Roti chai and masala zoning in London
Published: 10th November 2013 06:00 AM |
Walking down a side street next to Camden Town, I turned swiftly into the crowded High Road towards The Whole Food Store where I source my organic ingredients. A colourful, coppery gleam pulled me to the right of the street to Masala Zone, one of the first reasonably priced Indian restaurants located in a smart dining room with Bollywood posters adorning the bright walls.
The Halloween rush could be seen everywhere—adulations for evil spirits, fancy dress and sharing of ghost stories. It’s the beginning of festival madness and excitement in this part of the world. Long array of beverages, piles of orange pumpkins. It’s the season to merry and they say, drink like the lords and be the captain of your own souls!
In fact, this is the beginning of restaurant season too. In the winter, people tend to eat more spicy food and the rush of three months will make up for all the less productive nine months of the year. Sadly the stories of new restaurants don’t flash too much in the breaking news any more, yet they do come and go from time to time. Even though history and growth of Indian food in England will amaze anyone, big changes happened only in the last 20 years. The new wave Indian restaurants keep happening in London, but it’s debatable the impression and influence they have on the big eating out population.
Some of the new smart openings suit the budget crowd and they all tend to move in the street food format. Masala Zone, Roti Chai and Dishoom are all classic examples of the demand for simple chaats, bhel, idly/sambar and easily assembled curry meals.
At the entrance of Roti Chai you will be greeted by a retail counter decorated with piles of India’s Parle biscuits and packets of Lay’s crisps. As you turn left from there you will enter the brightly lit funky dining area with elements of billboards to evoke the feel of a decent railway canteen. As a location, you can’t get any better, tucked away nicely on a side street next to Selfridges this place attracts lots of tourists and city workers.
In a reasonably crowded Roti Chai that operates in two different styles (cheap but decent street food on the ground level and expensive fine dining restaurant downstairs), there is a complete crew of white service staff in black T-shirts. On our visit we found the service reasonably good but they looked lost at times handling Indian customers who were the majority and could be more demanding at times! Among the dishes we tried, bhel-puri tasted delicious, dhokla unfortunately was short of texture or taste in spite of great presentation. I told myself, “Shush….don’t complain too much like some Indian customers who think they know everything!” Actually speaking it was better than most curry houses and there was a clean feel about the place.
Back home from the store, I pulled out my shopping to understand how to combine some of them to make a decent dinner. A bunch of spinach, some sprouted mixed beans, cauliflower, crispy colourful salad and an avocado. Cooked spinach in a simple way with onion, green chillies and spices, gently stir fried beans with shallots, in a spicy tomato sauce cooked cauliflower and finally mixed salad with crushed black pepper and freshly squeezed lime juice. On a bed of basmati rice spread cauliflower, damn it, now I remember avocado. Cut it fine in a rush and mixed it with already cooked spinach and made a circle around rice, followed by salad to give it the extra crunch and flavour for the soul food.
It was a real pleasure to cook again after some time even if it was a simple dinner and felt so happy. Another wonderful thing is the relaxation and lightness one feels doing something you love to do. Life brings so many of these wonderful moments, which make you feel complete and pull you out of all the unnecessary pressures of life.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain