I learned a lesson when booking Chaiwala which can apply to many other restaurants that try to encourage you to book online, but which also take phone reservations: call the place if you can’t get the time slot you want. When I tried the online reservation system, it offered me only 6pm (too early) or 9.30pm (too late). With a two-minute phone call, we got the time we wanted (7.15pm).
The sign by the entrance on Wyndham Street reads Hugger Mugger. This is the bar area, which was quiet on a weeknight visit. When we walked through the door that separates the spaces, however, the restaurant was heaving. Lots of hard surfaces means the noise level is high.
The food here is a lot more subtle than at many other Indian restaurants; even if it says “spiced” the flavours are not aggressive or chilli-hot.
We started with a street food favourite of bhelpuri (HK$80). It was a lot wetter than other versions we have had, with bright, sweet-tart notes from the mango and beetroot yogurt. It needs to be eaten quickly, or else the puffed rice gets soggy.
From the selection of small plates we chose Bombay fried chicken (HK$100). The boneless chicken pieces were juicy, with a delicate crispness from the chickpea flour coating. Rara kheema pav (HK$140) could have used a little more salt, but the piping hot minced lamb, spiced with cumin in a light sauce which we spooned onto the halved puffy buttered buns, was familiar and comforting.
Our favourite dish was the Kerala fish curry (HK$170). Unlike the other dishes that we tried, this had a hint of chilli in the rich gravy, into which we dipped nicely charred pieces of buttered and garlic naan (HK$40 each). The chunks of sea bass were moist and tender.
Tandoori lamb chops (HK$310) was the last savoury dish to be served, and were unfortunately overcooked; even my guest who likes his meat medium-well agreed. We liked the flavour of them, though.
For dessert, gulab jamuns (HK$90) were too dense but the pineapple was sweet and refreshing.
Chaiwala, Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, 2362 8988. About HK$390 per person without drinks. There is no service charge.