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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden

Those of you who are familiar with this blog (all 14 of you) will have read about my curry-love before. You may also be familiar with my rather disorganised approach to choosing when and which restaurants to review. I realise therefore, that you’ll almost certainly have already read several reviews of Dishoom, the new(ish) Bombay cafe-style restaurant on St Martin’s Lane.

However, if pornography has taught us anything, it’s that there is always a market for variations on a theme. I hadn’t been to Dishoom when others were reviewing it, but I’ve been now.

The all-day menu at Dishoom is intriguing, encompassing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Its Indian classics, such as Sheekh kebab, biryani and daal, sit playfully alongside some less conventional Anglo-Indian items, like Desi fish fingers, sausage naan roll, chilli cheese toast and porridge.

We arrived at 8.30 on a Saturday evening. There’s no booking, but we were given a table for five within minutes – a refreshing change from certain other London restaurants with no-booking policies. The restaurant was full, but it didn’t feel cramped, the faux art deco decor creating an illusion of space and style similar to what you find in The Wolesley, though not as posh. Dishoom’s a nice looking place, with a nice atmosphere, nice staff, and for the most part, nice food.

It’s one of those places that serves you your food as it’s ready, in no particular order. This increasingly trendy idea is a fairly crap one, but Dishoom navigates it by bringing just about everything quickly. First out were lamb samosas, cafe crisps and keema pau (spiced lamb mince with buttered bread). The samosas were uninspiring – lots of crispiness but not much flavour – while the cafe crisps were offcuts from the samosas: pastry, essentially. No matter, the accompanying chutneys were excellent.

The keema pau told a different story. Its delicate, sweet spicing and excellent texture were only slight ruined by accompanying buttered burger buns. These made an odd contribution, an early example of a recurring weakness for too much Anglo in the more Anglo-influenced dishes. On that theme, the Desi fish fingers were pretty miserable, their spongy texture and uninteresting batter singularly failing to raise the dish much above what you might expect of a rather less salubrious fast food joint.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, then it should, but only really because the weak dishes are so unnecessary. The house black daal was magnificently buttery, while the accompanying garlic naan was thin, delicate and crispy. Spicy lamb chops were decent, though a couple were slightly burnt, and the day’s special vegetable Ruby Murray was sublime. A paneer and mushroom Roomali Roll would make an excellent lunch on its own, though didn’t quite work as part of a dinner – it’s an Indian burrito, more or less; chicken berry biryani was as subtle and richly textured as you could justifiably expect for £7.50. Add copious quantities of bottled Meantime to the mix, and Dishoom has pretty much nailed the quick and tasty experience for this location.

Even the desserts were pretty good - not always the case in Indian restaurants. We tried passion fruit and ginger Gola ice and pistachio Kulfi on a stick. Both were perfectly fine, refreshing and sweet.

The service is efficient and smiley, which is good, though they did manage to serve one of our number salt water instead of tap water. An odd choice, I’m sure you’ll agree. At less than £25 per head, Dishoom is far better value than most places in the area. Indeed, as a pre- or post- theatre venue, you’d be hard pushed to find many better places - it is curry, after all.

Phil Letts' take: 7/10

Dishoom on Urbanspoon

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