Review | Chai Shai Kitchen

Review | Chai Shai Kitchen

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The most authentic Indian in Bristol? Chai Shai is a stroke of colour on this grey day in Hotwells. There are little cherry tomato plants growing in boxes out the front, the aroma of freshly pounded spices surges into the street, and passers-by peer in with consistent regularity, as indeed they should; nicely displayed indian snacks, both sweet and savoury, should tickle the interest of any thinking person. Behind these snacks, the energetic Shilpi buzzes around the stoves, turning her attention to us once we are inside the building. Despite the minuscule seating area (room enough for just two couples) the dishes on offer must demand a fair amount of work from one chef. There is also a takeaway service available which seems to be the angle Chai Shai Kitchen are pushing; lunch-box offers are at the forefront of the menu. She can apparently cope with all of this, though, as well as front of house duties, but it is a minor relief to see a young lad arrive just in time to play his part in the family business.

Dressed for action, the boy promptly brings over a couple of poppadoms along with a herby yoghurt dip and some warming mango chutney. It's all fairly familiar so far, but I can tell from all the new words I've just been reading that this is going to be a bit of a learning curve. We are then presented with pakoras (elegantly spiced and lacking in even a trace of stodge) and possibly the tastiest samosas I have ever tasted. Shilpa tells us later that they are a favourite of hers, and I'm pleased to know that the chances of them being dropped from the canon are slim to nil.

The two lads on the other table are emitting similarly effusive comments about their main courses, so my taste-buds stand to attention. The Achari Chicken arrives, along with the Aloo Gosht, followed by our other indulgences of rice and roti. I appreciate the uncompromising choice to serve the cubes of chicken on the bone; it's as tender as chicken has ever been, and pleasingly destined to annoy some over-sheltered lager-lad. The gravy is pitched perfectly between mild and volcanic, and I find myself in the unexplored zone of wanting more sauce for my rice. The Aloo Gosht is at a similar point in the scoville scale, but the pleasures it offers are more of a deep, savoury type. The meat (lamb, I think) has a pleasing bite to it, but isn't remotely chewy. The roti is what it should be; essentially a vessel for transporting sauce to mouth, but it could be a millimetre thinner. You know I'm nit-picking, however, when I'm resorting to criticisms like that.

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Mid-scoffing, Shilpi chips in with a couple of last minute suggestions, and we are more than happy to comply. She brings over a small portion of vegetable curry and some dahl, and my partner and I divvy up the goodies. The vegetables are a nice third element to the equation; it's good to know that I can recommend this place to herbivores as enthusiastically as I can to everyone else, but the surprise here is the dahl. The consistency is less viscous than I'm used to, but I'm immediately a convert to this subtly balanced soupy interpretation. It matches every flavour on the plate, like some sort of secret sauce, and renders the remains of the meal as pleasurable as the first bites.

I am convinced that this is the best, and most authentic, Indian food I have ever eaten. I have never been to India, but if you have you would almost certainly appreciate Chai Shai Kitchen even more than I do. Please take into account that all this praise is coming from a man who would usually be two Cobras heavier by the end of the meal, and this establishment is strictly tee-total. Trust me, it's good. If you can't get a table, either order takeaway or look into nearby long-term accommodation.

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