When my husband spotted that a restaurant had opened locally which allowed us to experience food that came “from the streets of India to the streets of Beckenham” and their website showed a menu which had very-clearly marked vegan dishes I knew we had to give it a whirl.
Just as soon as we could, we walked over to Fairfield Road, just off the high street and minutes from the Green and Beckenham Junction station, and into Chai Naastro. We were instantly charmed. It smelt incredible and looked really fun and hip inside – the booths have a definite street-market feel and I loved the bright colours, quirky lighting and walls decked with Bollywood posters.
Throughout the meal service was really friendly and helpful and dishes arrived quickly. The menu stated that “Chai Naastro want to take you on a gastronomic adventure throughout India. Our first stop is the northern state of Punjab. Our voyage will change every 2-3 months so don’t forget to check in again soon”. How exciting!
I was already thinking that I’d need to return anyway as Josh and I had found it hard to limit our choices as so many thing on the menu looked appealing.
I started with the Pani Puri Shots: a refreshing, savoury snack made with crisp wheat balls stuffed with a spicy potato filling and served with a sweet and sour tamarind reduction. This dish arrived in a tiny little cart. I was so chuffed! I admit I didn’t quite know what to do when I saw the little shot glasses but soon worked out – I think – to chug them and wow, refreshing is the word. They were perfectly spiced and the little balls had such a great texture. For £5 this was a really entertaining start to my meal and perfectly whet my appetite.
For my main I selected a curry from “nanima” – Nanima in Indian means maternal grandmother – and it turns out Nanima has serious kitchen skills. The Sweetcorn & Batata Nu Shaak for £6.50 was a perfect medley of sweetcorn and potatoes tossed in an onion, tomato and freshly ground spice masala, topped with coriander. I’d never had anything quite like this but it was the perfect amount of comforting, delicately seasoned yumminess. Alongside some rice and my perfeclty-made Chai Star Martini it made for a perfect meal.
Other options currently available to vegans are the Beans Nu Shaak (baked beans cooked in an onion and tomato gravy with Nani’s homemade spices for £6), the Bombay Ragda Pattice (spiced potato cakes and yellow pea stew for £5) and the Daal Ke Pakode (crispy moong daal dumplings with a mint and coriander chutney, again for a fiver). Needless to say I can’t wait to try them.
The vegetarian and meat dishes also looked inventive and Josh loved his meal. If I was being really greedy (and let’s face it when am I not?) I would like to see a vegan-friendly option in the ‘kebab gully’ – the vegetarian Achari Tandoori Mushroom sounds banging and I’d love to get to eat something similar. I also wonder if there are any sweets that can be adapted so they’re vegan friendly. I have no idea if any of their Mango Lassi or incredible-sounding chai could be made with oat milk, or similar but if so I can promise you I would drink the heck out of it.
Chai Naastro’s “Street Food with a Seat” is a wonderful addition to Beckenham and I’m so glad it lived up to my expectations. It’s not the cheapest Indian food you’ll ever eat and the portions are skewed in the favour of quantity over quality – just how I like it – but I cannot recommend this place enough to everyone in Beckenham and beyond.