Mumbai: Desi khana Desh Ke Bahar @Dishoom. During the last summer, we were staying in London. My daughter arrived there from Seattle for a short trip. During her stay, she enquired whether we have visited Dishoom Restaurant. Her Desi friends in the US strongly recommended her to pay a visit to the place. Little curious, we decided to visit one of the branches of Dishoom in the King’s Cross area.
Unlike other restaurants, Dishoom does not take table reservations. No choice, we arrived in front of the restaurant, there was a long queue, the night was cold due to raining, one of the restaurants’ staff was serving hot cutting chai to the guests in waiting outside the restaurant, and of course, this cutting chai was complimentary. Our turn came approximately after one and half hour and we could feel strong hunger pangs.
Once inside, we forgot that we are in London, the entire ambience was that of the sixties or seventies Irani Cafe of Bombay.
In fact, our first reaction after enjoying our drinks and food was that the restaurant bought all the goodness of Bombay. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. The restaurant has a lovely atmosphere and the decor is quirky and cool. The servers were fantastic, offering us suggestions of what to pick. All of their suggestions were very tasty, large portions and good value for money. My daughter ordered for Wada Pav, very authentic to the core like the one we are used to picking from a roadside stall in Dadar area. Also enjoyed the okra pakoras as a starter, Lentil Soup and the prawn were also good. We loved the cocktail based on kokum juice and white rum. Finally cinnamon based ice cream was also particularly nice.
After two days we decided to visit their grandest and flagship branch at another upmarket area Kensington. It is located in the former Barkers’ building off High Street, and perfectly melts into its 1930s architecture with softly curving booth seating; art deco glass panels and vintage lighting. The same rule, no table reservation but here the waiting area is inside the building and we happily settled in the luxurious sofa while waiting for our turn. The whole place is cast in a soft-focus glow, like an old Bollywood theatres’ foyer, and as it was a weekend live jazz musicians took to the stage. Food quality was similar to that we enjoyed at King’s Cross, icecream reminded us Naturals of Juhu. The staff was attentive, kind and understanding, family loved particularly the lamb biryani, cooked in a pie, the okra chips and the in fact in dessert we also ordered Kulfi in addition to icecream, it was a real Malai kulfi.
Dishoom over the years made its own niche among the restaurants across the city. In fact, it was voted the UK’s best place to eat in 2016 in a list compiled by Yelp, which was created by analysing data from users of the site. Its turnover is 10 million plus.
It is a place that never feels like it’s trying to cheat its customers – it’s one of the only restaurants in London where they’re prepared to give your entire table a free meal on the roll of a dice. It’s called the matka, those who are from Bombay they know very well what Matka is and it’s specific to each branch. Just walk in and ask nicely if you can have one – if you roll a six on a weekday before 6 pm, don’t reach for your wallet!
Now the story behind desi khana Desh Ke Bahar @Dishoom. It was founded by Shamil and Kavi Thakrar, who are cousins, and Adarsh Radia and his brother Amar. They spent almost three years deciding how it would look, but the driving force was their shared experience of home-made Indian food. The Radia brothers grew up in an Indian family in Kenya, while the Thakrars lived in the UK but enjoyed regular trips to India as children.
Before launching the business in 2010, a group trip to Mumbai cemented the idea for how Dishoom would stand out in the crowded restaurant industry. Amar tells how they were inspired “We fell in love with the idea of the Irani cafes of old time Bombay. These restaurants were established by the Parsi community who were very western in their thinking. They were trying to recreate the Parisian brasseries and the grand cafes of Vienna. These spaces ended up being community hubs in Bombay – and for us that was amazing. There was a story there.’
While India in the early 1900s was divided by class, caste and religion, Irani cafes were a place of inclusion – anyone could enter and the food was reasonably priced. So Radias and Takrars opted Irani Cafe model.
To me, Dishoom chain is a tribute to Irani Cafes and the essence of Bombay of 1960 amidst the city of London. The interior decoration includes the framed pictures of clipping from newspapers, ads from the sixties , old Bollywood film posters, pics of Bollywood heroes, heroines evokes nostalgia. For more details www.dishoom.com
Pradeep Gupta is an avid travelling spanning continents and former AGM with State Bank of India