There was little to stir the Appetite team from its grumbling slumber during the long lockdown of winter 2020/21. Then came Khai Khai and, with it, long-idle culinary scribes began to awake from their long hibernation to whisper of something new, something wonderful, something very, very pleasing indeed.
Khai Khai, created by the famously innovative restauranteur Jaf Ali and Michelin-starred chef Alfred Prasad, kept us going through lockdown with its takeaways and is now fully open, a word-of-mouth sensation for the intense flavours, textures and ingredients usually only found in the subcontinent’s traditional smoke-filled kitchens. Khai Khai’s dishes are an exquisite tribute to the subcontinent’s culinary heritage, from Rajasthan’s village kitchens and the alleyways of Old Delhi to the sophisticated cuisine of New Mumbai and modern Jaipur. And this wonderful food is served in elegant surroundings in the North East’s most famous foodie location (Newcastle’s Queen Street) with a laidback vibe which encourages long afternoons and evenings.
Here are generations-old recipes created in traditional tandoor and modern Josper charcoal ovens; dishes suffused with exquisite spice blends and smoke played with fan, fire and skill.
When the Hollywood A-lister Harrison Ford was in the region filming yet another Indiana Jones instalment in June, he popped up here, by all accounts drawn by Prasad, whose reputation stretches worldwide. We don’t know what he had, but if he’d had the Old Delhi butter chicken he’d have enoyed its richness and mellow heat, while the Adraki bhuna lamb presents melting braised meat with ginger and roast spices alongside saffron pulao and a pillowy butter naan. A culinary journey around the subcontinent, this is also very Newcastle; the service informal, chatty and full of charm, with bottled beers from Wylam Brewery and soft drinks from Newcastle’s 40 Kola.
The plant-based menu is seriously good, its onion and samphire bhaji sublime, celebrating all the sweet delight of pink banana shallot. Meanwhile, the Josper-smoked aubergine is exquisite, while a side order of tadka yellow lentils was so moreish we had to have two helpings of it.
The elegant dining room is a triumph of hardwood, rattan, marble and metal in a grand space with little nooks for small tables. Small plates, mains, sides and drinks for two came to around £75. We’re told Mr Ford enjoyed his few hours here and stayed to chat after his lunch, and we’re not surprised; we wanted to stay the whole day too.
Khai Khai, 29 Queen Street, NE1 3UG, tel 0191 221 0601, www.khaikhai.co.uk