Dishoom Restaurant – London’s got it

I love Twitter. On Thursday night post-movie, we were struggling to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat and I quickly posted as much as we wandered around. Immediately a response from @dishoomLondon popped up: “Come on over, we can squeeze you in!”.  I don’t know if they connected work-me with Twitter-me but I’ve been aware of this Bombay Cafe’s imminent launch for some time as I did some work with them a few months back. It’s like when a good friend is pregnant and you’re anxiously waiting to see if all of the fingers and toes are intact and if they call it Moon Unit. There was an exceptionally clear vision behind this concept – would they pull it off?

When we walked in, I saw architect’s drawings come to life in front of me.  Dishoom‘s walls are lined with framed photographs and original ads from Bombay newspapers. Twisted black electrical cables loop from the light fittings across the room like long ropes of liquorice, between authentically wobbly ceiling fans.  On each marble-topped table sits a plate stand to stack up main course plates, and a canteen of sparkling cutlery for you to help yourself. Dishoom is modelled on Bombay institutions such as the Britannia Cafe and Leopold’s, some of the last outposts of an Iranian cafe culture that has all but disappeared. The detailing in the main dining room, from the glowing filament light bulbs through to the almost Escher-worthy tiling is perfect, the overall atmosphere calming and elegant during our evening visit but with a decided air of bustle coming from the open kitchen and sidealong bar. We watched as the barman made two deep pink Bollybellinis for us (rose, lychee and raspberry). Yeah yeah, you say. But what about the food?

Cafe Crisps with their traffic light system of dips, (I really liked the tamarind, the amber of the trio) and Dishoom Calamari to start. Some of the best, most succulent baby morsels of fresh squiddy goodness I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  The marinade is spiced and sweet, almost honey-like. Next up, Bombay Sausages, with shiny caramelised red onions, along with the excellent House Black Daal and the freshest roomali roti and garlic naan. Nom. I could easily see myself heading here for lunch on colder days for just sausages and daal. No, I wouldn’t share the daal, you’ll have to get your own.  Murgh Malai is an unusual cut of chicken with some fat, which is chargrilled and crisped (don’t expect solid cubes of breast) and the Biryani above was moist, spicy and had meat that fell apart throughout it.

To finish we polished off a Meantime Union – not only does its malty treacle notes hold up well to the meaty carb dishes (it was chosen in a blind trial) but the Grant Wood-esque label works too – and shared a passionfruit and ginger Gola Ice. If they do those for takeaway and this weather holds, they could not only clean up on the Indian food market this summer but could beat the hell out of all the local frozen yoghurt places for the perfect cool-down snack.

Young staff are enthusiastic and friendly. There’s details to admire everywhere, from the cabinets of authentic toiletries in the bathrooms to the house rules on the wall. I can imagine coming here for breakfasts or meetings, sitting in the banquets along the wall (wifi on from today, apparently) and downstairs boasts more tables, a full bar and deep leather-bench booths.  Service, food and atmosphere were great, and this was during soft launch.  They’re fully open from next week.  ‘Dishoom’ is the Bollywood equivalent of ‘Pow!’ or ‘Boom!’ and is also a quality, or self-confidence.  Does their food have that ‘dishoom’? Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d say yes. I know I’ll go back. And if they continue as they’ve started, it’s capable of becoming a London institution. Phew.  Dishoom has got all its fingers and toes.

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB

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Sam Moody at the Bath Food Festival

Every once in a while I think “Gawd, I really need to get out of London for a while, for a week, just for a day”. I happily forget that I get a bit antsy when the vista changes from concrete to pasture, and start considering a little cottage in the country with maybe some chickens in the back yard (the cottage would definitely have a yard – and ‘land’ possibly) and me baking bread every morning. Shuddit at the back, thanks. In lieu of living the Good Life though, I’ve found a very acceptable in-between solution.  Food tourism. Not only on an international basis – we’ve taken to booking holidays around what there is to eat at the destination – but the UK has some fantastic food festivals and I’m up for doing the tour. It started this weekend with the Bath Food Festival.

We were there to see Sam Moody, Head Chef of the Bath Priory Hotel. He’s a very amiable chap – I liked how his cookery demonstration was occasionally punctuated by good-natured heckling back and forth with some of his kitchen staff who were in the audience.  He concentrates on using fresh produce with minimal food miles, including ingredients grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden.

During the demo he sous-vided Hinton Estate beef which he gets from Bartlett & Sons butchers in Bath. He generally buys part of a carcass, likely 50%, and the rest of it might end up at somewhere like Le Gavroche. This was for his Wild Mushroom Salt Beef Ragu, made with morel, mousseron and girolle mushrooms and served with fresh asparagus tips. One of the keys to his style of cooking is butter, butter, and some more butter and oh my, does it taste bloody marvellous. Sam reckons that butter for cooking shouldn’t be highly flavoured, as you’re trying to show off the ingredients instead.  I don’t normally need any convincing to get the animal fats out but I’m now even more envious of anyone with the cash and space for a sous-vide. Constant cooking at 48℃ then caramelised in a really hot copper-bottomed pan to brown it, and that beef came out softer than a stick of butter and laden with umami.

Excuse the finger (not mine) in that blurry shot but the audience were fairly voracious. That meat moved faster than when it was alive. Being utterly unshy ourselves, frankly, we grabbed the serving spoon and ate what was left in the pan, and we shared the spoon. Food bloggers – no shame, eh? We also snatched the remains of the beef straight off the chopping board. But see the crowds in the back?  I’d take my chances with the carving knife any day.

The other course was a seafood risotto with carmelised scallops on top, dressed with Richard Vine‘s microsalads (I’m tempted to think that they’re garnish gone frou-frou, but having read up a little I’m very impressed by his green attitude and focus on seasonality).  We didn’t get near a scallop this time either but the risotto was suitably moreish. It incorporated both mascarpone and parmesan, I’d have preferred it without so much of the former as I’m not a huge fan of cream or creamy dishes.  Sam makes risotto daily at the hotel and gave some interesting tips during his demo: get the rice really hot, always start with seasoning to cook the flavour into the rice, and ignore the conventional wisdom to stand there stirring it for hours because if you are using boiling stock then that should keep the rice in motion. As well as the fish stock, they presalt the turbot, sea trout, pollock and sea bass in cubes so it doesn’t just flake apart during cooking.  Herbs included chervil, parsley, tarragon and dill chopped and stirred through.

We made our way back to the hotel for afternoon tea. I loved the gardens – especially the fact that they grow some of their own ingredients. When Sam had said during his demo that he’d picked the broad beans in his garden, I thought he’d meant at home. This impression was cemented by the fact that his mum and dad were in the audience to watch, and had brought him some boysenberries for the dessert coulis. They looked very proud of their boy – as well they should be.  I’d love to go and have a proper meal at the Priory, Sam’s cooking is quite special. The hotel is luxurious and quite the hideaway, and Bath is charming.  It will go on the List of Places To Run Away too – possibly before the next food festival too.

Thanks to Sam, Sue and everyone at the Bath Priory Hotel, and to Syamala at Sauce.