loved the spiced creamy sauce and pea green broccoli, succulent prawns and hints of mild bitterness from the Mooli. So basically we loved all of it.
A breather was due before dessert but time was running out for Ade to slip into his orange boiler suit and pretend he was 10-years-old, running around with other Star Wars freaks. Oops, I mean fans… Despite him alleging that he couldn’t possibly eat another mouthful, once again he was talked into having a dessert. A Kulfi is only little though, there’s always room for Kulfi (£2.90).
I delved into the rather generous slice of Custard tart with strawberries, meringue and ‘gulab’ rose drizzle (£6.50) washed down with a cup of Chai (£2.20). I wasn’t too sure about drinking their Chai as Dishoom’s version is so dear to us. This wasn’t much like theirs, less milky and more like subtly spiced builder’s tea. Nice but different.
I wanted to go and have a nap upstairs in the roof garden and come back in a couple of hours to try all the things we didn’t eat the first time round. Like the sides of stir-fried burnt ginger rice and Masala fries. Or better still, the Railway omelette with a Chai shake from the breakfast menu.
Instead it was a solo journey home Instagramming the hell out of our meal and winding up my friend Farzana who was meant to be my dinner date, but the poor thing had to go to Miami instead. We’re definitely coming back as soon as the opportunity arises, before they realise they’re serving bargainous huge portions and hike the prices up (or the portion sizes down).
Mall Level -1 Crossrail Place,
Canary Wharf, London E14 5AR
Telephone: 020 7408 7630
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 7am-11pm
Saturday: 10am-11pm, Sunday: 10am-10pm
Follow them on Twitter
Nearest station: Canary Wharf DLR (5 mins walk), West India Quay DLR (7 mins walk) Canary Wharf (8 mins walk)
We ate as guests of Chai Ki, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.