In English films, when a punch is landed, the sound effect is said to be ‘kapow!’ In Bollywood films, the same act is accompanied by the onomatopoeic word ‘dishoom!’ As soon as I knew that this was how Dishoom in Covent Garden got its name, it was even more of a reason to go there.
Dishoom is based on the Bombay cafés of the 1960s, a trend of all day cafés made popular by Persian immigrants in what was then Bombay. These elegant, airy spaces used to line the streets, but now they number less than 30. The owners of Dishoom therefore wanted to pay homage to these places that appealed to businessmen, students and workers alike, and bring a different side of India to London’s already Indian-saturated culinary scene.
The décor is as you would expect it to be in a Bombay café; high ceilings adorned with wooden fans, ceramic floor tiles, wooden panelling on the walls contrasted with painted bricks and dotted with framed posters and photographs of Bollywood film stars or Indian families. The retro-modern feel is self-proclaimed as ‘faded elegance’. It is inviting, but I must say that even more inviting are the beautiful aromas that emanate from the open kitchen on the first floor; the smell hit me as soon as I entered and immediately excited my taste buds.
Unfortunately, as we were only five, we were unable to book a table (evening bookings require a minimum of six people), although it was hardly a chore to endure a fairly short wait at the downstairs bar drinking Chaijitos (a mojito made with chai-infused rum) and Chilli Martinis while our table became available.
We were advised by our friendly waiter that it would be wise to share four to five small plates (the beauty of Dishoom is that all plates are designed for sharing, keeping evil Food Envy at bay), followed by five mains and four to five breads and sides. What our friendly waiter didn’t warn us, was that despite thinking we were ordering starters followed by mains, everything came all at once, which was a little overwhelming to say the least, especially given the obvious requirement to take photos for all my dear readers.
Dishoom’s answer to poppadoms came in the form of Far Far, tube-like colourful fried snacks that tasted lovely, yet would have been better as a pre-dinner snack to go with our cocktails, as the other more exciting dishes left the poor Far Far far behind.
The vegetable samosas were just as they should be: crispy on the outside, soft, crumbly and comforting on the inside, with a solid fiery kick.
The Pau Bhaji was beautiful: a bowl of gorgeously comforting mashed vegetables in a rich curry sauce, served with fluffy buttered bread. I think I could definitely live off buckets of this.
Vada Pau is apparently a ‘Bombay obsession’ and I can totally see why. It is a delicious soft potato patty, topped with chutney and encased in a fluffy bun. Although it was difficult to share between five, we managed, and only wished there had been more.
From the ‘grills’ section of the menu, we tried Mahi Tikka: incredibly succulent chunks of North Atlantic cod that simply melted in the mouth. The coriander and lime marinade brought out the delicate flavour of the fish.
As the rest of us needed meat in our lives, our token veggie friend (everyone has to have one) chose her own main of Mattar Paneer under ‘Ruby Murray’ on the menu: fluffy chunks of paneer cheese bathed in Dishoom’s lovely and comforting curry sauce.
The Dhaba Chicken, also from the ‘Ruby Murray’ section was delicious, made with amazingly tender chunks of chicken cooked in a thick and gently spiced curry sauce that also served as an incredible dipping sauce for the beautiful garlic naan (complete with large chunks of pungent garlic) and the paper thin Roomali roti.
A Lamb Biriyani, sealed with pastry in its hot clay pot, was prised open before us to reveal a wonderfully aromatic dish that made even the veggie utter an audible ‘aaaah’. The taste was just as good too, with succulent pieces of lamb and a punchy level of spiciness.
The Chole Frankie Roll consisted of a lovely and soft home-baked naan bread, stuffed with spiced chickpeas, coriander and chutney to create an exciting and fiery wrap.
Aside from the naan, roti and the obligatory rice, we also shared a bowl of crispy fried okra, tossed in ‘magic masala’. It was definitely magic.
For cocktails, a bottle of wine and plenty of food, we paid only £26 each (around HKD300). Maybe I’ve got used to Hong Kong prices, but this to me seemed like an absolute bargain. My one complaint is the absurd speediness of the food, but as soon as they uttered the phrase “it’s not fast; it’s dishoom!” I quickly forgave them and realised it was all part of the experience, an experience that I would definitely like to relive on my next trip back to Blighty. Next time I’m going for breakfast, as that Bacon Naan Roll with homemade chilli jam is calling out to me.
12 Upper St Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9FB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7420 9320