So to Covent Garden on a beautiful, boisterous Thursday night in London where the autumnal light was suitably golden and there was music and merriment in the crisp air (and excessive post-work wine). A perfect night to visit Dishoom, London's first ever Bombay Café and a modern, fresh interpretation on Indian food.
Dishoom first opened its ornate doors in Covent Garden in July 2010 and is named after an old Bollywood sound effect, made when the brave hero lands a cracking good punch, or when a bullet flies through the air. It is similar to popular slang usage of the expression mojo or he's got Dishoom!, and mojo it certainly has evident by the sizeable queue of patient diners chattering outside (and offered a steaming hot chai to warm their cockles while they waited). The original ‘Irani’ Cafés of Bombay, which inspired Dishoom, were abundant at the beginning of the 20th century, and welcomed people from all walks of life across the vast city – rich businessmen would sip chai next to sweaty taxi-wallahs, courting couples, and writers finding their character.
From almost four hundred at their peak in the 1960’s, sadly there are now fewer than thirty remaining, as commercialism and expansion dominated the city of Bombay. Dishoom draws on the heritage of these cafés, with their all-day menu paying homage to the food of Bombay and they are keen to capture some part of this disappearing tradition, and share it with us hungry Londoners. Dishoom's Chowpatty Beach bar sprung up on the South Bank from May to October 2011, closely followed by a second café in Shoreditch in October 2011.
So, back to the other bustling city of London. On entering Dishoom, pow, your senses are immediately awakened, in an exhilarating way instead of a great big in-your-face kind of way. The decor is striking with rich panelled floors, fans whirling slowly to cool the sizzling air and sepia photos of ancestors and Bombay starlets in wooden frames adorning pistachio brick walls. This creates a sensational visual display and each tells a fascinating story of its own. The restaurant is classy and stylish, and although the queue and hard-to-get-a-table offers a sense of exclusivity, Dishoom manages to do what other modern restaurants can often fail - make you feel welcome and part of a big gang of mates rather than grateful to be there, and the faded elegance welcomes all. Your mates for the night are a mixture of hot young things, distinguished ladies and gentleman, chattering friends, and chic couples and Marcus Wareing was dining on the night, which was a very good sign. Yet, there's no snobbery here. Dishoom could afford to be a bit sniffy if it jolly well felt like it but instead it doesn't take itself too seriously or compromise on its values, instead treating you like a long-lost friend come round for tea.
The toilets are a sight to behold. Yes, I did say the toilets. Although I cannot speak confidently about the gents (that would be weird), the ladies' loo has huge pictures of the champion Parsi body builders from the 1960s and vintage Indian toiletries in medicine cabinets provide a point of interest, and charm, while you, ahem, go on with your business.
I had vowed to stay firmly on the wagon the night I visited, but the Dishoom cocktail menu laughed heartily in the face of my abstinence. They could see right through me; they knew my game and that I am partial to a tipple or two. Before I had the chance to feebly make my excuses, I found myself with a flute of the delicious BollyBellini in my hand, and disappointed I was not. With sweet raspberries and lychees, fragrant rose and cardamom topped off with sparkling first-class Prosecco it was a bellini to be reckoned with. The menu describes it as a very pretty missy and pretty it was, although I fear after one too many of these easily drinkable delights this here blogger would not be a pretty missy, rather a shouty and dancing mess.
Enough of the decor and the loo's and my unnecessary tales of tipsiness. It is, of course, the food you are clamouring to know about and my goodness, it does not disappoint. At Dishoom the menu is easy, welcoming and not too try-hard, with distinct strong flavours, tasty marinades and food that gives the impression it is created using good, quality produce. The all-day café menu takes inspiration from the food of Bombay. Our waiter, the very amiable Keith, encouraged us to order a number of small dishes and share the feast among ourselves and we took his very sound advice. We started with some Far Far, described on the menu as a carnival of snackery, which were like a salty, lemony, crisp-popadum hybrid that conjured up memories from our childhood.
Being a vegetarian, for once, is advantageous in Dishoom as it caters so well but it does not discriminate against carnivores. Fellow meaty diners tucked in to a number of Grills on offer, including Spicy Lamb Chops marinated in lime juice, ginger, warm dark spices and jaggery - a traditional uncentrifuged sugar consumed in Asia and Africa. The Bhel was heartily recommended - puffed rice, the infamous Bombay Mix and savoury nylon sev, all tossed beautifully with fresh pomegranate, tomato, onion and lime, tamarind and mint that worked together so harmoniously.
The Ruby Murray's were tasty and satisfying - including a silky Chicken Ruby and as someone who never really felt like cheese with my ruby, I am now a Paneer devotee, thanks to Dishoom's Paneer Tikka, marinated and then gently charred with red and green capsicums. I'll let you discover the rest of the main menu for yourself, but DO NOT leave Dishoom without gobbling greedily the Gunpowder Potatoes - spuds in brown skins, smoky-grilled and tumbled seductively with butter, green herbs and crushed aromatic seeds. You'll finish them, look around sheepishly and think to yourself, will I look like a gluttonous pig if I suggest ordering one more portion? before going ahead and ordering unabashedly anyway.
Leave room for dessert but if your belly is bursting, attempt to share with friends. We shared the Kala Khatta Gola Ice, and before tucking in were warned that the first spoonful tastes bizarre, the second is captivating, and we unanimously agreed. Fluffy flakes of ice soaked gloriously in kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime and white and black salt - this was more than a palate cleanser, it was a powerful taste explosion in your mouth with a huge kick. It had mojo.
Staff are attentive, knowledgable and so affable by the end of the night high on spice and life and one too many BollyBellini's you find yourself wanting to stay in touch, have a beer, swap email addresses etc but thank goodness you stop embarrassing yourself. Our waiter Keith was a gem - he knew the menu inside out, stopped us over ordering unnecessarily and was there with spare napkins and cutlery before we even realised we were without.
My initial dealings with Dishoom were by email, as an enquiring and humble blogger, with the fantastic Tom, Dishoom's Marketing-wallah and Dipak, Reservations-wallah, both absolutely top blokes. They shared with me proudly that Dishoom freely admit to having a sentimental side (too much Bollywood), and they love to see a birthday party celebrated well - that is, starting with something spicy, and ending with singing and dancing. How could anyone resist that?
So, to summarise Dishoom in my opinion it is slicker than your average. It is wallet and taste-bud friendly and serves fresh, modern indian food in a stylish, buzzing and beautiful place. The decor is gorgeously kitsch and ornate and the beautiful magentas, teals and vintage artwork is right up my street. The service is impeccable - from the initial chai in the queue, from entrance to bar to table and everything in between, and combined with the food this gives everything an impeccable, flawless finish. We were treated like VIPs, but with just the right amount of fuss.
Delectable Dishoom, you are vibrant, you have swagger. I cannot wait to see you and your mojo again soon, if you will have me.Dishoom Shoreditch – 7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE Dishoom Covent Garden – 12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB www.dishoom.com Become a Facebook Dishoom-wallah for news, events, gifts and suchlike: www.facebook.com/dishoomlondon Follow us on Twitter – we're quite random: www.twitter.com/dishoom