As spring inched closer last year, whispers spread among locals and then further afield that the neighbourhood of Sandringham had acquired an exciting addition. “It’s a secret bar”, people said, and after a while it was said so often that the secret was out, and folks far and wide all knew about Satya Chai Lounge, tucked down a wee alleyway beside its big brother, South Indian specialist Satya Restaurant, which was one of the first of the many regional Indian eateries and spice shops that cluster at this end of Sandringham Road which bears the unofficial title of Auckland’s “Little India”.
Proprietor Samrudh (Sammy) Ahukota is the son of Swamy and Padmaja, who own the four branches of Satya around town. Sammy helped out in the restaurants from the age of ten, getting a handle on how hospo works and quietly envisaging opening his own place one day. While mum and dad were in India for a month last year, Sammy put his hand to setting up a casual bar and eatery in a spare space at the back of the Sandringham restaurant. “I wanted a place for people to relax and just be themselves”, explains Sammy, “It’s my take on a Indian road side shack serving up amazing food, crossed with a Coromandel batch.
He describes the food (cooked by the delightful Mr Noor – pop through to kitchen to say hello) as “Simple share plates with explosive amounts of flavour; the typical street grub you find at little carts and hole in the wall type places all over India”. Some dishes are more a hybrid of Sammy’s own creation, like the addictively peppery “kurryage” – Japanese deep fried karaage chicken meets an Indian spice bomb. The paneer 555 is Mr Noor’s excellent new twist on a chicken dish he’s cooked for years; swapping the chicken for paneer adds a soft, creamy element that tempers the spice. The dahi puri are a must, and you should order them generously; something about that tangy tamarind and yoghurt sauce means they disappear within seconds.
We’ve taken the kids to the Chai Lounge a number of times now and I can report that with every visit, their tolerance to heat levels has crept up. The kitchen here is happy to cook things mild should you desire it, but we find their standard heat level to be totally doable.
As well as an excellent selection of craft beer (Chai Lounge punches well above its weight in terms of the variety on offer) and a small, interesting list of wines, the Lounge offers a short cocktail list designed by respected bartender Roberto Giampaolo to tie in with Sammy’s idea and food menu. These tend towards the classics with some twists, and as Lounge is set to expand and a dedicated bar area go in, the drinks list will continue to grow, says Sammy. The Chai Lounge is longer so secret, but it’s certainly no less fun – cheers to Sammy for living his dream and giving Aucklanders something different.
“You can follow this recipe to make the drink from scratch” explains Sammy, “Or you can purchase our chai masala at the spice shop attached to the Chai Lounge.”
2 black tea bags
2 cardamom pods
1cm stick cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Sugar to taste
Boil all the ingredients until the colour is a dark caramel and the aromas of the spices are obvious. Strain the chai and cool in the fridge.
Fill 2 300ml Collins glasses with ice, add 60 ml Waiwera Spiced Rum and top up with chilled chai.
Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
* This is a modified version of my story originally published in The Weekend Herald in January 2017.