Having been informed by Toptable that there was no table available at Seven Dials’ Hawksmoor, we decided to head down to Covent Garden regardless and try our luck. As it turned out, I didn’t manage to find Hawksmoor and my phone conveniently decided to go on strike and hang on me. There was a slight drizzle that afternoon so we decided to retrace our steps and opted for a late lunch at Dishoom instead.
Dishoom, modelled after the Bombay cafes first started by the Persian immigrants, has been the talk of many fellow London food bloggers since it opened more than a year ago and with good reasons too. The first thing that struck me was the stack of colourfully spray painted bicycles heaped next to its entrance. The bustle was unmistakable once you stepped through its doors. Even at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, there was a small queue building up in the small waiting area (with sofas, magazines and newspapers no less).
Fortunately, someone finished their meal soon after and we were led to our table just in front of the roti/naan preparatory area by a very upbeat and pleasant staff who looked as if we just made his day. I took a quick glance at Dishoom thoughtfully laid out menu that depicted the traditional Bombay cafes’ settings. With its tri-bladed fans revolving lazily high up on its ceilings and scores of family photos framed and displayed, hanging lamps, not to mention its Brentwood chairs, Dishoom looked like a scene cut out from what I imagined to be a Bombay café. The only thing missing was the humidity and flitting shadows cast by the whirling fans above.
It was apparent that much effort was made to recreate the Bombay café setting at Dishoom, right down to its toilet cubicles (I found out later) in the basement where shelves of Indian ointments, many of which I have used as a kid, were displayed in a sealed glass cabinet.
Despite having scores of staff rushing around, we waited for quite some time for our orders to be taken. Not that we minded really as the Little One was quite taken by a staff flipping roti before laying it on a heated metal domed surface. Someone eventually did come over. After apologizing profusely, he introduced himself as Daniel and promptly took down our orders.
The lamb samosa (£3.90) was the first ‘small plate’ to arrive. By all accounts, Dishoom’s samosas were one of the better ones that I had come across. Crispy skin lightly deep fried with clean oil with substantial minced lamb filling, it made a good finger dish. I couldn't help but compare that to the vegetable variety at Delhi Grill.
I was a bit sceptical when Wife ordered the desi fish fingers (£3.90) and was I glad she did. It was a joy sinking my teeth into the chunks of battered and cumin marinated fish that came with a mild sweet and spicy dip. They were a bit limp but that just meant that we were looking at fish fillet and not meshed up or reformed fish.
The lamb boti kabak (£7.20) came marinated with red chilli, garlic and ginger. The grilled chunks of lamb retained the smoky aftertaste but was not overdone. The dish was presented with a small clump of coriander and some red onion slices. An interesting combination, which only served to enhance the lamb’s flavour.
We had a garlic naan (£1.90) to top it up. While fragrant and flavourful, I couldn’t help but think that it was a tad over burnt. Some bits of garlic tasted bitter as a result.
Dessert came in the form of gola ice (£1.90) and kulfi on a stick (£2.50). Gola ice reminded me of the ice-kachang dish back home. Essentially syrup doused over grated ice, the cold dessert (often succulent sweet) was a hot favourite back in tropical Singapore. Wife caught a glimpse of a replica of the green metallic ice grating machine at Dishoom drinks counter and promptly pointed it out to me. “Haven’t seen that for quite some time,” she reminisced, ”Don’t think that they actually use it though.”
Dishoom’s gola ice could be grated finer and the passion fruit/ginger combination was a bit over the board for me. It could sure do with some condensed milk but I suspect that would be hardly the traditional way of doing that.
Kulfi on a stick was a mango concentrated elongated cone shaped ice-cream impaled on a thick stick. Its almost sweet milky texture was a welcome change to gola ice.
The unlikely star of the meal, however, had to be the house chai (£1.90). It was sweet with just the right tinge of spice. Thick enough without being irritating to the throat, it was without question the best chai we have ever come across. If anything, we would return to Dishoom just for its house chai. An indulgence but it was that good.
A sentence in the Dishoom’s menu read “All dishes would be dishoomed to your tables”. Intrigued, I asked Ab the very next day what Dishoom meant. He explained that it was nothing but the exaggerated sound effect of a punch thrown. Looking slightly bemused that an Indian restaurant has named itself that, I wouldn’t be surprised that he would be making a trip to Dishoom pretty soon to check it out.
A welcome addition to the Seven Dials area, which was unfortunately known more for its tourist traps, Dishoom is one of the few restaurants that I would honestly recommend to anyone who is in the area and looking for a decent meal at a reasonable price.
Also check out Dishoom's second branch at Shoreditch.