Review: Chaiwala Is A New Model For Bold Indian Cuisine
If location is a determining factor for a restaurant’s success, Pirata Group’s decision to open on Wyndham Street—neighbouring clubs and dive bars—is a puzzling start. After an ambitious slew of new restaurants, from Tsim Sha Tsui’s Pici to Soho’s Chifa Dumpling House and Wan Chai’s Madame Ching, the restaurant group has returned to Central’s busiest nightlife district with not one, but two openings.
Within just walking distance away from Black Sheep Restaurants' New Punjab Club, there’s Chaiwala, a chai bar-inspired restaurant, and Hugger Mugger, a bar, both sharing the same basement space that was formerly occupied by Aqua Group’s Zafran. Both are accessed through an unseemly entrance on Wyndham Street signalled by a blue brick wall and a red door, a quirky combination that catches your attention at first sight. To get to the restaurant, walk past the main Hugger Mugger bar space and you’ll be led straight to an enlarged open kitchen, the main cooking space set with bar seating. The main dining room is just beyond, where lights are much dimmer, with white-washed walls and framed paintings and photographs. We adore the floaty fabrics and ceiling pendant lamps that stretch across the dining room, adding an intimate ambience to the space with a sense of mystique.
Chaiwala’s contemporary Indian cuisine focuses on vibrant colours and an abundant selection of small plates and courses to share. Portions can be rather large, requiring smart ordering under the suggestions of the restaurant staff. We began our meal with the pani puri with jal-jeera, where tiny puffs similar to French potato soufflés were filled with a spicy filling of chickpeas and potatoes, served with a savoury cumin water to be filled into the thin crispy shells before being popped into the mouth, bringing a rush of earthy cumin splashing over the thin crust and mealy potatoes.
Samosas and Malabar scallops are popular small plates to share, but we opted for the Bombay fried chicken to nibble on. Boneless chicken thighs were marinated lightly and deep-fried until golden brown. The spicy morsels stayed juicy with a potent herbaceous hit from curry leaves added into the marinade, while a pickled tomato mayonnaise brings a welcoming tartness to the snack.
Wagyu seekh kebab came highly recommended, where minced wagyu beef was patted into long sausage-shaped tubes and toasted in the clay tandoor ovens built within the restaurant premises. The two kebabs sat atop a large round of fluffy naan, beautifully charred on the base with the top embellished with chopped shallots, and confetti flakes of flat-leaf parsley and coriander. The meat remained tender and juicy while a peppery yoghurt cucumber dip help cut through the richness of the meaty main dish.
Curries were a surprise at Chaiwala. The Old Delhi butter chicken arrived in traditional copper tins. The chicken was pulled after being charred in the oven, and added into a refreshing fenugreek-rich tomato sauce. The spice adds a certain level of tartness unique to Indian cuisine. Naans were popular at Chaiwala, and they were scorched and cooked in the Tandoor. The Lal Mirch paratha was topped with a spicy chilli spice mix, not unlike Cajun Old Bay seasoning, but the spices couldn’t help hide the fact that the flatbread was lacking the characteristic layers, as the heat turned it dry. The Peshwari naan with saffron and coconut however was delightful. We thoroughly enjoyed it not only to accompany the curries, but its sweetness also lent itself well as a warm dessert.
Cocktails are done particularly well at Chaiwala, with particularly strong selection gin and tonics, as well as chai tea inspired cocktails, with Indian touches such as saffron-infused liqueurs, spices, and pomegranates adding tartness and depth to the beverages. Mango and salt lassi are popular non-alcoholic beverages as well. The Magic Lamp takes a wonderful bejewelled lamp containing a spiced elixir that combines butter-washed Plantation 3 Stars rum and banana puree, flavoured with sage, allspice and dill to add complexity to the beverage. The Punjab Cadillac Colada is a sweet mix of saffron-infused Diplomatico Planas, lime juice, Amontillado sherry and coconut. A sweet chai syrup completes this chai-inspired cocktail. Wine by the glass options are excellent, as larger parties can share reasonably-priced bottles from both old and new world.
Service is on point at Chaiwala, especially as the team is knowledgeable enough to share descriptions and insights on the restaurant’s concept and make menu suggestions. Beverage pairing suggestions and portion control information is on point. At peak dining intervals service is keen and attentive, creating a well-paced dining experience as well as refilling beverages, with occasional checking in on the guests progress. The ambience of the Chaiwala is lively at peak hours, with party vibes and heavy beats throughout the night.
The experience at Chaiwala is impressive at best, as we see the restaurant group gets a firm grip on the right model for its business to succeed.
A dinner for two including beverages amounts to HK$1,000
Chaiwala, Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2362 8988
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.