You’d think it would be easy to find somewhere good for lunch in London: it’s big enough, after all. But given the challenge to amuse myself in the capital a few weeks ago while TOH was hard at it I found myself stumped. I walked around and just couldn’t find a place to eat. Either it was too pricey or too formal, too ordinary or too dull, or it was just another chain. And it happened to be while walking past one of (I think) the better chain restaurants, Jamie’s Italian, that I stumbled across Dishoom on Upper St Martin’s Lane (Covent Garden and Leicester Square are the nearest tubes).
Inspired by the original Bombay cafés of the 19th- and early-20th-centuries, Dishoom has an all-day menu of contemporary Indian breakfasts, ‘small plates’, ruby murrays, breads, soups and salads. It’s surprisingly affordable too with dishes not going above £10.50. Unsurprisingly it was packed. There were young families dining together, couples on first dates, business meetings, and then me, with the must-have companion of all solo diners, a good book. Trouble is I didn’t get to read a single page: the food here is THAT engaging.
I wanted a quick bite so ordered the signature Dishoom house black daal (£4.70), a plain naan (£1.70) and the intriguing-sounding bhel (£3.90). Bhel is a classic Bombay roadside snack of puffed rice flavoured with tamarind. Here the dish had been bejewelled with pomegranate seeds, red onion, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Wow. What a sensation of flavours, aromas and textures. Popping rice and pomegranate, the warm hum and juicy burst of the onion, the sourness of the tamarind and freshness from the tomato: I’ve never experienced anything like this. Expect to have your senses rudely awakened.
I suggest cleansing your palate with one of the lassis. As well as a traditional salted lassi made with a cooling yoghurt, there is a mango and fennel lassi, various fresh virgin Indian inspired cocktails, and a rose and cardamom lassi (£3.50), which I opted for. This was just beautiful, what a wonderful marriage of flavours and scents. I might have had two…
Next up was the hot daal and naans. The black daal was rich, meaty, warming and the buttery bread, blistered from the tandoor proved the perfect mop. I wish I’d had time to try the chai chocolate drink (£2.20) alongside the pineapple and black pepper crumble (£5.20) but it wasn’t to be. No matter, I can’t imagine it will be long before I’m back.
Dishoom is an old Bollywood sound effect that is produced when a hero lands a good punch. It also means the same as mojo – you know, as in Austin Powers and his mojo baby. And, it couldn’t be more apt a name for this café. This is a traditional idea brought smack into the 21st-century. Looking for a place to have lunch in London? Head to Dishoom.