For the last few weeks I have been hearing great reports about Dishoom, ‘a Bombay café in London’. My friend Sal has been several times recently and raves about it each time. The more she talked about it, the more I wanted to try it out for myself.
Earlier this week, I managed to persuade my best friend Carmen to ditch the gym and come with me to try it out. So on Wednesday night, I arrived at the Covent Garden branch on Upper St Martin’s Lane at 6.45pm. It looks like most restaurants in London seem to look nowadays – black and white tiled floor, vintage-feel stained mirrors, low-hanging Edison style filament light bulbs, marble table tops etc. The only giveaway that its an Indian restaurant are the framed vintage Bollywood-style pictures on the walls.
Unfortunately, as you are unable to book a table for parties under 6 people, I was met with a 45 minute wait. Normally I wouldn’t wait and I’d head to one of the other hundreds of restaurants nearby, but I had my heart set on Dishoom at this point and had woken up that morning excited about it. So I headed downstairs to the bar for a drink whilst I waited for Carmen to turn up and our table to become available.
Luckily, I’m happy to sit on my own as Carmen was having a nightmare leaving work. Within 40 minutes, our table was ready but still no Carmen… At this point, the incredible smell of the food wafting around the restaurant was killing me and I was ready to start chewing on my own arm! I sat at our table and ordered another glass of wine. Just as I was about to start ordering without her, she turned up. Hurray!
I had studied the menu at work that day so I knew what I was having and Carmen had been before so we were able to order straight away.
The first dish to arrive was the Skate Cheeks Koliwada, a bowl of popcorn sized, deep-fried skate cheeks served with a tamarind and date chutney (£5.20). I didn’t think I’d like this much (it was Carmen’s choice) but it was lovely. Really light, extremely tasty and the chutney was great with it. I’m really glad she ordered it. (No photo I’m afraid)
My dish was the Murgh Malai , chicken thigh meat steeped overnight in garlic, ginger, coriander stems and cream (£6.90). (Apologies for the bad quality of my photos, it was very dark in there!)
I loved this. As someone who can’t take any hot foods, this was mild yet full of flavour. The meat was tender and juicy and perfectly charred. Carmen had the spicy lamb chops which are marinated in lime juice and jaggery, ginger and garlic and served charred on the outside, pink on the inside. (£11.50) Again, delicious, tender meat and a nice warm heat to them. A bit spicy for me personally but then, I’m a wimp.
We ordered the Gunpowder potatoes to accompany our mains. They are served with brown skins, smoky-grilled, broken apart and tossed in butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs. I loved these and you get a decent sized portion of them too. In fact, with everything else we ordered, we couldn’t finish them. Well worth ordering though and I’d definitely have them again.
The Mattar Panner (£7.50) was a dish that was highly recommended to me by my friend Sal who said it was the best she’s had.
Now, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Instead of the cheese being smooth and creamy, it was a bit crumbly. I think maybe it was just a bad night for paneer that night, as when I described it to Sal she said hers had never been like that.
The best paneer dish I’ve ever had was at Bengal Clipper on Shad Thames near Tower Bridge. Absolutely stunning but a heart attack in a bowl, full of butter and cream, so not to be eaten on a regular basis.
Back to Dishoom, Carmen ordered the garlic naan and I went for the cheese naan as I’d never heard of it, let alone tried it. It was amazing, with mature cheddar melted inside and oozing out as you took a giant bite out of it. Yes, not exactly traditional Indian fare but my God it tasted good. But then I tried some of the garlic naan and it was the best naan I’ve tasted. I think the next time I go back I’ll have to have one of each. (They’re pretty small by the way, I’m not that greedy.)
By the end of the meal we were stuffed but I had been told how good their chai was, in particular their chocolate chai. So, too full to have a dessert, I opted for a chocolate chai which I ordered from a waiter that happened to be passing by my table at that time. It was delicious. Warm and sweet yet spicy, it tasted like Christmas. But when our waitress who had been serving us all night walked past and saw what I was drinking she said “Oh, you’ve gone for the chocolate chai? Ok!” I replied that I had been undecided between the chocolate chai and the Baileys. Then she said “Aaaargh, why didn’t you ask me?? The Baileys is so much better than the chocolate, you’re an idiot!” So Carmen ordered the Baileys chai. Turned out the waitress was absolutely right. As Carmen said, “This pisses all over the chocolate one”. It was one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. A good glug of Baileys topped with cool cream and chai. Absolutely sublime. If you go to Dishoom, you HAVE to order this. I’d happily go back, just for this.
So overall, we had a great night at Dishoom, the atmosphere was buzzing, the staff were incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, the food was great and the Baileys chai was out of this world. I will definitely be going back soon.
Dishoom, 12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB.