I thought I was just going in for desserts & chai, but I ended up leaving Charista Shoreditch with a very happy belly and couldn’t stop thinking about their savoury offerings as well. Newly opened in Shoreditch on Bethnal Green Road, just a stone’s throw away from Shoreditch Box Park, Charista prides itself as the home of chai nashta (i.e morning tea), specialising in organic tea grown in the gardens of Bengal. It’s a passion project from a husband-and-wife duo, both chai connoisseurs and looking to bring homely Bengali food in a restaurant-like setting to sit, eat, and share chai.
Charista Shoreditch: The Rhythm of Bengal
Stepping into Charista feels like being transported away from London and into a cosy lounge in India. From the decor to the soft Bollywood music, despite a small space, it oozes charm and a touch of casual timeless sophistication. The moment you step in, you’d be greeted with cream walls adorned with nostalgic old photographs of Bengal. Its dark wood panelling adds a timeless elegance to the place and each round table is decorated with a small vase of dried flowers plus wicker chairs. As mentioned, it’s almost like a cosy lounge to sit down and chill.
The Food: What We Ordered
There are both sweet and savoury offerings on Charista’s menu. It’s a small but effective menu offering classic street food dishes such as masala chips, chaat, etc. and a range of desserts, chai and mocktails. All meats served are halal.
Dum Gosht Biryani (£10)
When we decided to come to Charista, the original plan was just chai and desserts. However, seeing how nice some of the savoury dishes looked from other tables, we couldn’t help ourselves to try some out too and ended up ordering biryani. You can choose your preferred spice level – I went with medium-spice and the other half went with hot.
The biryani was incredibly fragrant and it really hit the spot from spice level & flavours to texture. Tender chunks of lamb meat oozed rich flavours, which laced beautifully with the flavoursome potatoes and fluffy fragrant rice. The spices were like a delicate yet exciting dance on the palate, piquant and moreish to taste, and giving you all the oomphs to your taste buds. Generously topped with crispy fried onions, it added a beautiful layer of flavours and texture to the dish. All in all, I can only say, what a pleasant surprise this dish has been and I would happily eat this again and again.
Pistachio Milk Cake (£6.50)
The milk cakes were exactly what I was eyeing before even stepping foot into Charista. There are three flavours for you to choose from – Mango, Coconut, or Pistachio. I went with the latter as I just couldn’t resist a good pistachio dessert!
It certainly was a very pretty slice of pistachio milk cake, sitting over a pool of milk with beautifully piped fresh cream on top and adorned with chopped pistachios. The cake itself wasn’t too sweet compared to those I’ve tried from the likes of Jolt, Kula Cafe, etc. I enjoyed the reduced sweetness, which allowed the subtle nutty flavours to seep through. The cake was beautifully spongy, though just slightly less milky than those I had from the mentioned places. Whilst most milk cakes I’ve had before had been quite rich and decadent, I’d say this one’s more light and delicate.
Coconut Milk Cake (£6.50)
We also tried the Coconut Milk Cake, which was nice too. Again, it was not as sweet or too rich from the milk. The desiccated coconut on top added a fair bit of extra texture to it as well. Personally, I’d prefer the pistachio one more but it’s still good!
Moving onto the chai, we actually tried out a few different ones so let’s start with the Charista Special. The Charista Special is a cardamom-based tea with a smooth creamy texture. It wasn’t a particularly strong brew and both tea flavour and spices were quite subtle. It resembles a Karak Chai but is a touch milder and more mellow.
Truthfully, I couldn’t taste much difference between the Masala Chai and Charista Special. I was expecting a punchy hit of spices after the mild & mellow Charista Special chai but it turned out rather similar.
The Gurer Chai ended up our favourite. Many said it’s hard to find authentic Gurer Chai in London, which is a jaggery tea. The Gurer Chai at Charista is made with date molasses, which added a different layer of sweetness and an earthy touch. It’s still a relatively mellow cup of chai but this one has got more character to it. As mentioned, out of the three chai we tried, we would recommend giving this one a go.
Restaurant Review Summary
We went for milk cakes and chai, but we ended up salivating all over the biryani. It’s fair to say we really enjoyed our visit to Charista and had a lovely time there. Funnily enough, the chai wasn’t what really got us, but it’s the savoury dishes that already made us think of our next visit. If we’re looking at just chai, it probably isn’t the best around and about. But if you’re looking at Charista as a whole – the timeless setting, the organic chai-focussed concept, the atmosphere, the food…Charista has aced it. If you’re out and about in Shoreditch, definitely pop by for a quick bite and a warming cup of chai!
Looking for other Indian eateries with a good cup of chai? Check these out too:
Everything is halal at Charista
Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street