William Sitwell reviews Khai Khai, Newcastle: ‘Utterly perfect dal – as good as ones I ate in Delhi’


One dish at this establishment took me back to my late teens when I worked in India – and it did not disappoint

Khai Khai Indian restaurant review Newcastle
Despite being in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge, Khai Khai is an attraction of its own Credit: Anna Miller

Call yourself a restaurant critic? You travel some 400 miles to visit an Indian establishment with a menu adorned with the likes of chaat, pakora, biryani, paneer, tikkas, kebabs, lentils, parathas and rotis. 

Instead, you order a naan, some rice, lamb chops, broccoli and rice pudding, then steal your wretched self back from Geordie land to Exmoor before you can say Khai Khai.

Well, I’m sorry. But I’m not Charles Campion. (Neither am I a late, great critic of vast renown, as one of you beastly readers commented under a recent review of mine: “God I miss AA Gill.” That was wounding…)

But Charles was a proper critic and looked like one. He could eat entire menus. I saw it once at Club Gascon in Smithfield. We were dining together, the waiter brought him the menu and he said: “Yes, thank you, I’ll have that.” Every. Single. Dish.

And he didn’t just have breakfast, lunch and dinner. He could have two or three of each, and still manage to pop tea in and doubtless a cake and a biscuit if duty demanded.

The tadka dal stole the show Credit: Anna Miller

In my defence, however, I can assure you all of just and true reflections, as well as a keen endeavour to find the touchstones that might attest to greatness, or otherwise.

Thus at Khai Khai, an Indian restaurant in Newcastle, on Queen Street, near the centre of that great city whose avenues and vistas drag your eyes skywards to vast bridges, grand buildings and the raucous screeching of seagulls, I zone in on the dal.

There are two: signature black lentils and tadka yellow lentils. I’ve eaten the former in its greatest form at Bukhara, a restaurant in New Delhi. It is deep, dark and enveloping. That was about 15 years ago, when I was taken there to eat that dish specifically by the cook and food writer Anjum Anand (I’m still trying to work off the ghee). 

But today I crave soupy, yellow dal. It’s a dish I ate daily in my late teens when I worked in Delhi. And Khai Khai’s version is utterly perfect. 

The lamb cutlets were spicy without compromising the meat flavour Credit: Anna Miller

Humble, simple, the spice tempered just right, gloriously wet and the ideal foil for the saffron pulao rice, which was long and light and flecked with a few crisp onions.

I had a soft and fluffy naan with it, never ceasing in my admiration for chefs who plunge their arms into a roasting tandoor to stick the naans on to the clay walls, to bring us one of the world’s most satisfying breads.

And there were lamb cutlets, charred outside, pink and soft within, marinated in star anise and fennel seeds and with enough chilli to keep me alert without hogging the meat flavour. 

It came with a salad garnish, of course, with some swirl of orange dressing. Which I didn’t eat, of course. Who does? I reckon a ban on pointless salad garnishes would be more acceptable than converting old boilers to heat pumps, and the 100 per cent compliance could lead to a reduction in average global temperatures.

The saffron pulao rice was the perfect companion to the lamb cutlets Credit: Anna Miller

There was broccoli too (charred and al dente, just right), which I would prefer baked in a tandoor with nothing but a fleck of chilli, but, understandably, because chefs can’t help themselves, they sprinkle on pistachio.

I finished with a rice pudding, which was just not sweet enough. Even my sugary masala chai didn’t serve to get the balance right. Rice pudding needs to be so sugary that you almost, almost, think it’s too sweet.

So there. Two courses. Job done. Khai Khai, I hope to be back. I reckon I could work through every dish over time and still give you the same firm thumbs up.

Have you been to Khai Khai? What did you think? Tell us in the comments