Some subjects are guaranteed to provoke a thunderous eye roll in any food discussion right now. Instagrammers touting themselves for ‘collabs’ before they’ve proved they have an opinion worth a damn?Always a front runner. The perceived dubious use of crowdfunding? Certainly. Claims of ‘authenticity’? That’s a slippery beast at the best of times, a loaded term thrown around with abandon.
Which brings us to Chai Green. Bagels, nachos, club sandwiches, a ‘full English’: these are not what you might expect from an Indian menu if you’re looking for the ‘a’ word. Sure, you’ll find shawarma, chaat and aloo tikki, but they are careful not to make bold claims, and to call what they do ‘dishes, with influences from Karachi to Kolkata and beyond’.
This new Albany Road branch, the third in total but the first franchised outside their native Birmingham, enters a busy local marketplace with some flair.
Those bagels are stuffed with masala omelette or spiced chicken, and the fry up has lamb rashers. This is somewhere calculated to have broad appeal, with more than half an eye on the hyperlocal market. Opposite are Fat Twins and MakHalal, two strongly branded halal businesses seeing rich potential in Roath.
There’s a franchised slickness to Chai Green. My uniformed server takes my order on an iPad: she is knowledgeable about the menu and rather charming, and my food arrives quickly. It’s all much more polished than your usual Albany Road setup, and a well-designed space too. The front lends itself to an early chai or quick breakfast, perhaps: the rear is where you would come for a more leisurely evening meal.
The paratha have that pleasingly irregularity of shape: they are made here daily, they tell me, and that’s always good to hear and less common than you’d think. It’s a satisfying breakfast: the omelette, spiky with green chilli and red onion, is bolstered by a pot of keema peas- warming, rather than hot- and all rounded off with the house chai. And lovely it is, too, pleasingly cardamom-y, thick and sweet.
‘Frankie’ rolls, more familiarly locally as ‘kati’, are in tortilla style wraps, pressed, rather than the usual paratha. That chatpata chicken filling is generous, tangy and filling. Most of the menu is made fresh here, rather than frozen or bought-in, the manager tells me with quiet pride.
Exhibit A: nachos. Possibly not the first thing you’d expect from the Chai name, yet here they are: and no Costco catering megapack, either. They are clearly hand-made, a deep gold and huge, piled with spiced minced lamb and laced lavishly with that compelling tamarind tang.
Their saffron chai is a lovely thing, aromatic and soothing: the menu suggests it ‘for days you want to be completely decadent’ – and while I find myself wondering, ‘Isn’t that,… every day..?’ and ‘If your idea of decadence is a glass of spiced tea, you probably need to get out more’, my best advice is to just get on and order it and thank me later.
Dynamite prawns are a throwback to the 70s dinner party classic, breaded shellfish loaded onto splayed mini gem lettuce leaves and dressed with an old-school Marie Rose sauce with a little extra chilli heat.
From the curry menu, butter chicken. Thick, well-spiced, a little sweet, heavy on the meat. Rather good. Pickles, parathas and punch- and yet another well put-together plate. There’s a lot to like here.
Chai Green is well placed on Albany Road. Any shawarma menu around here faces stiff competition, with City Road waist-deep in the stuff: the good, the bad and the decidely average. Nearby, up on Whitchurch Road, Tukka Tuk Canteen is imminent, and you’d be a fool to bet against Anand George’s latest opening, three years in the making.
But even in a busy local market, it’s easy to see why Chai Green has quickly become popular with students and families. It is accessible, fun, and inexpensive. Embrace its versatility. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
2 Albany Rd, Cardiff CF24 3RP
Hours: All day, every day, from 10am
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.