Thursday, September 27, 2012


Long lost cousins? Clue is in the moustache...

Eating out in Indian restaurants in London is something I said goodbye to a long time ago. My family are such geniuses with a curry (and samosas, idlis, dosas....) that it seems madness to hand over cash for food that's just so-so. And it's not just the food. Trading the old maroon flocked-wallpaper of the traditional curry houses for the bland contemporary styling of the new breed of pricy Indian restaurants doesn't fill me with joy either.

Then Dishoom burst on the scene. Based in London's Covent Garden but styled as a vintage Bombay cafe, it pays homage to an era when Iranian immigrants to Mumbai opened up cafes dishing out chilli cheese toast (spicy, melty bits of breaded goodness), red-hot chai, minty lamb chops and kulfi for dessert. These cafes are fast fading to become a mere footnote in Bombay's history, replaced by temples to American fast food like pizza and fried chicken. But the old cafes weren't just memorable for the food, but for a distinctive air that inside, time stood still. Fans whirred slowly overhead, people hung out for ages over a single cup of tea, and all around was quiet vintage decoration.

Dishoom Shoreditch (I'm desperate for one of those chairs)

Dishoom's attempt to preserve some of the old Bombay charm has gone down such a storm in London, it's opening a new branch in Shoreditch, East London in October. Dishoom's kitchens produce some phenomenally tasty food but it's not just that - they do everything with a big fat sense of humour. Whether it's serving a gin and tonic with a drop of angostura bitters in a vintage brown glass "medicine bottle", sepia portraits on the pale blue walls, or the retro Indian cosmetics in the loos.

The 'rulebook' at Dishoom Shoreditch

Air-con at Dishoom Shoreditch

Dishoom Chowpatty Beach, the summer pop-up on London's South Bank

On its own, this styling would feel like a cunning marketing ploy to tap into our current love affair with all things retro driven by a nostalgic yearning for anything vintage. But Dishoom is full of celebration - whether it's Holi (the Indian festival of colour) or its own tongue-in-cheek take on Valentine's day (Velan-Times Day).  When good design is infused with integrity - now that's when it really flies. Whatever the Dishoom-wallahs do, they seem to do with love. For food, for India, and for immigrants everywhere. 

Tastes every bit as good as it looks...

I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts. Dishoom, Covent Garden

All photo credits: Dishoom

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