Tony Singh opens Radge Chaat at St James Quarter's Bonnie & Wild - we meet the chef
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Gaby Soutar interviewed Tony Singh MBE for The Scotsman Saturday Magazine in May 2022.
“Want anything to eat, Gaby?” he asks.
I say no, since it’s only 4.30pm, then instantly regret my decision.
He’s cooking some vegan butter chicken, which is on the menu alongside Chippie Chaat, Chana Chaat and Fur Fur (‘think Quavers crisps without the cheese’) and smells delicious.
Singh, 51, lets me have a look ‘behind the scenes’ in the small but perfectly formed stainless steel kitchens that are looked after by each of this marketplace’s concessions. I try not to get under the feet of the new staff member, Cammy, though Tony’s younger brother, Lucky, who co-owns the restaurant, isn’t here today.
There are a couple of neat deep-fat fryers, griddles, ovens, and all the kit is neatly slotted in, as if this was the galley of a boat. "Compact and bijoux,” says Singh.
It also feels like a stage, with potential diners nebbing in and wondering what they’re going to order.
Apparently, the restaurants in Bonnie & Wild share a storage area, and this chef does some of the prep for his vegetarian and vegan Indian street food in the original branch of Radge Chaat, which is in an aqua-coloured shipping container at Tollcross. It’s been a popular presence since opening during lockdown last year, but he wanted to expand into the other side of the city. It had to be a physical venue, rather than a dark kitchen. You’d imagine that their signature gol guppa would get soggy after a spell on a bicycle.
“We did Deliveroo, but I didn’t like it, because by the time you get the food it loses that essence,” says Singh, who has four grown-up children. “I wanted to roll Radge Chaat out. It’s a small footprint, and we could build the brand and get it recognised”.
He did also recently think about setting up a business in a newly converted public toilet in his neighbourhood of Portobello, but that plan fell through.
At least St James Quarter is a bit closer to the Leith area he grew up in. It seems that this slot, recently vacated by Erpingham House – which Singh was unimpressed by - is ideal.
From May 25, along with other vegan menu items, he’ll be expanding their offering with the lentil pancakes that are dosas, and ‘chicken’ dishes that are made from a meat substitute.
Singh shows me a few pictures of tikkas that he’s been experimenting with using his favourite vegan discovery.
He’s having supply problems at the moment, and this product, which is made with mycelium, is expensive, but he hopes to get cooking with it as soon as he can. It’s much better than ‘weird’ Quorn, according to him, and it looks fibrous, like real poultry.
“It’s called TiNDAL and is made in Germany, but the brand was bought by people in Singapore - it’s phenomenal, because I can marinade it. I put all my spices in there, “ he says, after enthusiastically telling me about the new pea-based creams and veg-based butters that are easy to cook with.
So, has Singh turned herbivore himself? “No,” he says. “I’m not against veganism, I love it. I just like my dairy too much”.
It's been a long time since he was at the helm of Edinburgh fine-dining restaurant, Oloroso, which closed way back in 2012, not to mention his other ventures, Apex Grassmarket, Tony’s Table and The Old Bakehouse in West Linton. However, a more casual and irreverent eating style has always suited him best.
“I’ve always loved it. Fine dining is great but the pressures of having a team like that along with people’s expectations. Everyone watches MasterChef now,” says Singh, who, at his house, also runs The Supper Club, which is fully booked until October. “But I get to see customers here and can interact with people, instead of being in the kitchen”.
He’s now operating alongside some of his pals, including National Chef of Scotland Gary Maclean and his seafood restaurant Creel Caught, Jimmy Lee from Salt & Chilli Oriental, as well as the people from El Perro Negro, east PIZZAS, artisanal gelateria Joelato, and others.
“It’s close knit, and there's lots of camaraderie,” he says, when I tell him that Maclean told me Singh was the most huggable person in this venue.
Although it's not yet dinner time, the first orders are already coming in at the newest Radge Chaat. Part of the draw must be the fact that Singh is such a familiar face.
That celebrity will only continue to grow, as he also has a series of ITV’s Cooking with the Stars coming up in mid-July, which will involve him teaching people like Josie Gibson from This Morning, Love Island’s Maura Higgins, and dancer Anton de Beke, how to cook.
“Think Strictly, but with food,” he says. “This will be much better than the first series, which was done in Covid bubbles”.
As well as books and other appearances on Saturday Kitchen and The Great British Menu, there have also been his BBC2 TV appearances on A Cook Abroad: Tony Singh’s India, and The Incredible Spice Men with his friend Cyrus Todiwala OBE.
Yet he hasn’t taken an executive back seat with the new business. You’ll still find him chopping cucumbers and sweating in the kitchen.
“Well, where else would I be?” he says. “If I’m not on the telly or doing my Supper Club, you’ll find me here”.