12 Upper St Martins Lane,
Dishoom successfully combines all the friendliness and charm of a local family run gem, with the size and efficiency of a slick restaurant you’d expect to find in this very central Covent Garden location. The walls are adorned from floor to ceiling (a high ceiling at that) with brightly coloured old Bollywood movie posters, and old sepia photos. The sheer amount of photos is impressive, and we wondered as we sat looking at a photo of a cordial-looking Indian couple hanging beside our table-top cutlery pot, whether some of the pictures were of the owner's family.
My guest and I fell into debate over one of the photos. I thought the background architecture looked English, my guest said this didn’t necessarily mean the photo was taken in England. The only way to settle this was to ask the owner whether he knew anything about the photo. And this was when it became clear just how much love and care has gone into the creation of Dishoom. Yes, he knew all about it. It was his grandfather and other members of his family in Oxford (I hate to say I told you so…) And not only that, but all the hundreds of photos are old family photos of his. The content of the walls could be exhibited at the V&A in a 20th century Bombay retrospective. As it is, however, they are a magnificent backdrop to a great restaurant, and certainly do provoke conversation amongst diners waiting for their curry and cocktails.
We asked an obliging waiter to recommend us the best dishes, and ordered from his recommendations. The unanimous favourite from our selection was the calamari (“with zesty lime and chilli”), heavily marinated and perfectly fried. We also had the Keema Pau, which was simple and tasty, and grilled masala prawns. When the owner came over to say hello he commended our choices; clearly the staff are very well informed.
We supped a few cocktails with our meal. The owner warned us that the St Martini was “a real drinker’s drink”. It certainly did deliver more than the “little kick” the menu suggested it would! The Chaihito, with chai-infused rum, was also fantastic.
These unusual flavour combinations can often seem a bit pretentious. It’s fashionable to mix things up these days, but it doesn’t mean it’s always going to work. Dishoom know their stuff though. If Dishoom say chai and rum will work, you can believe them. If Dishoom say you’ll just love their chilli and gin cocktail, you will. There were a few other odd combinations on the food menu that I was sceptical of. Chilli Cheese Toast? Indian Seasonal Fruit Crumble? Desi Fish Fingers? Is this an Indian restaurant we’re in, or a school dining room? But they get so much right that I’ve every faith in their cheese on toast and fish fingers. I’ve no doubt they’ve given it a Bombay twist.
My guest and I decided that the dhal and the chai must be the deciders in any Indian restaurant. The dhal, in true Dishoom style, was not what we were expecting at all. It was creamy and rich and dark brown in colour, not at all the sort of dhal you’d get from your local Indian takeaway. The chai was second to none, and not too sweet. Dishoom is unlike any Indian restaurant I’ve ever been too, but then Bombay is so different to all other parts of India. It wasn’t until I was on the bus home, thinking about the meal, that I realised our all-Indian array had contained no curry or rice!
**Reviewed by:** Emily Boyd