Holi democratises. The egalitarian, colourful spring festival does away with class, gender and age boundaries and gives everyone a vibrant voice. As long as you’re armed with a few handfuls of brightly pigmented powder, you can be heard – loud and clear, in glorious technicolour. And London is loving the opportunity to cast off what’s hopefully the last of that nasty chill with a good dose of celebration of her own.
To take part, don clothes that have seen better days and leave vanity at home. Replace a bad attitude with the Hindi mantra, ‘bura na mano, Holi hai’ – don’t take offense, it’s Holi! On another day, being rendered more technicolour than Joseph’s dreamcoat might be annoying, to put it mildly – but Holi is not that day. Bring your best mischief, and prime the biggest pichari (syringe) you can lay your hands on to squirt forth a rainbow of coloured water.
To bring some dignity to the devilment, do as they do in Bengal, where Shantiniketan University recognises Holi as a part of the wider Vasant Utsav cultural celebrations. Incant a few of sublime scribe Rabindranath Tagore’s poems and folk songs, and turn dodging fellow revellers into the chance to dance up a storm. Frippery or philosophy? However low or high your brow, celebrating Holi is the brightest idea of all.
A Holi-lot of love for Holi:
Secret Holi supperclub in Walthamstow
Over in the East, a private home will throw open its doors to a small group of diners with a Holi-themed supperclub. Local resident Asha’s Calcutta-esque street foodie menu nods to the colour and sensory stimulation provided by the festival, featuring a sweet-and savoury chaat trio; kati rolls and a rainbow of mithai. A thoroughly convivial, great-value way to say ‘Holi hai!’
- The Holi supperclub is on Saturday 23rd March at 7.30pm, with address provided on booking, and costs £20 for 4 courses. For more information, visit www.meetup.com
Darjeeling Express Holi supper at the National Cafe
Asma Khan’s menu promises to reflect Holi in the vibrancy of the food on her plates – from bold green veggies to the rich yellow of saffron-infused pilaus. These are the two colours most associated with the onset of spring in India, and, accordingly, diners are invited to dress in the same bright colour palette.
- Darjeeling Express’ Holi Thursday Night Social takes place on 11th April at 7pm and costs £35pp. For more information and to book, visit www.peytonandbyrne.co.uk
Rainbow powders will be Dishoom-ing all over the show at Village Underground. Dishoom dos are always every bit as madcap and eccentric as befits that loveable old Bombay caff, and the irrepressible team are getting rather overexcited about this one. Revellers will be welcomed with The Best Chai In London, caught up in one of Vayu Naidu’s stories, and then doused in gulal. As always, the Dishoom staples of music, nibbles, sweeties and rangoli for the kids are all on the menu.
If you just want the food without quite so much frippery (or a post-powder feast), both the Shoreditch and Covent Garden branches are running festive menus ‘til the end of March. But beware – bhang lassi’s about – albeit with lawful mint not fiendish cannabis. There’s also a naughty rum-spiked one for sinners and a colour-your-own option for creative types. Staff will be colourfully attired and distributing mithai galore – but don’t ruin your appetite.
For you’re here to feast on murgh bemisal (or my favourite, paneer bemisal (marinated and char-grilled chicken or paneer in a rich home-style sauce); scrunchy-fresh bhel; that sweet, sweet calamari; proper dum biryani; and broody black dal. Save room, too, for the sweet-sour scrumptious shocker, kala khatta gola ice, a tumbler of chai, and tuck a few more of those mithai into the last remaining spaces in your groaning, distended belly.
- Dishoom’s Holi Feast is £28pp, and the Vegetarian Feast £25pp.
- Dishoom’s Holi party is on Sunday 24th March from 2pm – 4pm at Village Underground. Tickets are priced at £12pp/ £6 children.
- To book, visit www.timeout.com For more information, see www.dishoom.com/holi
Vivek’s not content to restrict the Holi revelry to just one of his restaurants. Your outfit colour dictates where you can snap up a free festive cocktail when dining from the set menu; dress in green for The Cinnamon Club, blue for Cinnamon Kitchen, and pink for Cinnamon Soho. Each restaurant has a unique five-course feast – at The Cinnamon Club, Rakesh’s features Chettinadu roasted mutton; Abdul and Vivek will serve lotus stem korma and saffron rabri at Cinnamon Kitchen; and in Soho, Raju’s chargrilling malai prawns between sips of his rainbow Rangeela cocktail.
- The five-course Holi menus are available from 18th to 30th March.
- The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU, www.cinnamonclub.com
- Cinnamon Kitchen, 9 Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YL, www.cinnamon-kitchen.com
- Cinnamon Soho, 5 Kingly Street, W1B 5PF, www.cinnamonsoho.com
The sleepy Surrey suburb of Redhill won’t know what’s hit it when Mela gets powder paint-slinging to celebrate Holi. In between mischief, diners will be invited to raid the gala banquet buffet, a mega-value, mega-showcase of traditional dishes from across the regions. Meanwhile, Londoners will dig in to the ‘Chaat Chaupatty’ menu; a street-food feast of snacky favourites from the eponymous Mumbai beach.
- Mela Redhill’s gala banquet buffet costs £12.95. The first Holi event is dinner on Wednesday 27th March; and the second lunch on Saturday 30th March.
- Mela Redhill, 1 Linkfield Street, Redhill, RH1 1HQ; Mela West End, 152-156 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8HL
- For more information and to book, visit www.melagroup.net
Brockley Rise’s finest offers colourful, diverse cuisine year round – but the restaurant has somehow managed to amp it up even further for Holi. The menu showcases celebratory Northern fare; starters include a vibrant sweet potato-anardana puff, kachoris and smouldering smoked chops; for mains there’s delicate rolled sole, dum aloo with flaky laccha paratha, or melting knuckle of lamb. And we all know it’s all about the mithai, especially when it’s an agglomeration of lassi pannacotta, jalebi, sooji halwa AND gughras- divine Rajasthani sweet pastries named for the ‘tiny bells’ they resemble.
- Babur, 119 Brockley Rise, SE23 1JP, www.babur.info
- The Holi menu is available from 25th March – 6th May. For more information and to book, visit www.babur.info
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS
Tatty Devine party
The jewellery company best known for a magpie eye and a way with bright and glittery Perspex couldn’t let the opportunity to bring yet more colour into its life pass by. This party will showcase a new collection as vivid as the Holi powders themselves. Guests are invited to arrive white and leave rainbow-hued; be-henna-ed courtesy of Riffat Bahar; full of themed food and cocktails;and made over by Illamasqua. Free tickets for this bash were snapped up in seconds, but keep a beady eye out for my verdict (and news of next year’s)!
- To see what you’re missing this time, and to keep an eye on other interesting events, visit www.eventbrite.co.uk
Holi fair in Twickenham
The pretty London suburb is up for a Spring riot, welcoming all-comers to throw gulal and enjoy live music, Bollywood and Bhangra dancing, performances, arts, workshops and global food – including satisfying snacks from the lovely Dosa Deli (@DosaDeli). There will also be an all-day market on Church Street, making a day out in Twickenham a Holi-lot of fun for all the family.
- The Holi fair takes place at the Orleans House Gallery on Saturday 23rd March, between 1pm and 4pm. The Church Street market runs from 12 – 5.30pm
- For more information visit www.richmond.gov.uk
Holi fest in Leicester:
If you’re ‘oop North, head to Leicester’s Spinney Hill Park for the spectacular Holi Darshan and eat, drink, and make very, very merry.
- The Holi Darshan takes place on Tuesday 26th March from 4pm – 8pm.
- For the latest information, visit www.shreehindutemple.net
And, for everything you could ever wish to know about celebrating Holi, visit www.holifestival.org
Altogether now, 1, 2,3… ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai!’