Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I went to Dishoom on Wednesday night with a couple of my good friends. We had wanted some Indian food. We all live and work in different locations and we didn’t fancy the trek to Tayabs* (nor the dry cleaning bill) and the Mango Tree in Borough is quality, but local to only one of us. Dishoom seemed like a central, interesting and therefore good option.
But it wasn’t.
During my cycle home it dawned on me that this would be my first negative review (I wasn’t positive about Del’Aziz, but I don’t think I stuck any knives in). At first I was excited by the prospect of being mean. Then I decided that because I was looking forward to a good bitch, I was probably thinking more negatively of the restaurant than was fair.
Indeed by the time I got to work on Thursday morning, I had pretty much talked myself round to a relatively positive review. Statler and Waldorf would have been proud of my internal monologue (“it was shit; I hated it; I didn’t like it at all; it wasn’t so bad really; no, there were some good bits; I thought it was great …”).
But the boys’ feedback from the meal was quick, succinct and in line with my original view.
“See comments below. Fortunately the company was good …
1. What did you enjoy? The meat and fish was tasty but weren’t very spicy. The urinals were cool.
2. What was bad? Minute portion size, price, lack of spice, the concept, no Indians working there, basement/dungeon room
3. Dishoom in 3 words? don’t go back”
and the other:
“1. I enjoyed the biriyani and the roti
2. I thought pretty much everything else was below par, lacked any real kick and was overpriced
3. prefer eating in”
So here we go. By popular consent, a quick and dirty review.
Dishoom is a self titled “Bombay style cafe” on Upper St Martin’s Lane. It is open all day, including for breakfast. If you’re a party of more than 6 you can book in advance. I reckon they fancy making it a chain.
On the positive side:
1. It’s shiny and there’s a decent buzz.
2. We thought the chicken berry biryani was tasty(ish) and moist, though, spice wise, it’s not going to cause you problems the next morning.
3. Lamb chops and lamb kebab were decent pieces of meat (but see also negative comments below).
4. The roti referred to above was a good size and texture and was an effective mopper-upper of sauces; a welcome alternative to standard greasy breads.
5. I also thought the raita was ok. But lets be honest, mixing yoghurt and cucumber is not exactly molecular gastronomy. In fact, see point 6 in the negative section below.
1. First impressions. The girl we first asked for a table wasn’t the sharpest front of house ever. The interaction was pretty bizarre. We went away for a beer whilst we waited, but were tempted not to go back.
2. The staff weren’t exactly authentic Bombay café material. Which was a shame.
3. The concept.
(a) As a rule, I think if your waitress has to explain the “concept” of a restaurant to you (Indian tapas to share; food comes when it comes), then the place is already on the back foot. You have to be good to pull it off (i.e. Wahaca or Wagamama).
(b) Dishoom’s “concept” is flawed: the portions are only just shareable; and we asked to have our small plates first, followed, as is logical, by the main grills, biryani and breads – and thus (after some protestation and heavy sighing) they came. Why serve in any other order?
4. The following dishes were pretty average and not particularly cheap for what they were:
(a) Dark dahl. £4.50. A bit sickly, really. Overly creamy. Tasted like preservatives. Do they make this on-site or buy it in a tin?
(b) Cafe Crisps. Small bowl. £1.90. Like Tyrrells parsnip crisps. Just not as good.
(c) Spicy Lamb Chops and Lamb Boti Kabab (referred to above). £9.70 and £7.20 respectively. Good meat, but rather well done and overly charred. Not much of either and definitely not as spicy as we would have liked. Not a patch on Tayabs or even the Lahore dirty kebab house.
(d) Desi fish fingers. £3.90. Decent taste of fish, once you’d washed the saltiness from your mouth. No obvious Indian zing.
(e) Bombay sausages. £4.20. A little portion of chipolatas. Nothing special about the meat – probably just bought in a supermarket pack. The “Bombay”, we assumed, was the couple of sprigs of coriander and vague warm tomatoey, oniony sauce they were served in. Distinctly average.
(f) Pau Bhaji. £3.90. Vegetable mash. Tasty enough. But again, no zing (and I don’t mean it wasn’t hot; there just wasn’t much spice to it). Buttered breads served with it were inconsistent.
(g) Garlic naan. £1.90. Small.
5. It’s a sad day when a very average biryani (£7.50) is the most enjoyable part of your Indian meal. Nothing, otherwise, stood out.
6. Raita. I’ve got 5 spoons of Tesco value yoghurt. And a half inch of cucumber. And a mint leaf. Want some? £1.90, thanks.
7. The overall cost.
(a) On the face of it, items don’t necessarily seem expensive compared to a normal curry menu. But then compare the size of what you get. If they’re sharing dishes, either make the portions bigger or drop the costs so that people buy more.
(b) We had two bottles of beer each. £3.90 each. That’s just over a pint. For £7.80. A significant factor in making it an unlikely (and therefore slightly resented) £30 per person meal. At least if you spend £30 in a curry house, you’ll be uncomfortably full and merrily pissed.
I’ll stop there.
Dishoom will, undoubtedly, be rolled out across Suburbia in the near future. It’s inevitable. And people will go and have a mediocre experience at what will basically be an Indian version of La Tasca. I hope that those same people will quickly realise they should have gone to their local curry house for a lamb bhuna and a pint of Cobra.
* [I recognise that the Tayabs is Pakistani]
Dishoom in 3 words
Shiny. Not spicy.
£30 per head with minimal booze.
www.dishoom.com – St Martin’s Courtyard, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9 - 020 7420 9320