Chaiwala: Good hospitality, OK food (7.2)

Chaiwala takes up the space that previously housed Zafran, a huge Spanish tapas restaurant with a nice bar and great ambience, and the area still feels more or less the same despite some décor tweaks and change in furniture. I get the sense that the mainstream view is that Chaiwala is a great, hip place to have Indian food in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, but on our singular visit for a weekend brunch I haven’t been able to completely appreciate why. Good hospitality and lively weekend vibes are a significant bonus, but the food was just OK, which fell just a little short of my expectations. At a similar price range New Punjab Club seemed so much more of a treat, and on a budget there are tens of dozens of Indian restaurants all over Central and the island. Even Jockey Club’s food court serves Indian dishes that are at least as good in taste as those we had at Chaiwala. I feel the food could do with some re-consideration so as to make the best use of such an interesting space and a lovely hosting team.

Food Rundown

“Street of Indiaplatter with six small dishes to start
– Salad with Indian condiments;
– Pani puri with Jal-jeera – the crispy balls with a hole is the pani puri, in which there’s potato & chickpea, and the jal-jeera is cumin water that’s in the glass bottle. You pour the jal-jeera into the pani puri and gobble the whole thing immediately;
– Bhelpuri – puffed rice salad with mango and beetroot yogurt;
– Palakpatta and shakarkandi – chaat with spanish fritter, sweet potato crisp, spiced yogurt dressing and house chutneys;
– Aloo chana – cooked chickpeas with potato cubes and spicy mayo; and
– Papdi – fried dough wafers

For someone like us who haven’t quite developed an appreciation for Indian street food, the dishes were somewhat intriguing, especially the pani puri with jal-jeera that we saw in countless videos (which also turned out to be quite tasty), but the rest just felt like lots of carbs and crunchy fat with a bunch of spices (to put it in the crudest way) and a Western twist. I will skip commenting on these as I am not familiar with these dishes.

Curries and Biryani
Kerala fish curry (+$80) was simmered in a coconut and ginger sauce with raw mango and curry leaves, but while the curry broth was rich and savory the fish was really mushy.

Gosht kofta curry (beef meatballs in an onion tomato gravy) was another disappointment. Not too bad, just a ball of ground meat that didn’t stand out in any way.

Subz dum biryani (fried rice with assorted vegetables) and mutton biryani (fried rice with boneless lamb medallion) were aromatic and fine. These actually stood out.

Lamb chops (+$80) were apparently sourced from TLC and made with papaya, chilli and black pepper marinade. This is also meant to be one of Chaiwala’s more well-known dishes. They were okay, but not exceptional.

“The classic chicken tikka” with hung yogurt, chilli and cinnamon definitely sounded mouth-watering. And it was quite good. Just not so good that I could tell it apart from my usual Indian takeaways (except for the cinnamon).

I thought they’d have cotton candy for dessert but we were presented with this. I believe the orange-like dessert is Gulab jamun which is made with milk solids and flour then deep-fried. The rest is more western—ice cream and chocolate cake. Just a little something sweet to end.

Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
$$, Indian