Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Many a kind word has been bestowed upon Dishoom since it opened in July, and rightly so. The pastel walled, trompe l'oeil tiled space pays homage to the vibrant Bombay all-day cafés of the '60s, which drew an eclectic clientele, from breakfasting students and lunching lawyers, to artists and writers in search of inspiration.

Set up early last century by Persian immigrants, nearly 400 cafés thrived during their peak in the '60s. Today fewer than 30 cafés remain. Drawing on their rich and colourful heritage, Dishoom, onomatopoeically named after the old Bollywood sound effect produced when a hero lands a good punch, serves up an all-day menu of Bombay bites in a buzzy, two tiered space bedecked with sepia family portraits running the gamut from beautiful to strange.

The canteen-like space, filled with low hanging filament bulbs and slow turning ceiling fans, looks like a colonial Leon by way of the Silk Road. The open kitchen displays a hive of frenzied activity. From where I'm sitting, I can see fish being tossed in piping hot pans and dinner plate-sized discs of freshly-made dough being thrown high into the air, then blasted in an oven and 'dishoomed' to the recipients table.

Dishoom give good bread. Their cheesy naan is unmissable. Served piping hot and hemorrhaging cheddar, it's so good I order a second helping before finishing my first. Rather than respecting any kind of divine order, dishes arrive as and when they are ready, which seems eminently sensible. Many of the Bombay Breakfast Club dishes appeal, from the bacon naan roll with chilli jam, to the spiced Bombay omelette, but my late dining hour render them off limits.

Before you begin, three complimentary dips are brought to your table: tamarind and date, yoghurt and mint, and chilli chutney. The pared down menu is designed for sharing, so my dining companion and I opt for a series of small plates, including a bowl of succulent Bombay sausages tumbled in tomatoey masala and playful, perfect-for-dipping, desi fish fingers.

The substantially sized lamb sheekh kebab with cumin and lime is disappointingly dry and lacking in subtlety, making me wish I'd opted for the spicy lamb chops rubbed with crushed black pepper and chillies instead. My anger is appeased by dollops of soothing Raita – cool yoghurt with fresh cucumber and mint, washed down with tumblers of lightly smoked, sour cherry fueled Toscana le Chiantigiane Sangiovese.

The incredibly enjoyable dining experience is rounded off with a perfectly gooey chocolate fondant and a pot of house chai. Before leaving, I descend the poster-filled staircase to explore Dishoom's lower deck. The loos are a fascinating find, each containing a Damien Hirst-like cabinet of curiosities filled with bathtime paraphernalia from the subcontinent. I find myself momentarily transfixed by quaint soap pots and charming glass lotion bottles.

My enduring memory of Dishoom with be of the life-sized black and white poster in the ladies loos of a bare-chested man in a scandalously small pair of shorts puffing his chest out like a peacock to proudly show off a sash that reads: 'Best-built Parsi 1941'. Curiously, Parsi's were potty about bodybuilding in the '40s and '50s, just as the Bombay cafés were coming into their own. Dishoom more than merits a detour, and it will be exciting to see whether this eccentric Covent Garden site expands to other, equally deserved corners of the capital.

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane WC2H 9FB. Tel: +44 (0)20 7420 9320. A meal for two with water and service costs about £35.

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