For such a small street, I’ve always thought that Cotham Hill has a weird abundance of Indian restaurants, and not the high end ones like The Mint Room or Nutmeg, or the authentic, chilled ones like Chai Shai – nope, these were all curry houses with takeaway deals, aimed at the student and drunken masses markets, which is fine, but it does also mean that none of them really stood out from each other. So much so, in fact, that I hadn’t even realised that Chai Pani had opened its doors almost a year ago, so much do they blend in with the flock.
However (spoiler alert), I’m pleased to tell you that Chai Pani is worthy of a visit – and not just if you’re drunk/a student/all of the above.
We were invited on down to see what we thought, and greeted the moment we came in by the team – all very friendly and happy to help whenever we asked about anything on the menu.
Owner Kam was particularly keen to chat, and although that could be because he knew we were reviewing, I also sense that he really is that passionate about the food that comes out of their kitchen, he’d be thrilled to tell anyone and everyone about it. We were also treated to several stories of his adventures in Bristol, but I’ll let him tell you those.
Right, on to the food. First up: Pani Puri (£3.95). Always worth a punt if you’re in an Indian restaurant, as they’re packed full of flavour and fun to assemble (they’re basically little crunchy balls that you fill with sauce, salad and other bits and then chuck in your gob – lush!) I eyeballed some other interesting starters such as keema pau and samosa chat, but I’ll save those for next time.
Next up were the kale pakoras – a special for that day but something I hope they keep on the menu, as these were absolutely delicious. They weren’t greasy at all, and were soft in the middle with a good crunch on the outside, packed full of flavour and drizzled with yoghurt and a light tamarind sauce.
We then moved on to mains – I again opted for a special of Desi Chicken (£7.95), some chai rice (£3.50 – rice cooked with curry leaves, cardamom, shredded carrot and cabbage), and seasonal veg sabji (£3.95). It was more than I could finish on my own, and again it was all really flavoursome, light and easy to distinguish the different flavours of the spices and other ingredients.
My co-diners opted for thalis – which made me sort of jealous when I saw them arrive. I love a bit of salad with my curry so I may go for this option next time.
I dipped a bit of naan in the lamb curry sauce and it was divine – rich without being too sickly or fatty.
As a bonus, the place is BYO and Corks of Cotham is a mere hop skip and a jump away, so you can fill your boots with some fancy beers or wine, or just pop to Sainsburys across the road and get a £5 bottle of plonk.
Overall, Chai Pani did far more than it appeared to on the tin – service was top notch, all the dishes we sampled were well portioned, good value and tasted great. I was grateful to have the walk back to Totterdown to deflate slightly, put it that way.
44 Cotham Hill
Bristol BS6 6LA
Disclaimer: This meal was free of charge but we were not asked to send any copy in advance and this did not affect our opinion. Kam is legit a legend – ask him about his carjacking story.