Dishoom! For anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of sitting down to watch a Bollywood film, only to reach the end and realise that their hair has turned grey, their children have grown up and left home, and their pet cat has fossilised, you’ll know that “Dishoom” is the predominant sound you hear as the lone hero clobbers 3,000 villains in a feat of Super-Indian strength. It’s also the name of what is one of my favourite Indian restaurants. There are branches in Covent Garden, Shoreditch, Kings Cross, and now, Carnaby, the latter three being the branches I have visited. This review is primarily based on the Kings Cross branch, (which is my favourite of the three), but also includes the Shoreditch and Carnaby branches. Given Dishoom’s consistency, these scores most likely apply to the Covent Garden branch as well. The chicken and the lamb here is halal, and is cooked and handled separately to any non-halal dishes (i.e pork). Alcohol is served.
The first time I ventured into Dishoom’s Shoreditch branch, perhaps a year ago, I ordered Lamb raan with garlic naan (the rhyming still amuses me to this day), and gunpowder potatoes, finished off with a house chai. On my second visit, which was during the “soft launch” of the Kings Cross branch, I annihilated both the restaurant and my stomach. I have no shame in saying that my friends and I sampled more or less half of the menu, and left for home in a combination of utter satisfaction and moderate pain. I myself ordered a mango and fennel lassi, prawn koliwada, spicy lamb chops, chicken tikka, gunpowder potatoes, garlic naan, black dhaal, and finished it off with the guju chocolate mousse.
The lamb raan consisted of a leg of lamb that had been pulled, with the lamb pieces covering the bone from which it came. The lamb was soft, crumbly, and tender, and had a beautiful flavour to it with the hints of chilli, garlic and pickle escaping from the meat, which made it slightly addictive to say the least. The garlic naan was soft and warm (at least for a while), but I felt it needed a stronger hint of garlic. The gunpowder potatoes meanwhile, are aptly named, straight from the grill with a wonderful smokey essence that is enhanced by the herbs and spices they’re covered in.
The prawn koliwada greeted me on my second visit. Consisting of large, well-cooked, spicy prawns, lightly covered in batter and served with a tamarind and date sauce, they were bursting with flavour, a perfect blend of sweet and spicy. We shared two bowls amongst four of us. They were so addictive that part of me wanted to pin my friend’s hand to the table with a fork or “accidentally” drop the overhanging lamp onto his head and temporarily knock him out cold. I didn’t of course, because I’m a nice human being who likes sharing. Sometimes. The mango and fennel lassi I ordered to accompany my food was fairly thick, with a subtle, neutral sweetness to it, but dominance was taken more so by the yoghurt than the mango. As a result, it possessed a fairly neutral flavour, with a subtle tang and a slight sour touch, accompanied by sudden, aromatic bursts of fennel whenever one of the seeds was broken into.
The spicy lamb chops came in a helping of three, (and I think one or two more would’ve made me a little happier) garnished with a handful of pomegranates. Despite there only being three, they were wonderfully thick lamb chops, that were succulent and tender through and through. Halfway through however, my body still in starvation mode, I knew I’d need more. So I shamelessly ordered some chicken tikka too, which were just as soft and tender. Marinated in sweet vinegar instead of yoghurt, they had a nice, subtle hint of zest to them.
One item I simply cannot forget to mention, is the black dhaal. The black dhaal is quite possibly, one of my favourite items at Dishoom. It’s incredibly thick, creamy, and rich, evidently owing to the fact that it’s slow-simmered over 24 hours. As a result of this slow cook, it is full of an incredibly deep flavour and fragrance that soothes your sensations with every bite. Perfect to combine with your naan. (That’s naan with two a’s, not nan. Please don’t eat your nan.)
Then came the finisher – the guju chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse was rich and intense, and merged with the cool, clean yoghurt and the blackberries to create a dessert you don’t even feel guilty about. Even though you probably should. Though I should note that the chocolate mousse was supposed to have a hint of chilli to it which was completely absent for some reason. Probably best though, since I’m the kind of brown man who could have a chilli-eating competition with a 3-year-old child and lose.
The house chai on this occasion, was a comforting cup, but a little too subtle and mild. A stronger aroma and after-kick from the spices would really have perfected it. Nonetheless it was still a good cup of chai, and it’s a great way to finish off your meal at Dishoom. In fact, I don’t think it’s right for you to leave without ordering one. Other dishes I had the chance to sample from the plates of my friends include the chicken berry biryani, kacchi lamb biryani, and lamb boti kebab. The biryanis seemed warm and moist with chicken/lamb pieces that were few in number but fairly large in size, and had the same degree of tenderness found in my own dishes. All in all, Dishoom serves great Indian food that isn’t drenched in an industrial vat of oil and salt. Clean as clean can be.
In a strange, alternate, reverse reality, Dishoom seems to be rapidly colonising the city of London in the name of India. Revenge is certainly a dish best served with masala, and Dishoom have expanded their culinary empire with a new branch in the midst of Soho. With yet another 50% soft launch discount that lasts until Tuesday 13th October 2015, Steak and I eagerly charged down to Carnaby street last Monday to take full advantage of the offer. Whilst we queued in the drizzling British weather, we were offered some lovely free cups of masala chai, which were warm and midly sweet, with a strong, powerful, spicy afterkick that struck the back of the throat. This was the fiery masala chai I had been looking for at my last visit, and instantly fired us up for another night of Dishoom mania.
We were ushered in after a brief half hour in the queue, and waited in the bar area for a table, ordering prawn koliwada, okra fries, and a passion fruit sharbat to keep ourselves occupied, (as they had unfortunately run out of virgin coladas). My first experience with Dishoom’s okra fries was a mixed one, as they were crunchy and rather pleasant, but a little too salty for my personal liking. The prawn koliwada on the other hand, was just as excellent as before. The passion fruit sharbat meanwhile, was a fairly dull experience, as it delivered a strong passion fruit flavour initially, but this tapered out very quickly, and lacked any significant presence or excitement.
Our main course was kick-started by a portion of murgh malai chicken, and words cannot describe how fantastic it was. (But I’m going to use words anyway). The chicken was extremely soft, tender, and vey well-cooked, possessing a powerful, deep flavour, with a strong essence of lime and indian spices. As far as main courses go, it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With a deceivingly boring appearance, it takes you completely by surprise with the exciting concoction of flavours that it delivers. Of course, it is a sin to visit Dishoom without ordering the black dhaal, and given that I’ve already described it in depth before, all I have to say now, is that this humble dhaal alone, is worthy of a “flawless food” score.
We also ventured into the chicken ruby curry. It consisted of soft, tender chicken in a thick, curry gravy, which possessed a strong, rich sweetness, and a creamy consistency. Looking through the menu, we noted that the signature dish at this branch, would be a “sali boti”. We ordered a half-plate, which consisted of a soft, light roti, accompanied by a lamb curry, covered with small, crispy “chips”. The lamb was soft in texture, but slightly dry, and immersed in a curry gravy that was strong and sweet in nature, and delivered a strong, rustic aftertaste with each bite. It was pleasant, but we found the strong sweetness to be a touch too overbearing. The lamb chops too, took a rough turn on this occasion, and were slightly small and inconsistent in their cook. Some were soft, tender, and filled with flavour, whilst others were far too dry.
Faced with the risk of being either banned from Dishoom or being hospitalised, we risked the integrity of our abdominal walls further with dessert. The Dishoom chocolate pudding was thick, rich, and gooey, with a smooth sweetness that was accompanied by random bursts of sharp, bitter contrast from sprinkles of rock salt – a clash that worked in perfect harmony alongside the fiery kick of the accompanying chilli ice-cream, which delivered a sharp and powerful kick to the throat.
Value for Money: 2.5/5
Like many great restaurants that serve absolutely wonderful food, and like many other things in life, good things come in small doses. The portions at Dishoom aren’t particularly large. The prices for individual dishes aren’t unreasonable, and whilst the portion sizes won’t leave you starving, if you have an appetite like mine, you may find yourself either ordering quite a few items, or wishing your wallet would let you order quite a few items. Having said that, whilst you may not be served the gallon of food you were expecting, the fairly-reasonable amount of food you do receive is glorious. Great quality and great flavours, so probably worth the blow to your wallet.
The service at Dishoom is warm, friendly and personal. Perhaps the staff were extra friendly because the King’s Cross branch had just opened, but I found the Shoreditch staff to be very pleasant also. Whilst most restaurants don’t offer real service, and merely chuck food onto your table and clear it up again when you’re done, Dishoom’s branches are amongst the few restaurants where staff make the effort to make you feel welcome, and interact like human beings rather than the robotic Londoners you find everywhere else.
The King’s Cross branch of Dishoom is located in an old Victorian transit-shed, giving it an open, triple-tiered layout which is absolutely superb. There’s a rather grand looking bar area with various dining areas tucked away behind, above and below it. The whole place has a colonial-India and post-colonial-India inspired decor with a few modern touches, and just reeks of nostalgia. Everywhere you look, there are signs of times gone by, from the rudimentary overhanging table lamps to the sepia-toned photos and wooden stools and chairs. It almost feels like it was purpose-built for a Dishoom restaurant. The decor is just meticulous and exquisite, and it seems that no expense has been spared, even with the restroom. Hell, I’d say the restroom has better decor than some restaurants have in their main dining area. Easily one of the most attractive Indian restaurants in London.
Dishoom’s new Carnaby branch is a very small and cosy cafe, and once again, is filled with all the decor and memorabilia of a colonial Irani cafe in Bombay. Dishoom simply have no concept of a half-hearted decor, and the effort and detail is always immaculate.
When I say the place reeks of nostalgia, I mean it. I have never visited an original Bombay Irani cafe, or been to India for that matter, but when you walk into Dishoom, you very much feel like you have. Everything from the extremely vintage Bollywood music to the flowery paper coasters and the stainless steel cups and the simple, seemingly-murky chai glasses just reminds me of my early childhood in London, before our family fell to the clutches of western modernisation, and my childhood visits to Bangladesh, (where my parents are from – not India, but fairly similar surroundings). You’re given these little reminders of the low-range restaurants and cafes you find in the Indian subcontinent, and it’s great to be able to enjoy that experience with a significantly lower risk of post-meal food-poisoning and/or diarrhoea.
The lights were a little bit too dimmed at dinner time however, and whilst it does resemble the pitch-black nights you get in the Indian subcontinent, it would be nice to enjoy the surroundings a bit more. (And it made my job of taking good photos for this blog a little bit difficult). My friends are god-awfully ugly though, so perhaps they were doing my appetite a favour.
As far as Indian restaurants go, Dishoom is up there with the best of them. It wins myself and countless others over not only with its fine food, but also with the exemplary dining experience it offers. I dare you to visit this place and not fall in love. More likely than not, you’ll finish your meal and start playing peekabo behind the nearest tree, before running through a field full of flowers with the menu firmly embraced against your chest, before suddenly teleporting to the Himalayas and making snow angels with it by your side. Dishoom. A culinary icon of cultural nostalgia. A head-on collision between the humble heritage of the East, and the poncy innovations of the West, where Indian cuisine rediscovers its finesse, bravado, and superhuman charm.
Originally published: 14/11/14
Address: 5 Stable Street, London N1C 4AB (Kings Cross branch)
Telephone: 020 7420 9321