Beckenham: South London. There’s a high street of chain restaurants and coffee shops, nothing you would make a special visit for – or so I thought. Venture down a one-way side street and you will find a delightful gem of an eatery which is well worth a trip on the overground for.
Chai Naasto opened in April 2016, its original branch in Beckenham has been such a success, two more branches have followed in Hammersmith and Harrow. I believe there should be a branch in every London Borough and beyond. Run by Nimesh Solanki and his siblings, Chai Naasto is an authentic Indian experience with a fresh and modern London vibe. Chai Naasto’s fairy godmother is Nimesh’s grandmother, Nanima, whose influences sing from the menu even makes the garam masala used in the restaurant.
‘Tapas-style Indian’ is a concept I hadn’t really considered before – but what a great concept! Dishes are brought to your table as soon as they are ready and the whole experience is intended to replicate the owners’ childhood dinners at Nanima’s, and it does not disappoint. In fact, Chai Naasto has a real family feel; there was something of a bustle on the Saturday afternoon I visited- the restaurant was busy catering to parties of all ages, despite the hustle and bustle the service remained friendly and efficient, making me feel more like a guest in someone’s home, rather than a customer in a restaurant.
Being a tapas-style restaurant we ordered quite a few dishes for my son and I to share. Two important things to note: we are both vegan and my son is the fussiest eater (probably) in the world. Being vegan, we are used to being lucky if we can choose between two dishes when we dine out, but at Chai Naasto, we were spoilt for choice. I even wished I’d visited in my meat-eating days as Nanima’s Ghost Nu Shaak: lamb curry on the bone, sounded amazing.
As we visited during Saturday lunch time, we thought we’d skip the alcohol, and opted for alcohol free cocktails. I chose the ‘Better than Booze’ which was a gorgeous and refreshing blend of lychee, watermelon, lemon, fresh cucumber and ginger. My son chose the ‘Bollywood Reviver’: passion fruit, mango and guava with coconut syrup, which was like a carton of Rubicon juice, except a million times better. Our cocktails were accompanied by mini-poppadoms and chutney. The poppadoms were melt-in-your mouth delicious and I would have been a happy lady if I could take a giant bag home to eat on my own (so I wouldn’t have to share), whilst binge watching Neflix.
Our first dish was the Pani Puri Shots which were one of the best things I have ever eaten in a restaurant. The Pani Puri Shots were an experience: arriving in a specially constructed mini-Indian street food cart, the Puri were balanced on shot glasses which contained various delicious concoctions to spoon into your Puri and stuff yourself silly with. The only thing that would have made this dish even better was if the Puri themselves were slightly warmer, oh, and if there were more!
With such a strong start, we braced ourselves to be disappointed with the remaining dishes. How wrong we were! The Bombay Ragda Pattice : spice potato cakes with yellow pea stew, were out of this world – fresh, spicy with pearly bursts of freshness obtained from the clever addition of pomegranate and creamy potato cakes, had us both eating in silence/and fighting over the last potato cake.
The jury was out, however on the Podi Idli : steamed rice cakes accompanied with a spicy lentil broth, whilst my (fussy eater) son loved the rice cakes, I wasn’t so keen on the texture which was a bit too semolina like for me and reminded me of being force-fed the stuff in primary school – this, by the way, is not Chai Naato’s fault – it’s more of an unfortunate by-product of growing up in the 80s’. The accompanying lentil broth, however made me want to quit my job and book a plane ticket to India – it was that good.
We could have quite happily stopped there, the portion sizes at Chai Naasto are generous and each dish can quite amply serve two – three people, but the curry dishes arrived and they looked and smelled so delicious we couldn’t help ourselves. In addition to the Soya Keema Peas Curry, we tried the Rajma Masala an absolute knock-out of a kidney bean curry and a Kadala Curry which was a hearty and warming chickpea stew. The curries were served with fluffy, steaming, soft naan breads and steamed rice, both of which were cooked beautifully.
I really, really wanted to try a dessert, but I just couldn’t stretch to it due to being absolutely stuffed – the fact that there are no vegan options, saved me from being pushed over the edge! So, instead, we both opted for tea. There is no coffee served in Chai Naasto, but, as the name suggests, tea is somewhat of a speciality. The tea menu is extensive and after much deliberation (15 minutes), we opted for herbal teas as there was no dairy-free milk available ( an almond milk chai would have polished off my meal nicely), however, I didn’t feel that I could complain too much due to the vast amount of vegan options available on the main menu, plus the green tea I had was a refreshing end to the meal.
Our experience at Chai Naasto was wonderful: from the chilled-out vibes of the deep house background music, which is distinctly London, to the complete attention to detail from the décor, to the crockery and food. Chai Naasto made me forget I was in Beckenham and was transported to India and more specifically to Nanima’s house. The food was carefully and lovingly made and I will definitely be visiting Chai Naasto again.
Price – £52 (excluding service).
Overall – 5/5
For reservations and further information please visit: www.chai-naasto.co.uk