Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alumni have excelled in the world of finance. Now, one is making his mark in restaurants.
Rohit Chugh entered the food business after honing his skills as a pan-European equities trader in London. Before that, he was an accountant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP.
Leicester, England-born Chugh, 43, whose father is from Amritsar, initially worked for Cinnamon Club when he gave up the City. He was managing director and helped to create the Cinnamon Kitchen -- serving the financial district -- before leaving to open Roti Chai, an Indian street-food restaurant on a quiet mews off London’s Oxford Street.
The menu is small, with just a few snacks and curries, and as many options for vegetarians as meat eaters. My favorite dish is the Hakka chili paneer at 5.20 pounds ($8.10) -- a Kolkata specialty of cheese, herbs and spices. It burns slowly so you start out by tasting the freshness of the ingredients before you feel the heat. It’s like idly leaning against a radiator and taking a few seconds to register how hot it is.
The paneer (Indian cheese) is marinated in salt, pepper, ginger and garlic, then flash-fried with green chilis and served on a bed of spring onions, peppers and salad.
You can offset a little of the heat with papri chaat: wheat crisps with potato, chickpeas and yoghurt. I also order a dish of raita with mint and cucumber and some beer, though nothing can really douse the flames.
Lighter options include chicken lollipops (Keralan spiced wings) and Parsi chicken farcha in a masala marinade with curried ketchup. There are also the usual samosas and so on.
Then you might care to move on to a mini-burger stuffed with spiced lamb before trying the curries, or ‘Road & Rail’ as this section of the menu is called, referring to roadside “dhaba” cafes and the train stations of the subcontinent.
The railway lamb curry comes with potatoes in a rich gravy, with chapatis on the side. It’s the most popular dish, possibly because the lamb is so good; macher jhol is a Bengali fish curry with fiery kasundi mustard and is served with rice.
There’s not much choice when it comes to desserts, and pistachio kulfi (Indian ice cream) on a stick does it for me.
Street food is harder than it looks. Two of Europe’s leading Indian chefs -- Vineet Bhatia of Rasoi and Atul Kochhar of Benares -- might tell you: Their London venues Urban Turban and Colony were both short-lived. Dishoom, with its large menu, does a good job and Masala Zone offers excellent value for money with its thali platters. (Masala Zone belongs to the group that owns Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and Amaya.)
What stands out at Roti Chai is the lightness of touch. The flavor is all there; the heavy sauces are not.
The all-day street-food section is on the ground floor, which has an industrial look and an open kitchen. The staffers are young and friendly, the customers more mixed, including Indians and other shoppers laden with bags from Selfridges.
Downstairs, there is a formal restaurant serving dishes from across India. I have never made it there. Why would I when the rest is so good?
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 30 pounds all in if you eat and drink plenty.
Sound level? About 70 decibels. The noise isn’t intrusive.
Inside tip? Corner Table 1 by the window is a good choice.
Special feature? Fresh street food.
Will I be back? I’m a regular.
Date place? Great place for a hot date.
Roti Chai is at 3 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6HS. Information: +44-20-7408-0101 or http://www.rotichai.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)