Dishoom has perfected the art of queuing. Diners are distracted from the length of their wait by a carefully staged system: you join the queue; the bad news (1 hour 45 from the point your name is added to the list) is broken gently with a free drink; you wait up for your name to be added the aforementioned list; you stand just inside the entrance, tantalising close now, while a space is prepared at the bar; you are served drinks at a leisurely pace.
The lengthy wait does give us time to admire the Moorish tiles, marble counters, crystal decanters and emerald leather booths, which channel the faded elegance of the original Bombay cafes. My sister, recently back from India, likes the touches of ‘authenticity’: Hindi script, sepia photographs, washbasins in the restaurant and even bench style loos that nod to squat toilets. I enjoy quirks such as a wood-panelled juice bar. The graphic designer in our group comments on the typesetting of the menu. Together, these touches are a lesson in how to add sophistication to an industrial space.
By the time we order, it is three hours since we staked our place in the queue, and we gobble our meal. It’s a shame, because this food deserves savouring. Tender chicken thighs marinated in garlic, ginger and coriander are still subtly smokey from the open air grill. The signature black daal is slow cooked for 24 hours until the lentils surrender to a thick, deeply flavoured soup. Crisp-skinned and fluffy-centred, the ‘gunpowder potatoes’ arrive tumbled amidst spring onions and aromatic seeds. Fresh, al dente greens are livened with a chilli and lime so they dance on the palate; a perfect foil to the richness of the curries.
Sated, we scamper off to our bikes, buses and tube lines. Dishoom won’t revolutionise your perspective on Indian food, but it sheds light on how lesser-known elements of this cuisine (here, the Bombay cafes) marry well with modern British tastes for a slightly lighter curry.