London’s very own – and very wonderfully eccentric – Bombay café, Dishoom, couldn’t be headed up by anyone who’s not ricocheted at least slightly off a good few walls. So it’s only fitting that I found Shamil Thakrar – one of the original founder-wallas – a true original.
Shamil’s as off-beat as that jivester clearing the dancefloor with their ‘jazzy manoeuvres’; almost as batty as a belfry stuffed with the tiny creatures; and all the better for it. To surmise, then, as much of a legend as the very plates of meat on which I stand. The man is the very embodiment Dishoom‘s spirit. Read on and try to resist its charms…You won’t have a leg to stand on.
I’ve come to Dishoom at daybreak and want to stay beyond dusk. Tell me what should make up my full day’s menu…
From dawn ‘til dusk? Well, this is the full version… and I wouldn’t recommend it for more than a day!
First up, a bacon naan roll with a special request to add an egg (sunny side up, nice and runny). Wash down with some hot chai. If you’re feeling very rock’n’roll then ask for a naughty chai with added cognac.
For elevenses a bun maska – a warm toasted bun with a too-big wedge of butter dipped into a glass of hot chai. Pure Bombay.
For lunch, it has to be Lamb Raan Bun. Moist pulled lamb, braised overnight, finished on the grill and piled in a sourdough bun. The juices should dribble down your chin. If they don’t, you’re not doing it right. Swig a little Dishoom IPA to make it even better.
The Afternoon? Perk up with an espresso (from our single estate Monsooned Malabar beans) and nibble on a few nankhatai – freshly baked biscuits.
A Viceroy’s Old Fashioned on the verandah before dinner. Maybe two. Then order keema pau, skate cheeks, the black daal, masala prawns, a chicken berry biryani and a roomali roti. Drink IPA or a robust red – like the Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec.
Finish with a kala khatta – it’s an icy Bombay treat that tastes bizarre to some. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re going to be the kind of person who loves it.
Sounds like a good night indeed. Now, I have no wish to commit a social faux pas, cause offence, or come off looking like a ‘right numpty’ – please give me a quick guide to acceptable Dishoom etiquette.
Dishoom food is meant to be shared, messy, eaten with the hands, and generally spills on the table. If you attempt to order your own food – without sharing it with anyone – and without trying to eat the other stuff on the table, then you would be a numpty.
Or an ulloo – which is Bombay slang for an idiot. An owl, as it happens (as well as, colloquially, a slightly more unpleasant substance…)
I’m thirsty. Big Ben’s just clanged to tell me the acceptable hour for hitting the bottle has passed. What should I drink?
I’m partial to the Viceroy’s Old Fashioned right now. But an East India Gimlet goes down really well at this time of the year. Invented to combat scurvy amongst sailors in the East India Company, you can actually feel healthy while drinking a Gimlet.
Cheers! Dishoom‘s cocktail list is one of the most consistently quaffable in town – how do you concoct these beautiful beverages?
We start by reading a lot of old cocktail recipe books – check out Jerry Thomas’s classic ‘Bartenders’ Guide’ from 1862. We play scratchy Bombay jazz records on our wind-up gramophone. And then Carl, our wonderfully nerdy and creative bar-wallah, performs alchemy – he mixes and matches flavours to create pure gold.
It might be my squiffy state, but you look just like your parents… Dishoom is an offspring who speaks proudly and loudly of the Bombay Irani cafés from which it directly descended. How are the original ancestors doting in their dotage?
Why thank you! We like looking like our parents. We check in on them regularly – in fact, we were just with Mr. Kohinoor of Britannia Restaurant a few months ago and he was on hale and hearty form. As excitable and barmy as ever.
Waiter, someone’s scribbled on my plate! Oh, it’s just one of those Mumbai food memory platters. By putting the collection into service, Dishoom has brought some of the local lore and legends of the Irani cafes to London – how else is the restaurant working to promote and protect Indian foodie traditions in decline?
Funnily enough, in India it’s the modern, the Western, that is valued. Everyone’s excited about what they haven’t had. So it’s pretty rare that in India people look to the past, to their own heritage to the authentic for inspiration. That’s exactly what we do.
Dishoom food should take you right back to a nostalgic place – snacks with your grandmother on Chowpatty Beach, a keema pau from Radio Restaurant or chai – just as it has been made by the chai-wallah for decades.
I’ve sort of given up asking anyone for an Indian restaurant recommendations, because I’m getting sick of already knowing the answer. Why do you think Dishoom has wheedled its way into the hearts and under the skin of Londoners – Indians and non-Indians alike?
There was a rumour that circulated in Bombay around in the late 19th century that Irani cafés used to spike their chai with opium. This apparently explained the addictive quality of the chai. We do the same.*
I do enjoy reading and responding to Dishoom’s rather random, offbeat Tweets. Own up – is the Twitterfeed manned by an eccentric old Indian Aunti-ji?
Nope, sadly, no proper Aunti-ji. I do occasionally put on a bindi, granny knickers, an old sari and a pair of thick glasses to get into the mood before tweeting though.
Dishoom does like a knees-up – at various events, you’ve had story-spinning, paint-throwing and paan-making. When’s the next bash? Can I come? And can you sort me out some sweetmeats?!
Chef Naved is going to host an Eid celebration and storytelling, quite possibly from the luscious tale-spinner Vayu Naidu. Complete with sweetmeats. Look out for details….
Let’s conclude our Dishoom dialogue with the best wisdom of a wise old ulloo. Go!
I did once think that life was about being better at the same things that everyone else did. Now I know that life is about figuring out where you’re different, where you’re eccentric, and nurturing and emphasising those differences.
- Dishoom has branches in Covent Garden and Shoreditch. Allow me to suggest that you spend a full day at both before pledging your very own allegiance to your favourite.
- UPDATE! The brand-new Dishoom Kings Cross is now open, giving you yet another option…