Not one to miss out on a soft launch, I was thrilled to learn the Dishoom venture, tucked off King’s Cross’s stylish Granary Square, was staging such an opening, with 50% of both food AND drink! Dishoom is one of my favourite Indian restaurants, conjuring up all the exotic richness of Iranian-style Bombay cafes in the heart of London. Combining a swish Bombay brassiere décor in the style of old post-colonial “Irani cafes”, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: vintage framed Bolywood prints, whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and toilets decked out to resemble train carriages – where chai-wallahs are a constant drone.
Aside from the ability of its décor to transport patrons to another world, Dishoom’s main attraction is its menu. I’ve enjoyed brunches at their Covent Garden branch, sampling the delicious Egg Naan Roll speciality and the “Naughty” Chocolate Chai as well as the unusual Mango and Fennel Lassi, which is now my go-to Vitamix smoothie. Their breakfast menu also features a Breakfast lassi (£3.70), which is a concoction of yoghurt, banana, mango, and oats. I was therefore excited about trying out dishes from the a la carte menu
Unsurprisingly, the soft launch had been well advertised judging by the two-hour long queue. But on this cold November evening, Dishoom waiters were kind enough to offer its loyal fans cups of steaming sweet hot Chai, with its notes of cardamom and cinnamon warming us up and definitely wetting our appetites for dinner.
After this initial wait, we had a further wait in the basement bar, the Permit Room. Sat at the bar – one of my companion’s and mine’s favourite dining spots – we enjoyed chatting to our supremely knowledgeable bartender who whizzed us up deliciously refreshingly cocktails, whilst explaining the lengthy brewing process of their alcohols. Whilst my companion chose the 1984 Sour (£8.50), a concoction of Amrut whisky with creamy egg-white foam, peach, hibiscus, honey, fresh lemon – described as “nectar of the gods from the churning ocean” – I enjoyed the Limca Collins (£7.50), a fizz made with Old Tom Gin, fresh lemon, lime, orange, salt, mint and coriander. Both were crispy, clean drinks, with an unusual depth of flavour. And to my surprise, the Indian herb coriander works well in a desi-inspired cocktail. I’d also recommend their Chaijito – a delicious concoction of smoky Santa Teresa rum and Dishoom sweet-spice chai syrup muddled with fresh mint, coriander, ginger and lime, and dashed with fizzy water and built over crushed ice – an Indian take on this Brazilian classic.
Before not too long, our table in the enormous dining space was ready. By this time, we were both ready for a hearty Indian meal. To start, we shared a small plate of Okra fries (£3.70), fine lady’s fingers for the fingers and a Bowl of Greens (£3.50). The okra was the first form of this unconventional and sometimes creepy vegetable that I have enjoyed. Coated in a tasty masala batter and drizzled with a tangy lemon juice, they were deliciously moreish – not too dissimilar from the Italian courgette fritti. They certainly resurrected my childhood love of this vegetable and introduced me to a new way in which it could be enjoyed. The greens, meanwhile, were gloriously fresh, with grilled broccoli, snow peas and spinach dressed with chilli and lime.
For mains, we couldn’t resist sharing two of the frankie and roomali rolls dishes. Frankies are open-ended naan parcels, whilst roomali roti rolls are made with delicate “handkerchief” bread. The Rajma Frankie (£6.50) was filled with spicy red kidney beans and fresh coriander and served with a side of incredibly minty green chutney. The highlight of the show, however, was the Paneer Roll (£6.70), packed with green leaves, capsicums, red cabbage, minty chutney and of course tikka paneer. The paneer was wonderfully marinated and charred, and was excellent alongside all the chutneys on offer, including tamarind, green chilli and fennel varieties.
To cleanse our palette, we enjoyed a desert of Cinnamon Ice-Cream (£3.20), a generous portion of “no-nonsense” intensely cinnamony goodness, and apparently also cardamom in my companion’s opinion.
Dinner at Dishoom didn’t disappoint and all in all, our bill came to under £15. Reasonable even at full price, this was an absolute steal! I’m even tempted to return for breakfast, having eyed up the description of their bottomless creamy porridge served with banana and my favourite dates – let’s just hope they’re of the Medjool form!
Follow-up (birthday) brunch visit…
Having enjoyed an Indian feast at Dishoom’s King’s Cross soft launch, I was lucky enough to be given vouchers for a brunch at Seven Dials’ Spring/Summer shopping event. Dishoom seem to be very generous and so as a follow-up birthday treat, I chose to brunch Mumbai-style. My choice was not only influenced by my complimentary voucher, but also by the fact that its Naan rolls appeared on the Guardian’s list of “Cult food: the most incredible dishes to share this summer“.
Given the size of the King’s Cross branch, there was no queue and we immediately secured a spot. Dishoom’s galore starts with the marvellous décor: think tall ceilings, dangly hanging lamps, ceiling fans, an exposed kitchen and Bolywood retro posters. Indeed, “Dishoom” means “pow!” in Bollywood-speak, the sound effect made when heroes and villains throw punches at each other. So “dishoom-dishoom” films are action movies beloved of everyone from excitable kids to elderly unclejis (and in London, trendy film studies students). What an old movie genre that’s a throwback to the 1970s has in common with a completely unrelated restaurant concept, I don’t know — except that the first four letters of the word are found in both. It seems that through their chai and décor, Dishoom is reviving Mumbai café culture. Mumbai’s old Irani cafes are dying a slow death, and the only people doing anything about it are in London. And with painstaking attention to detail and cultural referencing, nothing is overlooked at Dishoom.
Whilst we perused the menu, my companions couldn’t resist a hot glass of their legendary house masala Chai. Although we boil the tea Indian-style at least twice a day at home, there is something distinct about Dishoom’s sweet version. The aroma conjures up the spicing of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Its beautifully spicy kick balances the milky sweetness well; it certainly puts other masala chais available in London to shame. The chai served here is likely influenced by Dishoom’s Irani roots. 19th century Zoroastrian Iranians migrated to Mumbai in search of work and brought with them their Irani chai: milk tea supercharged with condensed milk. What’s more, at Dishoom, the chai is served in metal beakers – making it taste just like the real deal the wallahs serve you in India. Their chai menu also features a Chocolate Chai – which I’ve enjoyed before. A mixture of house chai and dark chocolate, it certainly is luxurious yet infused with spice.
My companion couldn’t resist the Egg Naan Roll (£4.70), especially given how well they are reputed. For her, the naan was perfect: doughy, bubbly and slightly charred on one side, it encased a layer of cream cheese, and of course sprigs of fresh coriander served alongside sweet and spicy chilli jam. The two fried free-range eggs had saffron-yellow, runny yolks. As described on their menu, it was warm and gratifying.
Opting for a lighter start to the day, I went for the House Granola (£5.20) tempted by the fact that the granola is Dishoom’s own recipe, handmade with oats, seeds, cashews, almonds, pistachios and cinnamon, and toasted in butter and honey. Served with fresh fruits and Kerala-vanilla yoghurt, they even source their honey from the excellent Buckinghamshire honey. Breakfast is often praised as the most important of the day. And this start would certainly set up me well from my morning’s shopping.
I think Dishoom largely deserves the great exposure it has received so far. The food and drinks are tasty, but ultimately, the decor wins me over.
And a few more photos from subsequent lunch visits…
Dishoom, 5 Sable Street, London, N1C 4AB