“THE OLD IRANI CAFÉS of Bombay have almost all disappeared. Their faded elegance welcomed all: rich businessmen, sweaty taxi-wallas and courting couples. Fans turned slowly. Bentwood chairs were reflected in stained mirrors, next to sepia family portraits. Students had breakfast. Families dined. Lawyers read briefs. Writers found their characters.”
The 1920s is the masterpiece of Time. Long gone is that era, an era that can never be revived. But push open the door of a magnificent three-storey Victorian warehouse just a stone’s throw away from the King’s Cross station, you step into a Bombay café right here in the heart of London.
The list of UK’s 100 Best Restaurants voted by Yelp Reviewers crowned Dishoom as its first, candidates trailing behind included the two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston and the grand-European café, The Wolseley, that sits right next to the Ritz in Piccadilly.
That beautiful bank holiday Monday, Q, H and I woke up to a spring morning and slid into a languid brunch under the whirring fan, in front of the kebab grill, at the top of the Victorian warehouse that was once a railway transit shed dating back to the 19th century.
As we were catching up on our life, the bartender downstairs were measuring the gin to whomp up a chili martini, an old woman dressed in saree hunched slightly were squinting her eyes in front of a wall of faded photographs. It was the wedding of culture and food, the assimilation of war and understanding, the coming together of children of different generations – the dream of cousins Shamil and Kavi Thakrar that came true.
Symmetrical tiles cover the whole floor. The mezzanine hosts booths for couples and families. Walk down to the basement, you find the Permit Room, an old colonial India-esque bar pertains to the 1949’s Bombay Prohibition Act that once restricted the sales of alcohol to people with medical permits. Gimlets, sours and flips along with some classics with a twist – like chai-jito, bollybellini – the Permit Room is a bar romanticised by nolstagia, a dimly lit room where old British colonial influence burns brightly.
Breakfast starts at 8am to 11.30am on weekdays and until noon on weekends. Menu includes some high-protein choices inspired by the Parsi bodybuilders whose portraits were claimed to be still hanging on the walls of the Yazdani cafe. There are also some fluffy hot naan rolls and the Big Bombay, where plates will be laden with “abundant Akuri, char-striped smoked streaky bacon from The Ginger Pig, peppery Shropshire pork sausages, masala baked beans, grilled field mushroom, grilled tomato and buttered pau buns.” All for only £11.50.
The lunch menu is a mish-mash of small and sharing plates, salad, curries, biryanis, daals and grills; assorted lassis and coolers, sodas, beers, ciders, wine and cocktails. The server knew the flavours like the back of his hand and recommended with such fervour you’d suspect he’s just swollen a fire or glugged down a bottle of rum heavily infused with feisty spices. And the consequence? Our table looked like a quilt of steaming colourful Indian dishes.
Phew, so where do we start? For drinks, we had Chili Martini and the Chaijito. Then we kind of got carried away with the ordering of the food. In the above picture (^), starting from the left clockwise: Gunpowder Potato (smoky-grill and tossed in butter), Paneer Tikka, Keema Pau (spiced minced lamb with toasted pau bun), Okra Fries, Bhel (Cold and crunchy puffed rice tossed with pomegranate, spices and greens), Cheese Naan, and Black Daal (a simmered-24hour Dishoom’s signature).
Nothing was tasteless or bland on the table. Our taste-buds were bombarded by chilis and mint, then tumeric and cinammon, on and on and on… it was a full catalogue of flavours. Even the blandest of all, water, was served in stainless steel cup once prevalent in, and now symbolic of the Indian society. The Okra Fries had a taste similar to courgette fries but was more refreshing. Keema Pau was a score and my favourite was the cheese naan dipped in black daal. A powerful combination.
And the final consequence?
Me smiling at my bulging belly.
With love x