12 Upper St Martin's Lane
020 7420 9320
In November 1998, I forced down half a plate of hairy cow innards at the main bus station in Johur Bahru (I'd ordered beef) and promptly threw up. It wasn't a pleasant experience but I now see the silver lining. I became one of the few people to actually learn something on their gap year. I learnt the 200-yard rule.
1) Never eat within 200 yards of a major train or bus terminal.
2) Never eat within 200 yards of a major tourist attraction.
3) Never eat within 200 yards of Leicester Square.
The third clause was added in 2002 after an unsavoury incident featuring a cafe, two slices of bread, half a can of tuna, a squirt or two of mayonnaise, a slice of tomato and a piece of somebody else's nail. I'm not sure of the distance between Dishoom and Leicester Square but it's enough to arose suspicion that "London's first Bombay cafe", ranked 9th in Time Out's new Best Restaurants in London list, is not to be trusted. It quickly became clear that there was no need for concern.
According to our hosts, there are fewer than 30 Bombay cafes left in the Indian metropolis now known as Mumbai, down from almost 400 in the 1960s. There's an informative piece here about how the chaps behind Dishoom got inspired, did their research, and made sure they had the details right. It's not meant to be a faithful recreation of an Irani cafe. It's an homage, aimed subtly and sophisticatedly at both tourists and Londoners, and it's seriously good.
Dishoom gets nearly everything right. Apart from the waiter suggesting we order three or four plates each when half that amount was more than we could manage, we had no complaints. The chicken berry biryani, slow-cooked in the dum pukht style (a clay pot sealed with a dough lid) was soft and gooey and bursting with flavour, and the calamari deep-fried with chilli and lime was perfectly textured and zestily spiced. Our lamb tikka roomali roll was tasty enough, but a notch or two below those at the brilliant Mooli's. The chai, raita and nan were all solid, and the Thums Up, India's undistinguished answer to Coca-Cola (and owned by Coca-Cola) tasted awful, like something created by a SodaStream user being stingy with the syrup.
At £30 for two it's good value. I really want to try their bacon nan roll for breakfast, which I doubt appears on many menus in Bombay, while the pau bhaji (mashed spiced vegetables on buttered bread) and chilli cheese toast will have me heading back to Dishoom for seconds, measuring the distance from Leicester Square to see if my trusty old rule still applies.