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One of the most surprising places I have had Desi food was actually in deepest darkest Nathan Road, Hong Kong.
I was visiting Hong Kong with Benz Foodwalee and Mokee Foodwala and I had a craving for Salan Roti (Desi Food), so I called the Hong Kong Central Mosque and asked them where I can go for some desi food, If you ever want to find out the best places to eat ask the local mosque or a taxi driver, they usually have the finger on the pulse.
The Mosquewala said to go to Karachi Club in Chungking Mansions, Nathen Road, That sounded very grand, I was expecting something like the Gymkhana in London, Colonial elegance with amazing Indian food.
I was staying in the Mandarin Oriental in Central Hong Kong and asked the taxi driver to take me to the Chungking Mansions, the taxi driver did a double-take and asked if I really wanted to go there, I thought that was unusual, maybe it was very grand and I was not dressed appropriately.
The taxi dropped me off close to Chungking Mansions as possible, I asked a passer-by where it was and he pointed at the Rolex sign.
I walked up to the Rolex sign and all I could see was a grubby 60’s concrete building peppered with air conditioning units dripping condensation, the entrance was full of indeterminate African men hustling, It actually looked like Mogadishu or Lagos.
I asked one of the men where Chungking Mansions were and he pointed at the entrance, my heart sank.
I asked another Indian boy where Karachi Club was and he said follow me, I should have turned back then but I followed him into the bowels of the building, it got darker and darker as we went in and became seedier.
The boy/guide then came to an antiquated rusted scissor gate lift and beckoned us to get in, the lift was damp from some unidentifiable liquid, I should have turned back but for some reason, I walked into the lift, then the boy spent ages trying to close the liftgate as the rusted scissor gate kept jamming, that should have been reason enough to go back but I dumbly stood there with my wife and firstborn, I know dumb or what.
We then arrived a pich black floor and the guide beckoned us Gollum like to follow us “my precious” and we started to slowly make our way down the corridor, which was lit by a single flickering lightbulb, It actually reminded me of the corridor scene in the “Shining”
I was at the end of my tether and was turning back when “Gollum” grabbed my wrist, he was surprisingly strong for such a slight frame and I was about to go into the “fight or flight” mode when he showed me the old brass sight, defaced by graffiti and It said “Karachi Club est 1935”
He pushed against the heavy mahogany door and we were greeted with bright lights and a room full of families eating plates heaped with desi food, Lollywood music blared on the loudspeakers and GEO News played on the Screens.
The walls were painted with Lahori cinema characters,
To say I was surprised was an understatement, The food was absolutely delicious too.
The point of my story is that I drive up and down Eglinton Street four times a day and I have never noticed the Desi Dhaba Chaiwala, it is in a car park tucked behind a war wash with mo signage!
I would never have thought it was a place serving food. This place was discovered by my friend and chief scout Shai Foodwala, on this many street food discovery treks.
The Interior is equally Punjabi Pind quirky
They call it “Pind Chic” apparently
The lady behind the counter greeted us with a list of her specials of the day, I asked her to bring one of everything!
We kicked off the proceedings with some Keema and sabzi samosas, the shortcrust pastry was a little soft and greasy, I use the samosa yardstick with Benz Foodwalees samosas, her pastry is always crispy and fluffy even when they are cold, the filling was delicious, fresh filling with just enough seasoning. 6 out of 10
The house specialty was next up…called the “Student Biryani” from Karachi, the cubes of Chicken was a wee bit dry, however, the biryani rice themselves were full of flavour and seasoning, you can tell that the biryani was freshly made without the use of “biryani powder” as it did not have the overpowering cardamom flavour in it. excellent effort if only the chicken was not overcooked
7 out of 10
The keema mattor was delicious, the mince was delicately spiced, rather than the overpowering of most restaurants, the green peas were not the cheap ones from Lidl, rather the plump frozen ones from Birds Eye.
Simple no-nonsense Keema Peas is an art in itself, It is like an artist knows when to stop painting a picture before he/she overdoes it 7 out of 10
The lamb Chops ware sauteed in some masala and Shallots, the lamb itself was brilliantly tender and soft, the masala was seasoned as not to detract from the hero element, Usually, the Lamb is over seasoned to mask the aroma of the lamb… go figure, however, this was made with panache and skill 8 out of 10
The Dhall was another exercise in restraint, the Moong Dhall was folded on roasted spices and shallots but was not oily or greasy, I prefer my dhall being masoor (orange lentils) but this was an excellent effort 7 out of 10
To scoop up all the delicious salans (curry) was a decadent Aloo paratha, again not greasy yet with soft pillowy potato staffing, not over maslad, a wee bit crispy and crusty, yummy 8 out of 10
In conclusion, Desi Dhaba Chaiwala was a revelation, the food was fresh and delicious, even more, remarkable was it was prepared in such humble surroundings. It definitely gave restaurants a run for their money.
the staff was friendly, efficient, and good humor, the wee Dhaba was chilled and quirky, you could tell it was a labour of love.
The Dhaba is full of colour and fun.
The Star of the Meal?
The Lamb Chops and the Aloo Paratha
The Miss of the Meal?
Possibly the Samosas, as everything else was so good.
So how did Desi Dhaba Chaiwala do against its peers?
For somewhere so humble and basic, the food punched way above its weight, In my opinion, the food was like the Hazara Dhall in Faisalabad or Ravi’s in Dubai, not the Karama branch but the Original Satwa one.
or closer to home, Yadgar
The food was like “homemade” without the cliche
The Chicken, Beef, and Lamb is confirmed 100% Halal
Alcohol is served on the Premises
NO Pork is served on the Premises
100% impartial Guarantee
Alfie Foodwala visits all restaurants anonymously and pays for the bill like any other customer, Alfie Foodwala does not except free meals in return for meals
All reviews are the personal opinion of Alfie Foodwala based on his 30-year experience as a restauranteur.