I’d heard great things about Dishoom, so when my friends suggested we meet there for lunch, it was an added bonus to catching up with some long-lost mates. Modelled on a Bombay Street Cafe, Dishoom serves small dishes – kind of Indian tapas. For someone who loves Indian food, regularly gets food envy, and can never decide which one dish to choose from a menu, this is pretty much the perfect solution.
According to the blurb on its website, there’s a fair bit of history to the original Bombay cafes. Originally opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were nearly 400 at their peak in the 1960s. They were places anybody could go, from businessmen to couples, students and families. But now apparently fewer than 30 remain. By the time I get to Mumbai there probably won’t be any left, but I guess I can console myself with a decent copy here in England.
We met at the King’s Cross branch (there are others in Shoreditch and Covent Garden) which is pretty deceptive from the outside. A rather unassuming door leads into a humongous restaurant set over several floors.
There’s a long bar area where people can tuck in at the bar, low tables with comfy armchairs, standard tables and chairs, and even a ‘Family Room’ where we sat at high tables, perched on stools. Venture downstairs on your way to the toilets (which are a trip back in time with their wooden seats) and the smell of incense, hubbub of people, and wafts of fragrant spices can almost convince you you’re actually in Mumbai. Or at least how I imagine it to be in some parts.
The idea of it being a place for everyone was certainly borne out when we visited, with pushchairs galore, families, friends, young and old all packed into the cavernous building. Our effusive waitress (who it has to be said was perhaps slightly “too” full on at times) took us through the menu, explaining how many dishes to order, good combinations, what ‘wet’ dishes to order to complement the main dry plates, and pointing out her own favourites. There was a tonne of choice, from ‘small plates’ to ‘grills’, a ‘ruby murray’ section, as well as biryanis, salads and rices and breads.
With one vegetarian among our trio, we didn’t go too heavy on the meat options. But that was fine here because the veggie dishes sounded, and looked, just as appetising as many of their carnivorous counterparts. We agreed to each choose a small plate and a grill, then get a few extra bits as well (naturally).
From the small plates menu, vegetable samosas were crispy and light, filled with pea and potato, and fragrant hints of cinnamon. The Pau Bhaji, apparently Chowpatty Beach style, was a bowl of mashed up vegetables, served with a hot buttered ‘Pau bun’. Chowpatty Beach, or Girgaum Chowpatty, is one of Mumbai’s best-known beaches, famous for its eateries and snack stalls. Indeed, according to fellow blog Spice in the City, eating Bhel Puri at Chowpatty Beach is apparently one of the “quintessential Mumbai experiences”.
By chance, Bhel was also one of our chosen dishes – a light, delicate dish, mixing puffed rice with and nylon sev, which are a bit like vermicelli and made of gram flour. This came mixed with puffed rice as well as tomato, onion, lime, tamarind and mint, and topped with pomegranate seeds, making for a fresh, subtle, cleansing dish that contrasted well with some of the richer things we’d ordered.
From the grill menu, I started off by choosing Murgh Malai but was warned it might be too creamy and mild. Instead I was pointed towards Dishoom’s chicken tikka which was, I’m pretty sure, the best chicken tikka I’ve ever had. Tender, packed with flavour, and not a hint of dryness. They use sweet vinegar, not yoghurt, at Dishoom so perhaps that makes the difference. Who knows, but I’m pretty sure most chicken tikkas will seem substandard compared to this now. Its sister dish Paneer tikka was tasty and nicely spiced, served nice and hot and without a hint of rubberiness.
Our third ‘grill’ dish was Lamb Boti Kabab, apparently a Bademiya-style classic (Bademiya is a well-known Mumbai kebab restaurant/brand). The chunks of lamb were nicely-marinated in red chilli, garlic and ginger, and impressively tender. I’m a massive fan of lamb anyway, and this was a close rival to the greatness of my chicken tikka.
As if we hadn’t ordered enough, we couldn’t resist a few extras. Gunpowder Potatoes – brown skins, smoky grilled, broken apart and tossed with butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs – were up there with my favourites. The smokiness was great, the green chillies fresh and spicy, and I’m sure I tasted the kick of mustard seed.
We couldn’t not try the House Black Dhal, apparently a Dishoom special, which was smooth and creamy but still with the lentil texture, and again brilliantly flavoured and spiced. Apparently it’s cooked for longer than 24 hours. I obviously need some dhal cooking lessons, because whenever I try, while the flavour is great I end up with a pretty mushy texture.
We also chose a pedestrian-sounding ‘Bowl of Greens’ made up of broccoli, mange tout and spinach that had been ever-so-lightly fried and tossed in lime. It was another great palate-cleanser, light and clean tasting compared to the party of flavours that were going on.
A portion of “handkerchief thin” (the menu’s description, pretty accurate too) Roomali Roti, perfect for scooping up the dhal, and we were done with our little feast. Each dish stood in its own right, while also forming a perfect chorus of flavours, textures and tastes. At £2-4 for the small plates, and £5-10(ish) for the grills, the value isn’t bad. Of course it can quickly mount up, but we had more than enough food, several beers, and some coffees and it came to about £30 each. Alright for London, in my humble opinion.
The menu is full of cocktails, lassis, simple beers, as well as mocktails, coffees and Chai, and the wide selection, combined with the atmosphere, means Dishoom can be a great venue for anything from a fun night out to a quiet date, a family lunch, or a meet-up with friends. Breakfast sounds great here too, with dishes like Kejriwal – two fried eggs on chilli toast – to Bombay omelette or Dishoom naan rolls, all getting my tastebuds going.
If you like Indian food, and if like me you’re indecisive and a general glutton, Dishoom is right up your street. Plenty of tastes, great surroundings, and a chance to pig out. Perfecto!
My friends and I paid for our meal in full at Dishoom. The restaurant didn’t know I was a blogger or was going to write about this.