It’s not often I get so excited about food I forget how to operate a camera. But that’s what happened today, while I was off to lunch in Bombay, at Dishoom in Shoreditch.
I’ve walked past the Covent Garden location more times than I can count on my way to work, and as something of a self proclaimed snob, dismissed it as one of many Central London restaurants existing solely to satisfy the whims of hungry tourists.
I was surprised then to discover it among Chowhound recommendations, and surprised further when a colleague formerly employed there, reliably informed me the food was exceptional. What kind of a foodie would I be if I didn’t at least give it a go?
Three fellow foodies in hand, we jaunted over to 7 Boundary Street. The front isn’t much to look at as it is currently undergoing construction of some kind. But the moment you step through the large glass doors, you realise this isn’t going to be your typical Indian food experience.
No white table cloths or ornately carved but trashy looking chairs. No smell of curry and spices assaulting your nostrils upon entry, or a keen and over friendly waiter ushering you to a table before you’ve uttered the number in your party. No, first impressions here are for the understated but deliberate furnishings, the quiet buzz of a calmly busy restaurant, and the sense of excitement building for what you know will be entirely unexpected.
Now, let’s not get carried away, I’ve never been to India. I know as much about its culture and its food as prevails in Britain. But Dishoom is specifically a Bombay cafe. What’s the difference? We were about to find out.
Dishes are ordered tapas style, intended for sharing, and arrive family style – as and when, and several at a time.
A sort of carnival of snackery, halfway between crisp and cracker. Colourful, lemony, salty.
I’m a visual person. I like colours. Especially bright ones. You can probably imagine my child like delight when these arrived then.
Mint, chilli and tamarind and date. The mint was aromatic and mild – not pungent and overused as is often the case. The tamarind and date was too sweet for my liking (and also, I don’t like dates). The chilli was my favourite by a mile – savoury sweet to start, followed by a building heat and finished off with a mild kick. Lovely!
A bowl of mashed vegetables with hot buttered pau bun, Chowpatty Beach style. No food is more Bombay
The subtle flavour of spices were complimented seamlessly by the consistent and very enjoyable heat of this dish. The buns were soft but chewy, with a hint of toastiness on the crust.
Tiny tender squid, grainy crumb crunch, quick-fried and tossed into a bowl with Dishoom drizzle
The squid were indeed very tender, and not at all chewy (which can ruin even the greatest of seasonings), while the drizzle offered it the slightest of sweet notes in the first instance. The breading could’ve been crisper but this was definitely a very moreish item.
Gujurati filo (not Punjabi shortcrust) stuffed with minced lamb, onions and spices
Much better with filo than shortcrust, which tends to make the samosa too doughy, but could’ve use a crispier shell. Fantastic lamb flavour in the meat, but not a great deal else from the onion or spices. Although, two samosas between four people made for just a mouthful each, so it’s entirely possible I ate it too quickly and failed to take the necessary time to savour the flavours!
Chicken berry britannia
The Dishoom variation on the legendary Irani Café special, with cranberries
The rice was of a slightly overcooked texture, which is how I think it is best for this type of dish. The chicken was tender and succulent, which was unexpected given the style of cooking (in a claypot), but may have retained the moisture as a result of the rice being piled on top. I didn’t enjoy the cranberries – lending the whole thing too much sweetness, though, if you like that sort of thing, then it offered a great contrast.
Paneer & Mango
Finest marinated curd-cheese in a leafy bed with fresh mango, and crispy shallots
This is definitely a salad lover’s salad – big crunch leaves, lightly dressed and lots of textures. While fresh and well seasoned, this wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not a big salad fan.
Lamb raan bun
A feast for one. Juicy, slow-cooked pulled lamb, piled up in a soft sourdough bun.
Served with Dishoom Slaw, sali crisp-chips, and fried green chillies. To be eaten with the hands
This was a popular item today. We saw it go out to a lot of fellow diners during lunch. But I can’t say it was a massive hit with us. The flavours were too bold, lacking the subtlety that made all the other dishes such hits, and the meat was almost slightly dry. The slaw was tasty, not too creamy, but as slaw goes, it was nothing to write home about. Again the bun was good, nice and soft, but that was about it. I think this speaks more to the quality of the other items, than the lack of, within this one.
I think there are very few people who don’t enjoy naan bread, so this disappeared pretty quickly, especially with the pau bhaji as an accompaniment.
A steadfast and humble vegetarian curry, the sort that can be found in any good Indian roadside restaurant
Another winner. Perfect consistency for a curry, with softened paneer cheese cubes adding a sturdier texture to mouthfuls. The creaminess of the cheese also brought a very enjoyable dimension to the dish, which had a nice heat, and subtle mild spices.
In Bombay, mahi can be any fish, but this is sustainable Asian basa fillet in a subtle yogurty marinade
Hands down dish of the day, and maybe month. This was so good we had to fight over who would finish the last bite, not because everyone wanted it, but because nobody wanted it to end. ‘Nuff said.
Kulfi on a stick/Kala khatta gola ice
A sweet creamy treat. To say “kulfi jam gai” is to say “I’m feeling very cold!” // Fluffy ice flakes steeped in kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, white and black salt. The first spoonful tastes bizarre. The second spoonful is captivating
No meal is complete with something sweet, and the kulfi did just the trick. Think frozen condensed milk, flavoured with real mango, and real pistachio. Not too rich, and not too sweet. The kala khatta on the other hand…bizarre is right. Think salty, slightly tangy, ice. But moreish. And palette cleansing. None of us particularly liked it…but there was also none left by the end of our meal.
So then, the difference between Indian food and this particular establishment? Judging by lunch, subtle and understated flavours. Dishoom has no desire to serve you the spiciest or tangiest, or boldest anything. Instead, it tantalises the taste buds with a host of different flavours, engaging all the senses.
Service was attentive, instructive and friendly, although on a couple of occasions, erring on the side of fussy. But we’re all hospitality people…so we notice what your average diner might not. All in all, Dishoom was a surprising revelation and one we shall return to swiftly!
7 Boundary Street
London E2 7JE
020 7420 9324