Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dishoom: brilliant burger joint. Wait. What?

Brilliantly tasty, cunningly deceitful


My first impression of Bombay cafe Dishoom was not a good one. Nor was my first impression of the man huddled in the doorway with a can of "premium" strength lager, silhouetted like a cardboard cut out by the restaurant lights.I thought of approaching him and asking if this was the entrance, but the possibility of him being the doorman vanished when I realised he was talking animatedly to himself.

It turns out that was the back door, which confusingly is on the main street. You actually have to go around the back to find the front.

But once I had done so things just got more confusing. My friend was early and had sat herself in the bar, with the waiter's assurances I would be taken to her on arrival. When I arrived, the first waiter didn't have foggiest idea of what I meant by "A friend is waiting for me in the bar", and the second one, who ambled over looking politely bemused, started leading me towards someone called "Jasmine" - before I explained my friend was called nothing of the sort. Once we had been united a third waiter took us straight to our table, despite the fact we had drinks coming from the bar, which a fourth waiter then had to go collect. A fifth waiter took our food order, and a sixth brought it to us. On the way out, we were shown the door by a seventh.

So at no point could I accuse Dishoom of having poor service. It may be confused, but it was actually very effective. I like the service you get when the waiters outnumber the diners by quite a considerable margin. Given that Dishoom has a no-bookings policy in the evening, I was expecting (as were they, no doubt) it to be rammed, probably with a queue all the way down the Bishopsgate to Liverpool Street. And for the first 45 minutes, I thought it deserved that.

Our small plates, or starters to most people, were truly brilliant. The veggie samosas crispy and only little bit oily, and the great big hit of cinnamon they had was addictive. The Bhel (essentially a papri chaat without the yoghurt) made inspirational with the addition of pomegranate seeds, fresh and juicy next to the crunchy rice and Bombay mix. But it was the skate cheeks I really fell in love with, fried in spices and served with a thick, sticky date and tamarind chutney. I didn't even know skates have cheeks, but it turns out they're meaty and curly, like tiny, delicious scampi.

For the main I confess I made a terrible mistake. Like all London food bloggers, I eat too many burgers. And it seems that, even when I go to an Indian restaurant, I manage to order one. Even when I didn't want to. So don't be fooled by the clever wording, the Lamb Raan Bun is, to all intents and purposes a burger, or at least a pulled meat bap. The sourdough bap looked a lot like the ones at Dirty Burger, and it was presented on a board like a gastropub. It's even served with "sali crisp chips", essentially anorexic French fries cooked until crispy the whole way through then powdered to be sweet and spicy and served in - horror of horrors - greaseproof paper. It also came with an American 'slaw, albeit again with the addition of pomegranates. It was all absolutely, undeniably delicious, but it actually showed up Dishoom's obvious flaws.

For all its menu's posturing about dishes being "a Bombay standard" or "found in any good Indian roadside restaurant", at no point did I believe I was in an Indian restaurant. The d├ęcor is a little to close to a faux boutique hotel lobby, there's not an Indian face on the waiting staff (I can't comment on the kitchen) and the food, whether originally authentic or not, has been bastardised to suit Western tastes. They cunningly disguised a burger, convincing me I was ordering something different while playing to my subconscious love of meat wrapped in carb.

A bigger sin though, is that my friend's biryani, the closest thing to a high street curry as Dishoom gets, was heavily aromatic but dry as a bone, with huge hunks of chicken hidden in the depths that had to be cut up into manageable chunks. It claimed to be an Irani classic, loaded with cranberries for a sweet, sour tang. But their were so few cranberries the effect was essentially like eating basmati rice with a bit of garam masala in. Luckily my friend was given a lake of raita on the side to drown her rice in flavour.

It's an enormous menu they have at Dishoom, and I'd love go back and have another go. To find the diamonds in the rough, like the starters we enjoyed that made me so hopeful. The thing is, I'll probably just end up with a burger again. Or fish and chips. Or a roast dinner.

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