Chai Naasto (Indian) – Hammersmith
Having opened in April, the concept behind their menu is wonderfully conceived, with diners asked to pick 2-3 plates from the “chaat street” or “kebab gully” sections, a couple of “punjab” or “nanima’s curries”, and a few extras, to really experience the restaurant’s promise of delivering a “gastronomic adventure throughout India”.
Conveniently situated only a five minute walk from Hammersmith tube station, Chai Naasto is a relatively small place, with an indoor capacity of 28 and 10 outside.
The interior is inspired by all the razzmatazz and colourful bravado of India’s booming movie industry, Bollywood.
Candle-bulbs hanging from the ends of ropes dangling across the ceiling completes a busy looking interior.
While Chai Naasto has confirmed that “all our meats used are certified Halal”, there is a large alcohol bar situated near the entrance.
Nevertheless, the restaurant offers a variety of what it calls “Sin Free Cocktails”, along with a selection of those quintessential South-Asian yoghurt-based drinks known as Lassies.
The Better than Booze wasn’t quite as light and as refreshing as we’d hoped for. And while it had a good citrusy flavour to it, the ginger and its supposed other accompaniments simply didn’t come through. Over all, a fairly bland drink.
Although the mango failed to materialise in the Bollywood Reviver, the passionfruit was strong to taste and marginally offset by the hint of lime. Additionally, we also found that a little nibble on the mint leaf therein provided a most satisfying counter to all the sweetness.
How delightfully unique and elegant were these upturned glass bulb bottles, and entirely befitting these solid yoghurt-based beverages.
Both were thick and fulfilling, with the mango flavoured one striking us as fairly standard, and the Rose & Cardamom turning out to be utterly delicious.
A perfectly balanced lassie where the rosewater was thankfully subtle enough to allow the soothingly gentle taste of the cardamom to come through. What’s more, this had little bits to it that gave this lassie a surprisingly addictive texture. Superb!
CURRIES FROM PUNJAB
Of the two curries we had, this Makhni Chooze, literally translated Butter Chicken, was the most appealing.
Presented in those traditional tiffin-style metal containers, this was also traditionally garnished, with a dollop of butter, and looked mightily inviting.
Taste-wise, the sweet masala sauce was, in terms of its strength of flavour, just right.
Texture-wise, it was beautifully creamy with generous portions of succulent chicken pieces.
We’d also recommend grabbing a portion of the Masala Cheese Naan, more about which you can read below…
CURRIES FROM NANIMA
As exquisite as the cooking of this lamb curry was – tender chunks of soft meat stewed in a non-oily sauce that had an almost rich, gelatinous consistency to it, and which was beautifully infused with the flavours of the fatty lamb – it wasn’t quite as good as it could and should have been.
Sadly, the technical side of this dish just didn’t mirror the flavours this warranted. It was obvious that, while this was perfectly seasoned, the chef had been somewhat restrained in his use of spices. This deserved to be far stronger in taste than it was.
A commendable little Samose Chaat that was well balanced, though mild in terms of its flavours.
The sweet and sour played its part sufficiently to allow for the gentle heat of the garam masala to kick in soon after, while the scattered pomegranates provided some crunchy sweetness.
A fresh, no nonsense salad that seemed a little dear for the £6.00 price tag.
In any case, the addition of the freekah provided a crunchy bite, while the saltiness of the feta cheese played well against the earthy slithers of beetroot and walnut.
We’ve had Pani Puris that packed far more of a masala-wallop than these insipid shots.
So subtle were these that, aside from the light chilli-based potato concoction and the finely textured bombay mix with pomegranates, the only thing we picked up on in these was the taste of the gentle sweet tamarind reduction.
Nonetheless, the spices in the succulent kofta, which also had a pleasant chewiness to it, were beautifully balanced.
As a result, the entire thing worked really well against the loosely textured tomato-based sweet-chilli sauce.
With a choice of lamb, chicken or vegetable, we opted for the lamb. And though the meat was soft and decently made, the rice, perhaps on account of the spices coating it, turned out a tad firm. Whether this was by design or not, we don’t know; but, we would have preferred it softer.
Taste-wise, however, the hit of garam masala was unmistakable, perhaps bordering on the harsh, with the heat gently lingering in the background. As such, the sourness of the yoghurt raita was certainly the perfect accompaniment.
Not the best biryani we’ve ever had, but not bad either.
This Seekh Paratha was average at best. Despite the hint of smokiness, had the kebab actually been properly charred to lift it beyond its soft textured exterior, then perhaps this might have compensated for the subtlety of spice therein.
And a perfect paratha is one that’s also well charred and, thus, crispy on the outside, which would have provided that textural contrast. This, on the other hand, wasn’t that.
And speaking of a good charred exterior, this Sea Bass epitomised the meaning of the word Tandoori.
What an absolute delight it was to be presented with a fish whose flesh flaked off at the merest of touches. Couple that with a tandoori-charred masala marinated crispy skin, and what we had here, with a squeeze of the lemon of course, was one of the dishes of the evening!
This demands respect and attention!
With the freshness of the ginger lingering in the background, the marination on these king prawns assured a good amount of heat, which was tempered somewhat by the squeeze of the lemon.
And while these were springy and soft and perfectly cooked, perhaps a slightly crispier exterior would have provided that touch of tandoori smokiness.
We’d be damned if they didn’t succeed in presenting the perfectly cooked scallops here.
These were unbelievably tender and soft, and worked really well with the ultra-smooth almost mousse-like cauliflower base, which was sufficiently spiced to ensure some background heat.
And the green herb sauce streaked over the top was clever in countering said heat.
Never had a masala cheese naan before, and this was an interesting first time. While crispy on the outside, this progressively became softer towards the cheesy centre.
We’d actually recommend this with any curry you might consider.
An interesting dessert this and a challenging one too. It was certainly yoghurty in its texture; but what we enjoyed most about this was the interplay between the honey and the saffron. More importantly, it wasn’t overly sweet either. Good stuff!
NOTE: This contains nuts.
A seriously indulgent, truly chocolatey brownie, albeit dense. Its crunchy orange base worked well texturally speaking, while the vanilla scoop helped counter all that chocolateness.
Chai Naasto have a really good selection of teas too, which we couldn’t help, but try.
Both the Himalayan Green Magic Tea and the Mango Green Tea Infusion were subtle, but managed to deliver that warmth so familiar of a good quality green tea.
Conversely, the Choco Chai Spice Ayurvedic Infusion, was such a strong spicy brew that it hit the back of the throat with some intensity before slowly mellowing out. But once the palate adjusted, we all thoroughly enjoyed this Yogi Tea.
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
The idea of a culinary voyage across India is inspired, and Chai Naasto has obviously invested a good amount of time and effort in presenting and selling the concept as effectively as they have; it really does work.
As to the food, then, by and large, it succeeds in offering some of the authentic flavours of the streets of India.
However, if we did have a criticism, it would be that they seem to have perhaps made the decision, at least for some dishes, in toning down on the use of the many bold and vibrant spices that represent and epitomise Indian cooking. And we can't help but think that this might be down to them catering for the local palate. If true, then that's a real pity, since a number of dishes consequently suffered as a result.
In any case, Chai Naasto is certainly a restaurant that intends to keep things fresh and innovative, with their menu "voyages" scheduled for change every 2-3 months.
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