Address: 40 Doric Way, London NW1 1LH
Cuisine: Malaysian with Keralan influence
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: Incredible roti and curry dishes at low low prices. It's popular so be prepared to queue; but it's well worth it!
My friend had been raving about Roti King so we booked in a visit well in advance. Unfortunately when that date came round it landed slap bang in the middle of a snowy spell. However, no 'Beast from the East' or any other weather phenomenon was going to stand in our way of curry!
But a queue was.
Yes, that's right, on one of the coldest nights of the year we chose to stand in line waiting to get into a restaurant. Not even a lovely couple of pints in the Euston Tap beforehand could provide the necessary beer jacket warmth we required, but we waited nonetheless. A small reprieve was offered by a heater halfway along, but even that was operating at temperature extremes; this time a heat that nearly burnt the woolly hats from our heads.
Eventually we made it inside to see what all the fuss was about. Luckily the wait was well worth it.
Roti King is situated just to the east of Euston station on Doric Way. You'd be forgiven for walking past it as only a small sign on the wall indicates the basement restaurant below. You can't book so a queue is possibly the only indicator that a popular restaurant lies at the foot of the blue railed staircase.
Also outside, at the bottom of the steps, is the one bathroom that serves the whole restaurant. Indeed, as the low key exterior suggests, Roti King isn't offering up fine dining, but something a little more, let's say, authentic.
Inside, you're greeted with the sight of the Roti King himself, masterfully spinning roti behind a glass screen. He stands in the kitchen that is right on the edge of the seating area, consisting of wooden tables and stools crammed into a pretty tight space. A draft from the constantly opening front door (toilet and queue) adds to the rather rustic feel. Not even the heat from the kitchen, or the neighbouring diners' close proximity, could keep the cold out on our visit as hats and coats inside were the order of the day.
Trendier white tiles and edison bulb lighting add some sophistication to this subterranean saloon, but confusing adages adorning the walls like, 'a morning without teh tarik is like sleep', give the place an overall, hipster-abattoir sort of vibe. 6/10
Starters and sides
4 X Roti canai special (with curry)
Roti pisang (with caramelised banana filling)
Roti Kaya (with coconut jam filling)
Kangkung belacan (stir-fried morning glory)
Sambal fried rice (stir-fried rice with sambal, eggs, chicken and seafood)
Whilst the restaurant isn't the most comfortable, it was the roti we really came (and nearly froze to death) for.
Roti King is actually a Malaysian restaurant, but the roti it's named after are influenced by the Keralan porotta. These flatbread, made of ghee, flour and water are sometimes referred to as 'flying bread', a term that evokes the process of tossing and spinning by which they are made. Canai is also Malay for 'to roll out dough'.
Regardless of their etymology, the layered, puff-pancakes here are an absolute delight. They're fried and crispy on the outside, but buttery, soft and chewy on the inside. When freshly torn and eaten it's a real melt-in the mouth experience with little comparison to other similar breads we've sampled elsewhere. They are a versatile beast too; both the perfect accompaniment to curry as well as excellent vehicles for savoury and sweet fillings.
We tried them plain with four different curries and sweet with caramelized banana and coconut jam, respectively. The latter, desert options had piping hot, molten fillings that nearly burnt our mouths off, so take care!
All the roti were excellent and were made tirelessly throughout the night by the King himself, with his hands like ballerinas effortlessly tossing the dough skyward. Truly a sight and taste to behold.
In addition to the roti we had some stir-fry options. These were pretty decent, but not strictly this blog's area of expertise. However, I did write down in my notes 'amazing rice' so it must've been pretty good.
As for the rating, the roti alone arguably warrant a 10, but for overall Starters and Sides it's still a very high 9/10.
The king is roti, long live the king!
Our roti canai specials all came with a bowl of curry. We chose one of each - a veggie (daal), a chicken, a lamb and a fish curry. To complete the meat set we also ordered a beef rendang.
All the curries were aromatic; the chicken in particular had a nice cardamon flavour, however, the quality of the meat in it wasn't the best. Far more succulent was the beef in the excellent rendang, that was perfectly seasoned.
The fish curry was probably the best of the four, with an unusual bitter, tangy taste and perfectly flaky white meat. The lamb had a deep spicy hit and tasted like a typical karahi dish, but the daal wasn't up to the standard of the others.
Overall the curry and canai combination was delicious and described by a fellow diner as 'The taste of India in a mouthful', which speaks to the level of edible enjoyment that can be found here. However, as stand alone curries, they are decent, but not as good as others found nearby in some of Euston's other, Indian restaurants.
We won't factor the queuing itself into the service score as it was well worth the wait. Also, the staff here do a great job of keeping custom moving and accommodating you as quickly as possible. All told though it's a pretty rough and ready joint and so service is similar. This isn't a complaint, but with the toilet outside, little space for coats and bags and the door constantly letting in a cold draft, we can't really give any higher than a 6 out of 10 for Service.
Value for money
This is a BYO establishment, meaning value is on offer from the get go. We collectively obliged and imbibed, but had to pay £2.50 each for the pleasure.
On top of this, the total food bill came to £68.75 between 4 which is pretty good going when you consider the amount of food (including desert) we had.
On an individual dish basis, the £6.50 for a roti canai special is excellent value. You'd be hard pressed to get a better, more authentic curry dish,or meal for that matter, for the same price elsewhere in London. It's therefore 8/10 for overall VFM.
As the peak-end rule dictates, our experience of Roti King was not affected by the cold wait to start, but evaluated on how it ended, with excellent roti-based pleasure.
This really is a hidden gem, with excellent food and value to be found. If there's better Indian style flatbread to be found in London we're yet to try it. Well worth the queue!