Dishoom Shoreditch Review: Lunch like it's the '50s!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

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                      A STORY FROM THE ARCHIVES in EAT: 

Dishoom, Shoreditch and its sibling branches are an enchanting vestige of yesteryear, when the cities of postcolonial Bombay and Karachi were astir with Irani Cafés. Founded by Zoroastrian immigrants, these cafés welcomed and nourished anyone from rollicking students to seasoned professionals bent diligently over their papers. They were a truly cosmopolitan and iconic cultural institution. Now bygone from Bombay, I can think of nowhere more fitting for the Irani Café to reinvent itself than the mélange that is London today. And so to Dishoom, we absolutely had to go!

Dishoom, 7 Boundary Street, E2 7JE 
Nearest Station: Shoreditch High Street  /  Parking: Pay & Display
Food: 4/5  Service: 5/5  Atmosphere: 3.7/5  Cost: ££ - Fairly priced

At the bar: a redolent spread of crushed rose petals, green cardamom, fresh mint, and teas.
 A snug setting: fellow guests standing elbow-to-elbow and drinking to health in the curiously named ‘Permit Room.’
Upon entering, we stood and took the room in. We felt like we could really have been in Bombay given the sheer warmth of the air and how the restaurant was bustling with people. Then I thought “if it’s Indian-Irani, why is everyone here...White? *internal groan* you know a restaurant is great when the natives dine there so what does this mean? Should we leave --” 

The laconic ‘Karen Smith’ of Mean Girls (2004) poses the burning question.
My chain of thought was duly interrupted by a waitress who asked if we had been to Dishoom before. We answered in the negative. She then guided us through the drinks menu - I couldn't hear 60% of what she said (tall people problems) but from what I could read, "Edwina's Affair" seemed delightful. So nice we ordered it twice!

Edwina's Affair, a summerlike julep of gin, rose, and cardamom with a sprawling of candied rose petals and fresh mint. Served in a copper cup for added cool factor.
We took a table outside, on the Verandah as we were curious to see the rest of the establishment. 
We took our drinks from the bar and snaked through the throng, tucking ourselves into the back of the Permit Room where we could hear one another and study sepia portraits of Shamil Thakrar’s (the owner) family. As his ancestors peered back at us from within their frames, we were filled with a sense of saudade. We were engaged with a time and a place that for us, never was. But we could now understand it and we missed it. If I had any reservations about the authenticity (how millennial!) of Dishoom, seeing these images quieted them. With that, we felt well into the swing of things and were ready to commence our feast on the Verandah! 

The Verandah was bathed in natural light coming in on every side through glass walls. It was a quieter, less busy space which was perfect for our slow lunch. Our waiter, “Ben,” seated us in an intimate alcove at the side of the room. I perched myself atop an antique ottoman on one side of the table and Michelle gracefully sank into the cushioned bench at the other. Ben made mellow, small talk with us and guided us through the menu, recommending that we share plates to get a fuller taste of Dishoom. So we did. 

Lamb Samosas: Gujarati filo stuffed with minced lamb, onions and spices.
A Bowl Of Greens: grilled broccoli, snow peas and spinach tumbled with chilli and lime.
Gunpowder Potatoes: potatoes with brown skins, smoky-grilled, broken apart, tossed with butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs.

Spicy Lamb Chops: they lie overnight in a special marinade of lime juice and jaggery, warm dark spices, ginger and garlic.
We also had Keema Pau: spiced minced lamb and peas with a toasted, buttered pau bun. Prawn Koliwada: a bowl of delicate, crispy morsels with tamarind and date chutney. Murgh Malai: Chicken thigh meat steeped overnight in garlic, ginger, coriander stems, and a little cream. It’s pink!

Feeling sated we turned to a case of well-thumbed books on India, nourishing our minds as we did our bellies. Shortly after, we departed feeling enthralled by this compelling reminiscence of a a zeitgeist lost.

Are there any restaurants or places that make you feel like you've travelled through time? Tell me in the comments below.

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