Dishoom has been at the top of my ‘want-to-go’ list for AGES having heard only rave reviews from friends, but it always got side-lined as they don’t take reservations for dinner, which I always find a bit tricky! But the time had come. So Michael and I met Sophie and Simon at Dishoom, Shoreditch at 7pm on a Friday night. We had been warned about the queue, but we were committed to the long haul, all-in for the end game.
Service: Upon arrival you join the (inevitable) queue.
And seize the opportunity to take some group pics.
Before long, a chirpy waiter will appear to take your name and ask your party size, and hand you a cheeky shot of something to keep you warm & cheery.
The queue stretches along the veranda, which is essentially a greenhouse made from plastic sheeting rather than glass, and is an alternate outdoor area in which you can enjoy your meal. Separated from the buzz of the main restaurant it has a chilled vibe and provides a more relaxed & ‘authentic’ experience, with worn antique furniture and detailed Indian rugs spread across the wooden floorboards. I think it would be the perfect place to lounge for a few hours on a sunny day or evening.
Sooner or later you will reach the front of the queue and be given a buzzer that will vibrate like mad when your table is ready. As soon as we entered through the restaurant doors the front desk were on it with our party name and size, and informed us of the likely wait – 50 minutes – which unfortunately for us we heard as 15 minutes, leading to Sophie and I excitedly declaring “oh that’s not too bad!”, only to be quickly corrected and laughed at by the heavily-French accented man…
We were escorted to the (rammed) bar and left to our own devices. When our buzzer came to life and the all-important clipboard-man came to collect us we wasted no time falling into a neat row of ducks, and followed the mother hen to our assigned table. But when you’ve just been led through an incredibly lively, fun-being-had-by-all restaurant and have waited an hour and a half to be fed, you are not going to settle for a high communal table with bar stools shoved in the corner at the back of the room. Well, at least we weren’t. Sophie and I had both spied the empty grey banquette glittering in the evening sunlight and laid our feline claim to it. After a little to-ing and fro-ing with clipboard-man we won and proudly took our seats.
Throughout the evening service was generally good, and excellent in comparison to the way that others have described it. Our orders of food all arrived at the same time, despite the ‘it comes as its ready policy’, and was all delivered very timely. It was sometimes hard to get our server’s attention, but that’s hardly a complaint in the grand scheme of things considering how jam-packed the place was. He was also very nice & jolly and didn’t rush us at all, even though we overstayed our 2-hour limit.
Ambience: The various Dishoom restaurants all replicate classic 1960’s Bombay-style cafés, with a modern twist. Whether you like the décor or not, a lot of thought & effort has gone into the details, with ceiling fans, low-lit hanging lights, oak panelling, a B&W tiled floor, and marble countertops all featured.
The place is decked out to achieve a vintage but attractive look, with Indian memorabilia, Bollywood pictures and posters, and retro adverts covering the walls.
Some might deem the décor cheap imitation and borderline tacky, but I would have to whole-heartedly disagree as I think it brings something different and unique to the table. It’s fun & quirky and such things shouldn’t be studied so seriously anyway.
As I’m sure you probably know and/or can gather from our wait, Dishoom is extremely popular. Thus the restaurant has an awesome vibe with every table taken and constant happy chatter reverberating around the room. Considering there is a guaranteed wait if you visit at peak dinner time, Dishoom has at least ensured that it is a fun one, with a cracking bar area and genuinely skilled barmen serving (for once) reasonably priced delicious & unusual cocktails. Of course this is a cleverly thought-out trap for you to spend lots of money on drinks, but I still commend them for properly investing in providing this service, unlike Mildred’s.
Drinks: Seeing as we ended up spending a fair bitta time in the funky bar area and the drinks were damn delicious, I thought it only fair that I make short mention of them. Round 1 consisted mostly of intriguing cocktails. I had the ‘Chaijito’ (£7.50), an Indian take on the classic mojito, made with smoky rum and Dishoom sweet-spice chai syrup which, dare I say, I might even have preferred to the standard (if that is even possible?!). The sugar and slight spice fought for centre stage making me slurp the whole lot up far faster than usual – If you are a fan of the ol’ mojito I couldn’t recommend this cocktail more! Sophie had the ‘Edwina’s Affair’ (£8.00), made from gin, rose & cardamom and served in a traditional Indian copper cup. It was light and refreshing but lacked anything special and tasted a little flat, in my opinion. Simon had the ‘Gin Fizz’ (£8.00), which was an intriguing and tasty take on the classic G&T, consisting of gin, citrus, sugar & egg white, and mixed with sparkling wine instead of tonic. It was nice and unique and another one worth giving a go! Michael was the odd one out opting for a simple (huge) bottle of Kingfisher beer (£6.50), although this was fittingly Indian for our dinner.
Since it was TGIF and we were thirsty, round 2 commenced fairly sharpish, kicking off with Sophie getting the ‘Chilli Martini’ (£7.50), a gin martini shaken with pomegranate, lemon juice & Dishoom drizzle. It had a slight fiery kick to it and tasted a lot to me like a Bloody Mary, with the pomegranate not really making an appearance other than in colour. I wasn’t the biggest fan but fortunately I loved my own ‘East India Gimlet’ (£7.50), made from gin with Rose’s lime and a touch of celery bitters, which was super refreshing, tasty and a little unusual. The boys missed out on all the fun by ordering 2 single G&T’s (£5.00 each).
Food: Dishoom’s modern Indian menu consists of East-meets-West fusion dishes, with everything from bacon & egg naan rolls, honeyed calamari and (essentially) lamb burgers (‘lamb raan bun’), to classic Indian street food options, roti wraps, curries and grilled meats. Whilst we eagerly discussed what small and large plates to share we made sure not to let our mouths run dry and ordered two bottles of wine to enjoy with our meal; the ‘Roc D’Opale Grenache, Merlot, 2012’ (£20.20) and ‘Soravalle, Trentino, Pinot Grigio, 2012’ (£25.90). They both went down a treat, naturally.
It’s fair to say that we’d worked up quite the appetite, so we immediately ordered something to munch on whilst we decided what to eat. Having heard so much about it, and it being Dishoom’s signature dish, we went straight for the black house daal (£4.90), to be devoured with two orders of Roomali roti (£2.20 each). The daal was a serious star of the night and lived up to the rumours; it was velvety rich & creamy with firm little black urid lentils providing texture. The daal is simmered for over 24 hours to achieve real depth of flavour, which it most definitely does, strangely reminding me of a runny (but superb) chili con carne. It was exceptionally tasty and we all sung its praises until every last drop had been mopped up with the super thin, soft, floury roti’s.
Then the feast began. From the small plates we chose the lamb samosas, Dishoom calamari, prawn koliwada and okra fries to share, which came with a number of house-made dips, including a tamarind & date chutney, chilli chutney, and bitter fresh mint yoghurt. I personally really enjoyed the lamb samosas (£4.20), made with Gujarati (vs. Punjabi) filo pastry (anyone know the difference?!), and stuffed with minced lamb, onions and spices. The pastry was golden & crisp and flaked away to reveal well-seasoned meat, which I found delicious dipped in a smidge of the mint yoghurt. I’m not usually one for savoury pastries though and both Sophie and Simon found them to be a little average – but I would have to recommend.
The Dishoom calamari was so good that we ordered it again whilst waiting for our larger plates (£5.50 each). The tiny pieces of exceptionally tender squid were encased in thick, hugely crisp, golden, grease-free batter that was unusually but deliciously sweet and very, very moreish (hence the double order!).
The prawn koliwada (£5.90) was perfectly nice but didn’t quite match its accompanying calamari. The medium-sized prawns were well-cooked, retaining bite without chew, and covered in a flakier and darker batter than used for the calamari, which was a tad oily. Nonetheless, the battered shellfish smothered in the tamarind & date chutney was gobbled up in the blink of an eye.
The okra fries (£3.70) were great. We preferred them to the more conventional courgette fries, with the okra cooked al dente and the batter light, thin and oil-free.
For ‘mains’ we shared a number of large plates, including the chicken ruby curry, spicy lamb chops, kacchi lamb and Dishoom chicken tikka, which we scoffed with a garlic and plain naan and one order of raita yoghurt. The chicken ruby curry (£8.20) was very good, with a tomato base and a luxuriously creamy consistency. The pieces of chicken were wonderfully tender but a little on the large side, making both eating and sharing the curry harder than it needed be. On the taste front however, it certainly met the mark.
Our two orders of the spicy lamb chops (£11.90 each) were a slight let down for me. The chops are marinated overnight in a special marinade of lime juice, black pepper, chilies, warm dark spices, ginger & garlic. Although they had incredible flavour and were cooked well with a pink middle and thick, almost caramelized, sticky outer char, they were not nearly as tender as I had hoped, and were far from achieving that melt-in-the-mouth quality that can be found at Tayyab’s. Nor were they spicy, as described, and I would say that alongside the other dishes, they were relatively rather overpriced.
The kacchi lamb (£9.50), otherwise known as lamb biryani, was both hit & miss. I personally never order biryani as I love sauce and thus find it too dry a dish (yes, even if ‘moist’), but this biryani was dry even by the others standards. However, in contrast to the chops, the marinated lamb was unbelievably succulent and wildly tasty, with cardamom, clove and turmeric at the fore of every forkful. Its downfall was simply that the ratio of lamb to rice was off, with a few good spoonfuls of sauce added during the cooking process not going amiss – yet I would still recommend ordering it for the hidden meat gems alone!
The Dishoom chicken tikka (£7.50) blew us away – I will gladly state that it was the best chicken tikka that I have ever had. I usually find meat tikkas dry (due to lack of sauce) and the spicing standard, boring & bland. But this dish was something else; the chicken was exceptionally tender and coated in a decent amount of wetness, which could be a result of the Dishoom family recipe using sweet vinegar rather than yoghurt. The inclusion of ginger, lime, turmeric, garlic & green chilli were all well-noted and very much enjoyed.
We used a garlic naan (£2.20) and a plain naan (£2.20) to scoop up the lot, both of which I found thinner and less greasy than what you would get from your local curry house. Rightly or wrongly, this disappointed me. I love a huge, thick, buttery naan and having been a promoter of the garlic naan brushed with minced garlic, coriander and (optional) butter, I definitely expected more in terms of flavour. But they did, of course, serve their purpose perfectly well. The raita (£2.50) was a big bowl of minty cool yoghurt littered with pieces of fresh & firm tomato and cucumber. It was a nice side-dish to have and saved the day for the biryani’s leftover rice.
We really enjoyed all of the dishes that we sampled, with some standing out more than others, but still there were none that I wouldn’t order again. I will however say that the ‘large’ plates were perhaps a little on the ‘smaller’ side than anticipated, but then they are cheaper than your average main course.
And then there was dessert. And more drinks. And my personal favourite – drunken serious conversation, where both the topics of choice and comments made leave you dying with laughter the morning after.
^ Action shot.
As for the drinks & dessert, we rounded off the meal with 3 espresso martinis (£10.00 each) and 1 Baileys on ice (£5.00), as well as a guju chocolate mousse and a pineapple & black pepper crumble for the piglets at the table, i.e. Simon and myself.
The chocolate mousse (£5.20) was thicker than your average and very moreish. I don’t usually like mousse as I find the lack of contrast in texture, weak depth of flavour and airiness of it altogether boring. But this one was unusual in that it was rich and intensely chocolate-y, with the large flecks of sea salt intensifying its dark side and the dusting of chili bringing a different dimension to the table. The fruited yoghurt was also thick & creamy, sweet & tart, balancing the richness of the mousse nicely. The blackberries added juicy sweetness, and a little crunch, all combining to make a very delicious dessert. Dishoom’s guju chocolate mousse gets a thumbs up from me, and that’s saying something!
My pineapple & black pepper crumble (£5.20) really impressed me. I dislike hot pineapple quite intensely (well, at least I thought I did), but as both a crumble and dessert lover, this was the only option on the menu that captured my attention (since my taste buds had not yet been introduced to the applaudable mousse). So I took a chance, and praise the Lord that I did! The pineapple was not remotely soggy and had been chopped into small pieces, avoiding hot pineapple overload in any one mouthful, which I was most grateful for. The pineapple itself even turned out to be rather enjoyable, providing a slight tanginess which went beautifully with the absolutely incredible crumble topping that had been very generously poured atop the fruity filling. The ratio was just how I like it – 70/30 (crumble/fruit… if anyone is foolish enough to think otherwise), so I was a very happy camper indeed. The crumble topping was all sugar-y, vanilla-y crunch – delicious! The warm custard on the side was as good as it gets – I easily devoured the first pot and made a sizeable dent in the second. A surprisingly good dessert which I really recommend that you try, particularly if you’re anything like me and usually cry at the dessert menu on offer at Asian restaurants!
Price: Our bill was £266.06 with 12.5% service included, i.e. £66.51 a head, which I think is ASTONISHINGLY good value for how much we enjoyed our evening; the unique and fun surroundings of Dishoom; the service we received; and the quantity & quality of the unique food & drinks that we consumed. Just as a reminder, we each had 3 cocktails and half a bottle of wine, and shared 7 small plates, 5 large plates and 4 bread sides. As far as my London restaurant knowledge goes, there are very few places where you can get as good as that (and if you know somewhere, please do share). I couldn’t recommend a meal at Dishoom more and am already planning my breakfast date.