This recently opened Bengali restaurant is unique to the surrounding Indian curry houses, with modern interiors and real home-cooked food.
Charista only opened ten weeks ago but situated in the heart of Shoreditch and with a strong Instagram aesthetic and Tik Tok presence, it feels longer.
There has been some significant hype around their opening, and one of the owners tells us with almost bemused humility that they have been totally ‘overwhelmed’.
He explains, “My wife and I decided to give up our jobs in the civil service and the art world to open Charista, our ‘passion project’.”
Their families are both from Bangladesh and they found that although there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Bethnal Green where they live, they were personally craving the kind of food they cooked and ate at home.
Sure, there are Bengali street food options but nowhere where they could sit, eat and share chai in restaurant-like conditions.
Assuming that others must be feeling the same, they took a punt opening Charista to bring a number of dishes from the region of Bengal (as opposed to just Bangladesh) to the East End. And by the looks of their popularity, they were right.
What is immediately striking is the intimacy of the space and its pretty, classic decor. With cream walls covered in nostalgic old photographs and dark green lower panelling, wicker chairs and low tables decorated with vases of dried flowers, it feels like a modern take on a time now gone. I was immediately reminded of the Punjabi restaurant Attawa in Dalston, which echoes a similar feeling of timelessness.
We went for dinner time but the restaurant struggles somewhat to move into evening mode, with the lights kept bright and the round coffee tables making it tricky to get close to one another. But this is easily resolvable.
Nonetheless, with the background Bengali soundtrack and the highly attentive and friendly service, the atmosphere was still cheery and relaxing.
The owner took his time to explain the menu and suggest tweaks to accommodate our tastes. The restaurant’s particular speciality is their chai nashta, loosely translating to morning tea, for which they use spices and tea leaves from ‘the gardens of Bengal’.
He suggested a hybrid version of the speciality chai, which is rich in cardamom and the gurer, sweetened with date molasses. He says it’s nearon impossible to find authentic gurer chai in London, other than in the homes of a few ‘old men’, and so has been unsurprisingly popular. The combination made for a creamy, earthen and warming delight.
For the meal we shared a number of small to medium sized dishes, brought out in copper plates and bowls.
The stand out dishes were both the lamb and egg kati rolls, with their perfectly flakey, lightly oiled and chewy paratha bread that conjured the table into momentary silent stupor.
Kati rolls originate from Kolkata, West Bengal and are the optimum street food as the rolled bread sits heavily in the palm of your hand, encasing its fillings of either kebab meat, paneer or omelette like egg.
Ours were lightly but perfectly spiced with a punch of sweet tamarind. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender and clearly of excellent quality.
The fuchka is a generous number of puris (leavened, fried crispy bread) filled with seasoned mashed potato, chickpeas and shredded egg. It is served with tamarind water, which you pour in the puri, encouraging the eaters to knock them back in one singular, synchronised crunch.
Our waiter likened this enjoyment of the dish to taking a shot, which is the nearest you will get to alcohol in this alcohol-free joint. The dish arguably offered more fun than overwhelming taste, but was welcomed next to the chilli (perfectly cooked) paneer, which was rather crudely coated in thick, hot spice.
All was washed down with pistachio lassi, both nutty and fruity and so luxurious it reminded me (happily) of banana sundays.
The piéce de resistance was the dhooder milk cake, which comes flavoured either as mango, pistachio or coconut. Our milky sponge – deliciously light – was layered in thick coconut whipped cream, prettily dusted with desiccated coconut, and sitting in a pool of lightly condensed milk. Sweet but complex, light yet rich, it excellently hit all the notes.
Our table of five enjoyed the following dishes, which came to a reasonable £18 a head.
For such a young restaurant, Charista has carved out a strong and unique identity in Shoreditch. Just off Brick Lane, it offers an exciting alternative to the predominantly Indian curry houses. With stylish interiors and a varied menu, it is more than just home-cooked food.
You can find Charista at 29 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA.
If you enjoyed reading this review, read our thoughts on the restaurant La Forchetta.
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