Chaat. It’s fast becoming my new favourite local while I call London’s E2 home.
Past the two strip joints – sorry, ‘Sports Bars’ with tabletop dancing – which I should add, that like the rest of East London, have had an Olympic makeover. Passing it last night, the recently bordered up front revealed a shiny new red entrance. The girls (who could probably do with a makeover…) spend most of the time hanging out the front in their perspex platforms, chain-smoking. While a fat man – that I can only guess owns the joint – sits between them all, in a tattered reclining office chair – a chubby hand on each of their weary arses. Walking past every night is entertaining and for anyone wondering, Monday night is ‘Audition Night’. Said man wasn’t available to be photographed at the time of this posting, but this is his chair.
I digress. Around the corner is one of my favourite – and I’m going to say ‘coolest’ – streets in Shoreditch, Redchurch Street. Cool because it’s home to a great caff called Albion, Boundary hotel and restaurant with its fabulous roof top bar, the Owl & The Pussycat pub with its pop-up steak house ‘The Flat Iron’, Maison Trois Garcons antiques and Bangladeshi restaurant, Chaat.
Chaat is a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (we did the first time we came here) kinda place. The doorway is usually concealed by crowds of pub patrons all standing and sitting on the pavement drinking – come rain, hail or shine. It seats around 20 people and is owned by a lovely young lady named Shanaz Khan – you’ll only ever see her out the front, running everything. Food is fresh, as close to good Bangladeshi comfort food as you’ll get and so reasonably priced.
The first time I visited Chaat, SauvyB, Team GB and I dragged a very weary LaDiDa here after the long flight from Sydney – convincing him the best cure for jet lag was some spicy food and too many bottles of wine. The second time it was just for wine and some musical theatre with LadyCam and JOM (Just one more?) – although our show tune renditions from Mary Poppins, Annie, Lion King and Sound of Music were worthy performances, we did have the restaurant lights turned off on us. So I’m pleased, that on my third visit, they actually let us back in for a quiet dinner with SauvyB, Salty and DPender.
The menu is simple, consisting of five columns with multiple items to choose from for ‘chit chaat’ starters (£4.10), mains (£7.45), ‘moppers’ (£2.00), accompaniments (£3.50) and dips (£1.00). It changes seasonally, and third time around, there was a whole new range of dishes to choose from. The prefect meal to share, each time we’ve asked Shanaz to suggest her favourites, but if you’re a group of five, I’d just get one of everything.
Tonight, our ‘chit chaat’ is the Masoor dhal koftah and aubergine fritter, handmade and rolled in spiced grain flour. Yum.
The Aloo and pea chop is their speciality – a lovely crisp potato cake with fresh herbs and green chilli. And we can’t go past the Samosa (that’s always on the menu) filled with fresh seasonal vegetables.
My favourite is the Prawns with deshi greens served with torn chapati. Fragrant moist prawns just kissed yellow with spices and wilted spinach. Bite sized pieces, perfect for picking up with warm chapati hands.
Bangladeshi cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine – research tells me it resembles North East Indian food. The most important flavours are; garlic, ginger, lime, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli. In sweet dishes, it’s some of my favourites; cardamom and cinnamon.
Probably the most noticeable difference to me was how much drier and lighter the dishes were – maybe a little less spices and dairy and the inclusion of more root vegetables. Natu, my little Bangladeshi friend on the hotel concierge tells me most of the “Indian” restaurants around the corner in Brick Lane, are run by people of Bangladeshi origin, serving Bangladeshi food. He said it made him happy we were eating there – because this is his this is his food and Chaat is the best.
For mains, the Pan fried Tilapia fish seasoned with ground cumin, black pepper and served with a hot green chutney and onion masala is pretty amazing. The perfectly cooked white fish has been slightly browned and turned a bright turmeric yellow. I love the hot green chutney and the slight bitterness from the charred onion masala. The Bangladeshi aubergine curry with chargrilled fennel, cumin and tomato sauce is hearty with a serious spicy kick. Our ‘moppers’ (how good is this word? When food is that good, you just want to mop it all up…) come in the form of spiced lemon rice and rich flaky parantha bread.
The accompaniments are a good sized meal in themselves. My favourite is the Cauliflower and potato bhazi. So aromatic from the home-made garam masala.
The Chaat chana salad of curried chickpeas and spinach leaves with mustard and lemon dressing is probably the least interesting of our dishes – mind you, we have managed to cover the entire table with (that’s me pointing out to everyone what we’ve ordered) food – so perhaps we’re just spoilt for choice.
More mains arrive – Mutton that’s been slow cooked in a gravy spiced with star anise, cinnamon and cayenne and Chicken with lentils and fresh spinach, flavoured with ground fenugreek and kaffir lime leaves. I’m suprised by how much I like one of the accompaniments – the Green borh bothi beans with ginger, coriander seeds and coconut. I never would have thought to put coconut with beans, and I love it. We’ve also ordered the Traditional tharka dhal infused with bay leaves and roasted onions. And the dips are Mamma’s mango, Cucumber, coriander and yoghurt and something that’s blow-your-head-off spicy.
One thing I do know from my time in India (close enough), are the lovely Bengladeshi sweets made from milk. Sadly tonight, we have an Opening Ceremony to get to so I’m out voted on the dessert front.
Chaat – 36 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch E2 7DP, London – 020 7739 9595