Most days, I trawl through an obscene amount of (non-work) emails. I know most of them are destined for the trash folder and I should be better at unsubscribing, yet I find myself tied to my ritual of scroll-skim-delete, scroll-skim-delete, until the occasional one pops up which makes me stop, re-scroll and actually read the thing. It’s usually a catchy subject line which lures me in for the read, and hands down the best example I’ve had lately was one asking if I ‘fancy trying my hand at spinning rotis?’. I mean, does this person know me or what?!
This was clearly an offer I had to investigate further, which is how I ended up in Hankies, a Delhi street-food inspired restaurant in the heart of Shaftesbury Avenue, watching a chef transform dough to rotis with nothing but a bit of flour and some fancy flipping skills. Before I arrived, I was more than ready to roll up my sleeves and spin a few of these Roomali rotis (or hankies as they’re commonly called because of the way they’re folded and served) myself but after catching a glimpse of Head Chef Ani in action, I wasn’t so sure… My confidence dwindled with every flip and spin and I’m embarrassed to say, I chickened out.
Having decided that spinning rotis wasn’t for me, I set my sights on eating them; something I’ve been good at for some time. These weren’t quite like any other roti or paratha I’ve had before; it wasn’t the buttery, flakey flatbread I’ve devoured incessantly, but something far lighter and softer. The hankies arrived piping hot, straight off the Roomali Tawa they were cooked over, and into my greedy little mitts ready to be smothered in spiced chutneys or anything else remotely saucy such as a classic black dal. Don’t expect to be served rice at Hankies because true to their North Indian roots, they just don’t particularly care for it and the roti is more than adequate for mopping up all those curries and sauces.
Once I could tear myself away from the roti, I attacked the rest of our Delhi street-food bounty with the same keenness. The dahi puri filled with potatoes, sprouts and chutneys were delightful explosions of flavours and textures, while I found the kachori poppers didn’t make much of an impression. I found these fritter-like balls of green peas and lotus stem a little dry, even with the tamarind mint chutney for dipping. Thankfully the oddly named lemon jaggery chicken didn’t suffer the same dry fate; the tender chunks of chicken were charred just enough to really enhance the flavour of the spices which I’m guessing it had been luxuriating in for some time to achieve such great results.
Having devoured the chicken, I moved onto the chilli lamb chops and was surprised yet again by how good Hankies’ version were. I’ve been let down many times when ordering this dish; often the meat is tough or bland, or worse still… like the ones from a certain famed spot in Whitechapel, guilty of both those crimes. My knife sliced though this chop with ease, and with each bite the Kashmiri chillies, mustard and paprika developed a comforting level of heat which was punchy yet not too fiery! I was particularly smug when I managed to nab a second chop; definitely one of my favourite dishes from the menu.
Another dish which got me quite excited was the kidney ’n’ keema, a mix of minced lamb, kidneys, tomatoes and coriander. There was nothing lighthearted about this combination of ingredients; the lamb and kidneys were so intensely rich while the tomatoes added sweetness and the coriander provided a fresh lift. It’s definitely a must order for fellow offal-lovers who like a little heat with their meaty offcuts. By comparison, the egg and crab gotala was almost ethereal. I almost didn’t try it because it reminded me of my much-hated scrambled eggs and was topped with equally much-hated raw onions, however the aroma drew me in and the incredible taste kept me going back for seconds and thirds!
Ready to keel over but clearly a sucker for punishment, I found myself diving spoon-first into an aam gur ki kheer, which to you and I is basically an Indian-style rice pudding. I quite liked this one with its subtle cardamom undertones and sweet caramel and mango, but I could see the table being split. Rice pudding is definitely a marmite dish; people are either overcome by fond memories at the sight of it or eternally scarred by the nightmarish versions from their childhood. I’m neutral but I do understand its polarisation – for something so simple, it’s actually quite hard to get right. Hankies made theirs neither too sloppy nor too gluggy, and sweet enough but not sickly, so from my point of view, it was spot on!
While my roti spinning career never did and never will take off, my visit to Hankies was far from a wasted journey. Leaving the roti-making to the professionals allowed me to sit back, relax with a couple of cocktails and gorge on the Delhi street-food feast I found in front of me. The bold, no-nonsense flavours really impressed me; I loved that everything was fresh and vibrantly spiced. You could happily pop in solo for a couple of hankies and chutneys but an even better idea is to go with friends, order pretty much everything and share, as I’m sure that’s what they would in Northern India!
Have you ever tried a hankie? What’s your favourite Indian dish?
Thanks to Hankies for showing me the tricks of the roti-spinning trade, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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