Dishoom (which in Hindi means roughly “pow”, as in a Bollywood movie shoot-out or punch-up) is an all-day café, hinting at some of the grand old café grills in Mumbai, which were mostly set up by Persian immigrants in the early 20th century. The mixture of checkerboard tiled and wooden floor, dark wood panels and marble topped tables set the scene well, the walls crammed with photos of Bollywood stars. This is the first restaurant venture from two Gujerati brothers (Adarsh and Amar Rasai) and their cousin Shamil Thakril, who have other successful businesses (including, bizarrely, a Subway franchise). There were paper napkins and cutlery is taken from a communal holder on each table. The dining area, which is spread over two floors, can accommodate 150 at one sitting.
The menu has a mix of some dishes that are indeed very much Bombay street food (such as pau bhaji) and other, more familiar dishes, plus a few Anglo-Indian choices. The first sign that this was a place making some effort were the chutneys: mint, tamarind and chill chutney were not from a jar but were made from scratch, the chilli chutney in particular excellent. Small plates were £2.90 - £4.50, grills from £6.50 - £8.90, naan bread at £1.70 and desserts £1.90 - £4.90.
A dinner in July 2011 was erratic, to say the least. Fish fingers were still tasty and nicely cooked as at the previous meal (13/20). However vegetable samosas, though they had a decent filling, were rather leathery in texture; the filling itself was a little dominated by the taste of cloves (11/20). Black dhal was very good, with a bit of texture rather than being watery (13/20), but gunpowder potatoes were burnt at the edges (10/20). Malai murgh tikka was fairly tender at the centre, but several pieces were black around the edges (maybe 12/20 if I am being kind). Vegetable biryani suffered from clumpy rice at the edge of the dish, though at the centre the rice was fine (11/20).
A fine example of the sloppiness tonight was the romali roti. The one initially brought had been left standing around, and was both almost cold and had hardened up (10/20). I asked for a fresh one and this was excellent: hot, supple and pliable (14/20). This sort of inconsistency is not good in a kitchen. One thing that was consistent was a tendency to over-salt, which occurred in several dishes.
The meal tonight was really only 11/20 level, with too many errors occurring. This was frustrating since there were good elements (the fish fingers, the replaced roti) that indicate that the kitchen can deliver when it has a mind to. Dishoom is wildly popular and perhaps the kitchen was stressed tonight, but this was not a good performance. One highlight was our Polish waiter Tomasz, who was really excellent and could surely be gainfully employed somewhere more demanding than here.
The notes that follow are from my first and much better meal here, a lunch in January 2011.
Desi fish fingers are made from coley and had a lightly spiced batter, served with tamarind chutney. These were tasty, properly seasoned and well-made, the tamarind giving a pleasant sweet balance to the batter (13/20). My malai murgh tikka (chicken tikka that has a marinade including cheese to soften the meat) was also good, straight from the tandoor and quite tender (13/20). Mixed vegetable curry was a special of the day and had a very good, slightly spicy sauce, the vegetables not too mushy (13/20). As a bonus they make romali roti, my favourite Indian bread (the only other place I am aware of that does this is The Brilliant in Southall, though it is common in India). This bread is best when eaten moments after it is made, as if it waits around even for a few minutes it loses its suppleness and can become hard and crumbly. I had two with this meal, and the second one, made to order, was indeed better than the first one, which had hardened a little. The second roti was very good (14/20).
The bill came to £24 for one (before tip) with no alcohol but a lassi and some water, which I suppose is not particularly cheap for lunch though I ordered quite a lot of food. My waitress was friendly and capable, if in a bit of a rush to take my order. The nice thing about Dishoom is that it has opened in an area that is almost utterly devoid of decent Indian restaurants, so is particularly welcome. It seems to be doing very well and I can certainly see why.