Dishoom Carnaby: Love at first sight

That there always seem to be queues outside every branch of Dishoom I have attempted to visit must surely be a sign that the operators of this now 7-strong chain must have hit upon a winning formula. Luckily enough my wait ended earlier this week when I lost my Dishoom virginity by visiting their Carnaby Street branch. There was no let-down, no anti-climax, just a desire to return. The angle behind Dishoom is a simple one: to recreate the old Irani café culture of Bombay. At peak, some 400 such venues could be found in the city, a legacy of the large migrant community then present. Their purpose was to allow people to meet and mingle in an informal fashion over food and drink. This ethos is reflected faithfully in the design of Dishoom venues, or certainly the one I visited. The Carnaby location is capacious with a healthy dose of kitsch and 1960s bric-a-bac. What could appear trite or forced seems natural here, part of a relaxed vibe that Dishoom successfully pulls off. Business people, couples, families and tourists seemingly happily occupied adjacent tables when we visited. Our helpful and informative server guided us through what appears at first glance to be a complicated menu. Dishoom could work on its visuals, with over 50 listings packed into 4 columns of small print across one page of paper! The basic formula, we were told, was to nibble over a small dish (everything is intended for sharing) while considering a couple of larger mains and perhaps a vegetable side. More than 24 hours on from our visit, I am still salivating over the taste of the chilli chicken dish with which we began. It seemingly took in both Indian and Chinese influences with intense flavours of garlic, ginger and soy dominant. Each piece of meat was succulent and flavoursome. Onto the mains and we opted for a masala prawn dish as well as the restaurant’s special, a ‘salli boti.’ We were informed that this latter dish comprised slow-cooked (for over eight hours) lamb, which was braised in a rich and flavoursome gravy. Comfort food at its best, particularly when combined with a deliciously buttered roti. Full marks too for our prawns and also for the green chilli side. Like their Spanish cousin, the Padron pepper, some were hot and others were not – an innovation, even if not for all. We both took soft drinks with our food (a lassi for my comrade and a Limca – a fizzy lemon drink indigenous to Bombay – for me), but even with these, the biggest pleasant surprise was the bill. All the above clocked in at just £25/ head. Even if the prices were higher, I would happily return!