Dum Biryani House opened in late October 2016, tucked away in a Soho basement just south of Oxford Street. It was set up by Dhruv Mittal, who after studying at the Cordon Bleu institute previously established the London-based Chaiwalla supper club, Although he has travelled around India he actually grew up in Bolton and went to University in Nottingham. He did some short some stages at various restaurants including at Sat Bains, The Fat Duck and Oberoi Amarvilas hotel. The head chef jasbir Singh Ujjainwal is from Delhi originally and was a senior sous chef at Darbaar for nearly a year before moving here. He was previously sous chef at Benares for nearly nine years. It is unusual in London to see a restaurant specialising in a single dish, though it is common enough elsewhere. In Tokyo many restaurants serve only tempura, say, or sushi, and some just serve a single ingredient, such as eel.
The room had a couple of alcoves as well as the main dining area, and was designed to be casual: cutlery is basic and displayed in a box on each table, along with paper napkins. There was a short list of seven wines, all of which were available by the glass. There were all in the twenty-something pound range except for the Thienot Brut NV champagne at a reasonable £49 compared to its retail price of £35. For example there was Gran Hacienda Pinot Noir 2015 from Santa Rita 2015 at £23.50 for a bottle that will set you back £10.50 in the high street.
There were a few starters as well as the biryani itself. Black chickpea salad was pleasant, the chickpeas tender (12/20) though even better was Andhra prawn fry (a recipe from Anshra Pradesh on India’s south eastern coast). The prawns were very tender and flavoured with coconut and a little red chilli (easily 13/20).
Of course the test of the restaurant was going to be the biryani. We tried both chicken and lamb varieties. The biryani comes served in its heavy-bottomed pot (the “dum”) and is sealed with a layer of pastry, which is as it should be. When you cut into this the aromas of the biryani are released. The lamb was served on the bone, the chicken off the bone, but in both cases the rice was light and fluffy, the spices nicely balanced. I have had better biryani in India, e.g. at Adaa in Hyderabad, but this was certainly a very capable version (13/20). Desserts were made in the kitchen rather than being bought in, as happens at many Indian restaurants. We tried halwa made with purple carrots, so the colour was purple rather than orange, but the flavour was very much that of a classic halwa, and was not too sweet (13/20).
The bill, with just tea and lassi to drink, came to £29 a head. If you had wine then a typical cost per head might be around £40. I liked Dum, whose casual décor belies some quite serious cooking, shown at each stage of the meal. The waiters that I encountered were friendly and £14.95 does not seem to be an excessive price for the biryani, which was large enough that you could actually share one between two.