Nicola Foley pays a visit to Regent Street’s latest restaurant
It’s not often we review a restaurant so new that the paint on the walls is barely dry, but this particular eatery has been causing such a frisson on the local dining scene we had to investigate ASAP. And so we found ourselves escaping a thoroughly miserable, thoroughly drizzle-soaked January evening and being ushered into the colourful cosiness of The Tiffin Truck, mere days after it first opened its doors on Regent Street.
It’s no surprise that people are excited: this new restaurant has a famous sibling in the city in the shape of Navadhanya, a local gastronomic gem with a nod in the Michelin Guide and a glittering reputation for its fine-dining Indian cuisine. This time around, owners Krishna Vijayakumar and Arun K Chandran are going for a more casual concept, with a laid-back setting and a menu focused on Indian street food and tiffin-style dishes. Manning the stoves is executive chef Kamaladasan, who trained at Michelin-starred London restaurant Tamarind and is keenly looking forward to bringing tiffin to the city and “making mealtimes more exciting” for Cambridge-ites.
A legacy of the days of the British Raj – when the English custom of afternoon tea replaced the local tradition of taking a light meal at that time – tiffin has evolved into a stalwart of Indian cuisine. Any given lunchtime across India, from Mumbai to Bombay, hundreds of tiffin wallahs hurtle around the streets; their bikes and carts piled high with steel boxes filled with hot, home-cooked lunches destined for hungry workers. Traditionally, these dinky stacked tins would contain layers of rice, dal, curry, vegetables and chapatis – and a fresh, exciting spin on this is exactly what you can expect at The Tiffin Truck.
On the menu, dishes are divvied up according to size – from nibbles to larger bites to the ‘main event’ curries and stews – leaving diners free to order up an eclectic tapas-style feast, which we happily did. Kicking off with the smaller plates, we tucked into an immaculate mini masala dosa, stuffed with creamy spiced potato and served with chutney and sambar on the side for mopping, along with a lip-smacking dish of chilli paneer, which fused Chinese and Indian flavours to sticky-sweet perfection.
Another winner was the Chicken 65, and while nobody can seem to agree on where these fiery bites got their intriguing name (was the dish first made in 1965? Or is it because of the original recipe’s 65 ingredients?), you won’t care about trivialities like that once you’ve sunk your teeth into these crunchy, juicy, deep-fried morsels that sing with flavour and spicy heat. An ideal partner for a cold pint of cold beer.
My menu must-order, though, was the kale chaat, which proved to be an absolute revelation. I’ve always been unimpressed with kale and its oddly bitter flavour, and rather baffled by its ascent to hero ingredient. I accept that it might very well be loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and other gloriously health-giving properties, but let’s be honest: it doesn’t taste great, right? Wrong! It turns out, as I discovered during my visit to The Tiffin Truck, I’ve simply been doing kale all wrong. One bite into TT’s chaat, with its satisfyingly crisp, deep-fried layers of kale and potato, swaddled in yoghurt and with bursts of fresh pomegranate, I was hooked. Crunchy-soft-sweet-spicy heaven in a bowl.
We could have happily carried on with the snacks but the curry choices were far too tempting not to dip into, and so we soldiered on with a cute ‘bucket biryani’, loaded with tender chicken, perfectly spiced rice and cooling aubergine raitha. We also went for a Country Captain: a classic Anglo-Indian curry with a tomato base, that brought melty lamb and a mild and sweet flavour. It was a total crowd-pleaser and a dreamy match for our pillowy naan drizzled in truffle oil.
Polishing off our meal with a couple of spicy cocktails and a dinky chai brulee, we raved about the great menu and friendly, fast service. Eateries seem to come and go on Regent Street, but this one definitely deserves to be around for the long haul, and I have every confidence it will.