Chowki is an upmarket take on Indian street food and well worth searching out, writes Dave Lee.

Chowki, Hull
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Chowki is, apparently, the Hindi word for a wooden seating area where family and friends gather to eat. It’s from where we derive the word “chow”, meaning either to eat or the food you’re eating.

In Hull, chow is also what you do when you argue or complain. Consequently, “stop chowing and chow your chow” is a perfectly legitimate sentence in Hull. In fact, in Hull, you could actually stop chowing and chow your chow on a chowki in Chowki. And then chow about the bill.
For Chowki is also a restaurant. A posh Indian restaurant in Hull, much in the style of extant posh Hull Indian restaurant Tapasya. That’s because Chowki used to be Tapasya and is still owned by the same people who opened a second branch on Hull marina and – after a year or so in abeyance – rebranded the original Tapasya as Chowki.
Still with me? Lovely. That’s the grammar and the history done, what about the chow? Well, it’s pretty good; great and tasty starters and less exciting mains. The benefit Chowki has compared with big sister Tapasya is that the menu is aimed more toward street food, so the mains are comparatively de-emphasised.
This isn’t a lads-night-out-chicken-madras-and-lager place, it’s intended for the slightly more discerning. A difficult audience to find based, as it is, on Beverley Road, in the student area of the city.
One dish I’m delighted has been adopted from the past incarnation is Chow Ki Aloo Tikka (£4), a pair of potato patties (a Hull delicacy I’ve long championed) filled with peas and served with yogurt, tamarind sauce and coriander. It’s delicious. The peas give the patties a new texture and the sauces are marvellously balanced to be sweet and spicy.
Chatpata chicken tikka (£5.95) is half a dozen chunks of juicy chicken breast marinated in yogurt, chillies and fenugreek, cooked in a tandoor and served with a mint chutney and fabulous reduced red onion. The onion and mint chutney reappear with paneer tikka lal mirch (£7.95), a grilled skewer of cheese, onion and peppers. It’s not too often cheese features in Anglicised Indian food but I wish it would happen regularly. The more absorbent cheeses retain the taste of the spices wonderfully.

Chatpata chicken tikka

There are at least a dozen more starter/ small dish options and each is very good indeed. Of the less satisfying (but still good) traditional curries on offer, I’ve tried tariwala murgh (chicken and ginger, £9.95 without rice) and saag gosht (lamb and spinach, £10.50 without rice) and both were perfectly tasty but disappointing compared with the zing of the starters. A fiver, by the way, will buy you a basket filled with a selection of breads (naan, paratha etc), which is far better value than the poppadom and pickle starter, which – at £3.50 for two poppadoms and a stingy portion of pickles – starts the meal on a bit of a downer.
There are a handful of desserts on offer, the best of which is gajjar ka halwa (£4.95). If you’ve never experienced it, I strongly urge you to. It’s grated carrot cooked down with milk and sugar and it’s sublime. I make it at home occasionally and my kids reckon it’s better than my rice pudding, which is really saying something. At Chowki it’s served with pistachio ice cream.
The ambition of Chowki seems more tempered than when it was Tapasya. There are fewer serving staff (no bad thing, it was often stiflingly over-staffed), there is less emphasis placed on the wine and drink selection and the dishes are definitely less complex. These are all good things. Sometimes you want something more adventurous than bog-standard curry but you don’t want it to cost you a small fortune. Chowki would seem to be filling an ideal middle ground. I think I’d rather spend my entire budget on various starters and a carrot pudding, though, and that’s what I’ll do next time.

Gajjar ka halwa

Chowki maintains the opulent surroundings of Tapasya but on a cheaper budget. I think it will prosper best with the quick-bite-after-work brigade, which suits the atmosphere and menu. The trick will be in getting the stream of commuters legging it home up Beverley Road every teatime to pop in. Somehow, they need to stop them chowing in the street and get them chowing street food in Chowki.
Chowki, 580-582 Beverley Road, Hull, HU6 7LH, 01482 242606, chowki.co.uk. Food served, Monday-Saturday, 5.30 to 9.30pm.

About The Author

Dave Lee

Dave Lee is TV producer and film-maker who also writes on food & drink, travel and culture for various publications. He is a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4 and the Yorkshire Post. Worryingly, he believes that the finest food on earth is the pattie butty.

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