Sunday, 15 August 2010
Dishoom is the new "Bombay Cafe" receiving quite a lot of love in Covent Garden right now.
The concept is fresh and nostalgic all at once. The London incarnation is inspired by the grand old cafes of Mumbai, opened by Persian immigrants in the early 20th century. They which numbered in the hundreds by the 1960s but have since all but disappeared.
I love the big, brasserie style room immediately. It's all high ceilings, huge windows, marble topped tables, dark wood and walls cluttered with vintage posters, photos, newspaper clippings and mirrors. It's buzzy, friendly, and manages to retain its charm while clearly being positioned for a potential roll out.
There's no queue when we arrive early at 7.15pm on a Friday night and are informed (in the nicest possible way) we'll need to vacate in an hour and a half if anyone's waiting. Within half an hour there's a Busaba-like queue snailing down the street. The word is out.
And fair enough too. There's good stuff here.
A small pot of Pau Bhaji arrives first - mashed veg with hot buttered bread (£3.90). Having a touch of l'essence de baby food about it, it's a tad bland and monotonous. Not a flying start but "nice" enough. Surprisingly, this was one of the recommendations of our attentive waitress. (Potentially over-attentive service seems have to settled down since early reports.)
But things pick up from here with a series of fresh, lively and spicy plates that leave us happily full and smiling from the inside out.
The murgh malai is a generous serving of marinated, charcoal grilled chicken (£6.50). The spicing is mild but definite, and the knobbly chunks of chicken are nicely charred and delightfully succulent.
A plate of large, meaty grilled masala prawns is also appealing - with lime, tomato and fresh coriander (£8.20), the only problem is there's 5 to share between 2 of us which always results in an arm wrestle in our family.
Our lamb biryani is the best I've had in a long time - it comes in a clay pot, sealed in the traditional way with a ring of dough. It's aromatic and spicy, and the basmati rice is wonderfully moist but crispy around the edges. Its downfall is the slight toughness of the lamb, which had a lovely flavour but could have been more tender.
We watched our roomali roti (£1.70) being stretched and cooked over the hot dome in the open kitchen. It was lovely and light, and accompanied by an essential cooling serve of raita (yoghurt, fresh cucumber and mint, £1.90).
This was enough food to sink us - two "healthy eaters" - such that we even skipped dessert. But, there are a plethora of other interesting morsels to go back for - small and large plates (fish fingers, calamari, chilli cheese toast....), salads, roomali rolls, shorba (soups), grilled everythings (lamb chops, dill salmon tikka, paneer and mushroom...), chicken berry or vegetable biryanis, black daal, and a house meat or vegie curry of the day.
The tipples are equally enticing. I started with the house punch which was a fun mix of fruit juice, coconut, rum and Darjeeling tea (£4.90). The Peanut Gallery's Bombalada was a mix of pineapple, coconut, milk, rum, herbs and spice (£5.90). Both were highly enjoyable but a little light on the rum. I wonder if they do doubles...?
The Meantime Union dark beer (£3.90) was a great match with the food. The rose and cardamom lassi also sounds tempting (£3.20).
This is a happy place, with good quality, fresh food. It's not perfect - but I suppose no hectic "Bombay cafe" should be. It's reasonably priced, ringing in at £25 per head for us with drinks (plus service).
I'm itching to go back to try the breakfast menu - the traditional Bombay cafes never closed so this is a dawn til dusk type operation. I imagine it would be a superb place to sit back and read the paper over a sweet cup of chai and "the Full Bombay".
Sure, it's already popular, but you can't help but wish them well.
Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9FB
Open 8am-11pm Monday-Friday; 10am-11pm Saturday; 10am-10pm Sunday (no reservations)