McDonald's, Starbucks and KFC are a few places that I think of when someone mentions a 'drive-thru'. One thing that doesn't immediately come to mind would be a drive-thru serving Indian food, but in Bolton, this is exactly what has recently launched.
Indian street food chain Chaiiwala has opened a restaurant in Manchester Road, on the site of the old Norweb building. The Midlands-based business originally started in Delhi in 1927, before it began serving Indian-inspired teas, street food and soft drinks in the UK six years ago.
Since then more than 70 stores have opened around the country, including another in Bolton, but the Manchester Road branch is the first of these to be a drive-thru. Crucially, it's also less than a 10 minute drive from my house, making me perfectly placed to try it out for myself.
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Unfamiliar with the menu, I thought it best that I parked up and went inside on my first visit, so that I didn't have to hold up a slew of cars as I pondered what to order. Despite it being 6.30pm, it was really quiet inside with just one or two other customers sat at tables and no queue at the till.
As a fan of Indian cuisine, the menu looked incredibly appetising and it seemed rude not to order a feast, with a bit of everything. In the end, I spent just over £34 in total in the hope that I would have more than enough food and drink to fill me and my dining partner up.
For reference, I ordered:
- Butter chicken roll (£2.95)
- Mumbai mac 'n' cheese (£5.45)
- Kebab roll (£3.50)
- Aloo tikki burger (£3.25)
- Pana puri (£4.95)
- Gunpowder masala chips (£3.25)
- Gulab jamun (£3.95)
- Regular blue limbu pani (£2.75)
- Regular pink chaii with almonds and pistachios (£2.50)
A friendly server named Afnan handed me a beeper and told me to take a seat until my food was ready. It took just under 15 minutes to arrive, which I was impressed with, considering how much I ordered. Although I did not go through the drive-thru on this occasion, there are parking bays at the front where cars can wait to be brought the food if there is a wait.
After getting back home and unpacking everything, I went in for the butter chicken roll first. Rather than a roll, it was served on a roti, which was lovely and crispy. The butter chicken itself had a bit of a kick but nothing crazy. The flavours were well balanced and the chicken was really tender.
Wondering what 'gunpowder masala chips' were, that was my next port of call. I had tried masala fish before in Cheetham Hill and I enjoyed that so I was hoping these would be fairly similar. It turns out that they were chips smothered in a tomatoey sauce that turned them orange, and garnished with spring onions for good measure.
The sauce had made the chips a bit soggier than I usually like but it strangely worked and they were extremely moreish. They also got extra points for being served in a cone, as chips always should be in my opinion.
An aloo tikki is apparently a vegetarian snack made from boiled potatoes, peas, and various curry spices, pressed into round hash brown-esque patty. Here it was put on a burger bun with onion, tomatoes and house slaw. I'm not mad about having salad on my burgers so wasn't sure about this but I was really pleasantly surprised. It was sweet and bursting with flavour, and I would definitely order it again.
The Mumbai mac 'n' cheese was also a winner. The pasta was soft and the cheese sauce was light but it was given a big kick of heat with various spices sprinkled over the top.
However, the kebab roll was less to my taste. It was a chicken seekh with mint yoghurt and onions, wrapped inside a paratha. While the paratha was again beautifully crisp and the seekh well cooked, I felt like the taste of the mint yoghurt was quite overpowering.
My final savoury dish was the pana puri - I had tried it once before at the brilliant Bolton Food and Drink Festival so I knew roughly what it was, but Afnan had also helpfully explained the dish to me while I was ordering. There's something of a ritual in preparing it as you have to push a hole in the puri (a deep-fried crisp flatbread) before filling it with the chana mix and tamarind puri.
You then pop it in your mouth whole which leads to an explosion of flavours and textures. It's a really fun food, both to prepare and eat, but I found that they did get a bit sickly after a couple.
For dessert was a dish that I had never tried or heard of - gulab jamun. Described on the menu as fried dough balls, it sounded utterly indulgent and right up my alley. It came with ice cream, with the choice of rose, mango or vanilla. I went for the latter and although it was not much to look at upon taking off the lid, it was absolutely delightful.
The soft dough balls seemed to have been injected with a sweet syrup and the ice cream complemented it perfectly. I think it may well replace the McFlurry as my go-to drive-thru dessert of choice in future.
Onto the drinks and the limbu pani initially threw me off with the colour but it just tasted like a sweet lemonade, with a hint of something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was incredibly refreshing and was a great companion to some of the more spicy dishes that we tried.
The pink chaii was also sweet, albeit with an assortment of spices making it quite warming. The almonds and pistachios also gave it an interesting texture and although the pink colour is a little off-putting, it tasted very pleasant and is something that I would definitely consider ordering again.
I had seen quite a few people complaining about the pricing online but for the amount of money we paid in total (£34.05) I definitely feel as if we got good value for money in terms of how many different dishes we got. However, I was still left feeling as if I could have managed quite a bit more food at the end, so I can see where people are coming from. What I did appreciate is that pretty much everything came in recyclable packaging, which made disposing of everything in the right way very straightforward.
I definitely think that I would go to Chaiiwala again if I'm looking for some quick, convenient and tasty Indian food. It certainly makes a good addition to the more established drive-thrus out there and I'm looking forward to seeing more pop up in the future.
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