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They say that good things come to those who wait. Well… there have been a few hiccups on our quest to dine at CHAAT at Rosewood Hong Kong. Originally scheduled for a visit hot on the heels of its opening during a tumultuous 2020, we had to cancel on several occasions owing to COVID upsurges. Finally, we managed to snag a booking last month and got to see for ourselves what all the buzz is about.
At the helm of this eatery is Executive Chef Manav Tuli, who earned his gourmet stripes within some of the finest kitchens around the world, from India to London. Beginning his time in the kitchens of the south-western coastal state of Kerala, he moved on to Rajasthan with luxury Oberoi Hotels before a stint on the resort island of Mauritius. Headed way up north to London, Chef Tuli opened Chutney Mary (St James’s) in 2015 before helping to reopen Tamarind in 2019, one of the city’s premier Indian restaurants, boasting a Michelin star.
CHAAT, which literally means “to lick” in Hindi, is centred around the bold flavours of Indian street snacks, spanning the country’s central states, to the Mumbai coast, to northern Punjab, to south-western Kerala.
Old World “colonies cocktails”, created by our Foodie Forks 2015 Master of Mixology winner Arcadius Rybak (then at Zuma) and Nicolas Deneux, accompany the vibrant food menu. We were especially enamoured with the CHATT nimbu pani ($70), a traditional mocktail made with lemon and cooling spices to ward off hot, sticky summer days.
We are inclined to persuasion, especially when persuaded by a server who is very knowledgeable, so we ordered the recommended baked lamb samosas ($158) to whet our appetites. What arrived were delicate, wafer-thin cones wrapped around flavourful minced lamb topped with a bed of chopped chives. These were the lightest, most guilt-free samosas we’ve ever had, and we could easily have polished off at least a few orders.
At Chef Tuli’s insistence, we also went for the sweet potato chaat ($98), a classic combination of Indian street-food flavours that sums up the essence of the restaurant in one bite. Heaped full of pomegranate, tamarind, sweet potato and yoghurt, this sweet, tangy and fruity dish packs enough flavour to satisfy even the staunchest of meat eaters. We also loved peeking into the huge stone spice grinder, where heady spices are crushed and blended together.
We threw any early-in-the-year diet regimes out the window when we gobbled up the bone marrow kulcha ($98), which reminded us of a meaty Chinese pancake.
Since the restaurant houses three tandoori ovens, we had to try the burnt chilli chicken tikka ($188), marinated in Kashmiri red chilli, turmeric and dry mango power. The chicken came with beautiful golden caramelisation, although we weren’t blown away by the flavours.
The pork cheek vindaloo ($248) came blanketed under a fiery Goan sauce that will set your palate on fire. The delightful buzz of chilli builds up to an excruciatingly delicious pain that had us wishing for glasses of cold milk – the tantalising, blazing heat will draw you back for bite after bite. The pork was incredibly tender, cutting easily with the edge of a fork. This is an all-star dish that will ensure a cult following.
And to mop up all that delicious sauce, we caved for another order of naan, this time the comparatively more subtle mature Cheddar and chilli naan ($88).
Biryani is atop our list of ultimate comfort foods, and CHAAT’s octopus dum biryani ($268) packed a huge flavour punch without any overbearing oiliness. In fact, this is the lightest biryani we’ve ever had, and it made eating the flaky, buttery crust a bit more guilt free. Each kernel of the fragrant basmati rice was infused with the intoxicating fragrance of spice and saffron, dotted with meaty morsels of octopus. Chef Tuli told us the sign of a good biryani is that none of the rice kernels should ever stick together.
We’re always game for butter chicken, and the Old Delhi butter chicken ($248) did not disappoint with its aromatic spiced tomato sauce accented with fenugreek. Each moreish piece of tender chicken was thoroughly infused with mouth-watering spices.
The five-lentil dal panchmel ($118), infused with cumin and garlic, was so satisfying that we could have eaten a whole meal of it without craving the taste of meat.
It’s hard to say no to dessert, especially if it comes in the form of this chocolate praline naan ($108) topped with mixed nuts and coconut ice cream. Do not leave without trying this – you’ll thank us later!
CHAAT is a refined Indian restaurant set in the heart of a five-star hotel, but with down-to-earth flavours that can win over any palate. The food and Chef Tuli’s affable joviality had us dreaming of another visit even before we stepped out the door. But here’s to dreaming, as a reservation here could mean a wait of at least a month (but it’s well worth the wait!).
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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