Dishoom founders Shamil and Kavi Thakrar have just added another string to their bow with the opening of a Carnaby Street branch of their mega successful Bombay-style café, Dishoom. But they still found the time to talk to us about, well, everything. From jukeboxes to wayward naval commanders, here’s the lowdown on London’s favourite Indian pit stop.
Have you adapted the Dishoom model for Soho?
We always pay homage to the Irani cafés of Bombay, but opening a new site gives us the opportunity to design a restaurant that suits its locale. We discovered that in the 1960s, British bands were entranced by Indian music, while young Indians hankered after Western rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve tried to bring this connection alive at Carnaby Street through décor, food and drink – we’ve even released an album of this Bombay-meets-London music on vinyl which we’ll be playing on an original Irani café jukebox.
Are there any new menu additions?
Our usual breakfast and all-day menus are served, but the signature dish here is sali boti, a Parsi classic which is served at Britannia & Co, one of the last remaining Parsi cafes in southern Bombay. Tender lamb is braised in a rich gravy and finished with crunchy sali crisp-chips, then served with buttered ‘roomali roti’ handkerchief bread – it’s already proving a firm favourite.
What do you have up your sleeves for the drinks menu?
Our super-talented Daru-walla Carl Brown (winner in the drinks category at the Young British Foodies awards 2014) heads up the ‘Permit Room’ bar. Carl has dreamt up four new drinks inspired by the 1960s and each has a story to tell [scroll down for the full cock-tales]. The rest of the menu is made up of our regular tipples and of course, we serve our own Dishoom IPA, among other things.
Do you make concessions for Western palates and has that evolved?
Our food is pretty much as you’d find it in Bombay and our Indian guests appreciate the authenticity and nostalgia. For those who haven’t tried it before it’s exciting, because what we serve is different from the typical curry house fare that you might expect. Having said that, we have had fun with certain recipes like the bacon naan roll – that’s certainly not traditional, rather our Bombay-style homage to London’s ubiquitous bacon sandwich.
What is the most significant thing you have learned since opening the first Dishoom?
There is absolutely nothing more important than looking after your team.
What’s the future for Dishoom? Do you have any other projects you can tell us about?
Right now we’re focusing on getting Carnaby running like clockwork, but we’ll be celebrating Diwali, Christmas, Holi and Eid and are hoping to collaborate with Nitin Sawhney and Claire Missingham for another yoga and music event.
What are your biggest culinary influences?
Unapologetically and wholeheartedly Bombay: the cafés, street grills, food stalls, snack vendors and beloved home-style dishes enjoyed by Bombayites every day.
Which is your all-time favourite London restaurant and why?
This question sent us into a major meltdown – how does anyone answer that?! Portland is our current favourite though: simple, unpretentious, thoughtful and utterly delicious.
And what about your top bar or boozer?
White Lyan in Hoxton. It’s not far from the Dishoom office and we daydream about sneaking off to get nicely pickled on their awesome cocktails (and occasionally we do just that).
What would your ultimate meal be?
We would love to go back to Alinea in Chicago; that place just blew our minds.
Dishoom Cock-tales: the stories behind Carnaby’s new serves:
Serious and strong with a dash of scandal, this sip is much like handsome Commander Nanavati, a Parsi naval officer who shot his English wife’s lover with a navy pistol; his subsequent trial captivated Bombay in the 1950-60s and in his honour, we have created a bone-dry Martini of pepper-washed Royal Dock Navy Strength gin, Kamm & Sons liqueur and a naughty absinthe rinse. It’s a real knock-out, so you shouldn’t really have too many. It’s a case of one, two three, floor.
Sloe gin fizz was one of the most popular cocktails of the era and this one is topped with the cola of Bombay, Thums Up, and finished with popping candy. It will make you want to dance all night at one of Bombay’s legendary gigs, like the Thunder Ball, held in the Crystal Room at the Taj Hotel in 1965.
While the likes of Captain Colaabavaala (the infamous chronicler of life in Bombay’s darker alleyways) and Blitz (a 1960s Bombay tabloid) wrote of scandalous affairs, Bombay gentlemen preferred to read Debonair… for the articles, we understand. Ahem. This fruity concoction slushes up orange, marmalade vodka, ginger, star anise, bitters and orange cream soda – the perfect cooler for sticky Bombay nights.
A play on the 1960s classic White Russian, our take includes chai tea ice cream, melting seductively into coffee liqueur and vodka. Decadent and not unlike a dessert, hip young Bombayites would have gone mad for this if it were served at a morning jam session: it’s named after the band who won the Simla Beat contest in 1971.
This article was published 22 October 2015