Reporter Will Kirby calls in on the Welsh Curry Chef of the Year as his Roath bistro celebrates its first birthday
You’d struggle to miss Chaiholics. There seems to be a buzz about the place at all hours, whether it’s a group of friends catching up over mid-morning cup of tea or one of their many regulars popping in to collect a takeaway – the young café-come-bistro is always alive with activity.
The daytime teahouse transforms into a lively bistro in the evenings and the aromas coming from the kitchen can be smelled up and down Roath’s Wellfield Road. The teahouse has been enormously popular since it opened in 2013 but this week Chaiholics are celebrating a successful first year of food service.
Roath has a wealth of little independent cafes and eateries serving up all kinds of delights from all corners of the world, so owner Ray’s decision to start serving food in the evenings was a brave one.
However, thanks to the hard work of staff and the support of the local community, the introduction of an Indian kitchen has taken Chaiholics from strength to strength and the business now has a lot to boast about. As well as being awarded a Certificate of Excellence after being ranked 15th in the TripAdvisor list of the best restaurants in Cardiff, head chef Pramod Nair has been crowned The Welsh Curry Chef of The Year 2015.
This year was only the second time the title had been awarded and after a nationwide poll – which received nearly 18,000 votes – Wales’ top 30 chefs were selected from over 230 restaurants.
The finalists were given a loin of lamb as their main ingredient, and from there they had to create two pre-plated dishes in 90 minutes, one for presentation and one for taste.
Pramod said: “I marinated the loin with coriander, cumin, chilli and different blend of spices and pan-roasted it, and along with that I made masala fried sweetbread and a turnip chard. I also made a special South Indian korma sauce.”
Although he hadn’t been nervous during the earlier rounds, the final was very stressful.
“When I got into the finals I knew I had to give my best,” he said.
“You decide last minute what you want to do, there’s no pre-planning. You’re given the ingredients and it’s ready, steady cook!
“The only thing I had in my mind was to make sure the loin was pink, not well done like other Indian restaurants.”
Pramrod credits his experiences of working with a variety of different culinary styles as a factor behind his title, which he won in May and marks another achievement in his extraordinary career.
His story began in India, where he joined the Taj Hotel Group and worked his way up to the role of executive chef. During this time he also cooked for both former Indian president Dr Abdul Kalan as well as Queen Elizabeth II during a state visit in 1997.
He also holds Icelandic citizenship, having worked there for eight years in the Austur India Felagid, widely regarded as one of the best Indian restaurants in Europe. Mr Nair also worked in Norway before establishing himself in Cardiff in 2011, starting out with the Mint & Mustard group before joining Chaiholics last year.
Pramod’s dishes are certainly one of the highlights of Chaiholics, but their successes have come from other areas too.
Customer Wayne Courtney said: “A large part of their success, as well as the food, is the friendliness.”
The warm environment hits you as soon as you step through the door and this is something owner Ray credits his staff for.
“They’re all great staff, who are both enthusiastic and love what they do,” he said.
Ray, Pramod and the staff will be hoping their fantastic first year is a sign of things to come. There’s a new menu to look forward to next month and right now the future is looking very bright.