Dhaba was opened in September 2017 in Maida Vale by a gentleman called Naveen Dogra, who is both head chef and co-owner. The name “dhaba” refers to the roadside snack stands that are commonplace in most Indian towns. The dining room has two sections, with further seating downstairs.
The menu was unusually lengthy, with dishes from across northern India and a whole section on “chaats”, a generic term for a roadside snack. As well as Cobra beer on tap at £6 a pint there were a few wines, though these lacked vintages. For example, there was Rongopai Malborough Sauvignon Blanc at £32 for a bottle that you can find in a shop for around £11, Papale Chateauneuf du Pape (probably from Paul Jourdan) at £46 for a wine whose retail price is around £26, and Laurent Perrier Rose champagne at a very fair £85 for a bottle that will set you back £79 in the high street.
We tried three of the chaats. Bombay bhel featured toasted corn, puffed rice and chutneys. This chaat could have done with more chutney as it was a touch dry, but this effect was helped by the use of pomegranate seeds, and certainly the puffed rice and toasted corn were nicely crisp (13/20). Vegetable samosas were made from filo pastry containing a spicy mixed vegetable filling, resting on a potato salad. The latter was a little dull to my taste, but the samosas themselves were really excellent, crisp on the outside and bursting with spicy flavour when you bit into the filling (14/20). Bhalla papdi chaat was less interesting, lentil dumplings and papdi (deep fried flour crackers), topped with sweet yoghurt and chutney. The dumplings had a rather grainy texture and were quite dense, though the papdi was fine (11/20).
Chicken tikka was generous, the meat having nicely absorbed its marinade and the chicken avoiding dryness (13/20). Chicken biryani lacked a pastry case to seal in the aromas but had reasonably fragrant rice, the chicken thigh meat in rather large chunks but was not overcooked (12/20). Bhindi was very good, the cubes of okra having good texture and avoiding the sogginess that so easily affects this dish (14/20). Aloo gobi was also good, the cauliflower and potato both retaining their textures well, their flavour going nicely with the spices in which they were cooked (13/20). Tandoori king prawns were marinated in a creamy mustard garlic sauce before being cooked in a tandoor. The cooking was accurate and the texture of the prawns was fine, though there seemed to be a slight whiff of chlorine detectable from the prawns, suggesting they were washed in chlorine to kill bacteria, which is undesirable (11/20). Both naan bread and rotis had good texture and arrived hot and fresh (13/20).
Service was friendly and capable, with a helpful waiter who seemed to genuinely care about what we thought of the dishes. On this Monday evening the restaurant was quite busy, supplemented by not so much a stream as a torrent of delivery drivers collecting takeout food for the local area. The bill came to £57 per person including plenty of beer. Dhaba@49 was a very pleasant experience and I would happily return.