Chaiwala: an authentic spectacle
“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles, everything that was once directly lived has moved away into a representation.”
So begins Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, the 1967 book in which, in the course of just over 200 axiomatic statements, the French cultural theorist predicted a world dominated by Spectacle; where the line between reality and the representation of reality has ceased to have any meaning.
Chaiwala is Spectacular.
The food is faultlessly authentic. Chaiwala's founders spent several weeks travelling around India, visiting up to seven restaurants a day. At each restaurant, they would order the whole menu, take just a taste of each dish while the car waited outside, before heading to the next restaurant. The thought of all those unfinished curries going to waste makes our hearts sink a little. But we can’t say that the menu isn’t based on a lot of in-depth research.
The decor is faultlessly authentic too. If anything, an even greater level of attention to detail has been lavished on the fixtures, fittings, signage and furniture than on the food. For example, when sourcing reclaimed doors to use as partitions between tables, the designers had a whole shipping container’s worth of vintage doors imported from India, just so they could choose the most authentically Indian of the bunch. Those are some authentically Indian doors.
But there are different types of authenticity. Chaiwala isn’t authentic in the same way as a family run shop is. Chaiwala’s is an authenticity that has been carefully crafted at great expense. It is, to borrow Debord’s language, a representation of authenticity. This Spectacular authenticity naturally looks more authentic than the real thing when you post it on Instagram.
By the way, the cocktails here are all totally Instagrammable (tasty too, since you ask.)
We really enjoyed Chaiwala. Until we got sidetracked thinking about 20th century French philosophy. The food is really very good, whether you Instagram it or not. Judging by the size of the crowd there when we visited midweek, it is going to be spectacular success.