For breakfast North Indians usually like to have Paratha which is a type of flatbread, stuffed with vegetables and spices and dry-fried, eaten with fresh yoghurt. In South India, the most popular breakfast dishes are idlis, vadas, dosas and chapatis. These are most often served with hot sambar and chutney. But a sensible Londoner might choose a bacon buttie made with naan with a sprig or two of fresh coriander and a big glass of chai. An American breakfast is often… Hang on! What was that about a London breakfast? Bacon and what?
Yes, perhaps I should mention my latest discovery. I am always on the lookout for places to eat. Not just for lunches and dinners but for snacks and afternoon tea and for delicious food before or during a meeting. I have found an ideal spot. It’s near Leicester Square Underground Station. It’s open at 8am. It’s stylish and comfortable and a great place to have a leisurely breakfast. It’s Dishoom.
Dishoom is the name of the establishment, but what is a dishoom? It’s the old Bollywood sound effect produced when the hero lands a blow, or when a bullet whistles through the air. The exterior of the eponymous café suggests that type of smart restaurant that one would not expect to be open much before noon. But when you realise the inside is a café your expectations shift. Think of it as a take on a Bombay café and it’s not only expectations but horizons that broaden.
Those of us who have spent only a little time in India will have no bench-mark for Dishoom. It’s said to evoke memories of the Bombay cafés of old, originally opened by Persians. They were a meeting place and a refuge, and they were at their peak in the 1960s, but now fewer than thirty cafés remain. If you’re more acquainted with French bistros then you might draw comparisons. Pictures on the walls don’t show the Eiffel Tower but rather beautiful women in saris. No signed photo of Gerard Depardieu but lots of handsome Indian men from a bygone era. Dishoom oozes class, but casual class.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of breakfast. My dad would be home from night-shift and smoke would rise up the staircase to let me know that all was well. Next the sound of knife on blackened bread. I was in my first year of school cookery lessons before I realised that making toast was not a two-part exercise: “First incinerate your bread and then remove carbon with a sharp implement.” Who knew?
Breakfast is still my favourite meal of the day but I have so often been disappointed when a sweet muffin and a mug of dubious latte have had to suffice; and those consumed in an uninviting branch of the likes of Costabucks. You know the sort: lots of cakes, 32 alternatives for coffee-drinkers and nothing for those of us who want a “good” cup of tea. Dishoom came to my rescue.
Dishoom is indeed Indian. There is no mistaking the ethnic origin of the dishes listed on the menu, but it’s ‘evolved Indian’, which offers a hint of Bombay’s famous street grills and food stalls. Its bill of fare is appealing to both Asians and Europeans as the makeup of its clientele will attest. Breakfast here gives a nod to both continents in a very palatable fashion. In fact they presented me with the best bacon sandwich I have ever had!
We settled in a comfy booth at 9.30am. Some other tables were occupied by groups who were evidently office workers. Seems like breakfast meetings are in vogue. The financial crisis has heralded a new age of expense-account cut-backs. Breakfast is an ideal way to meet, discuss and eat without, well, eating into the day, so to speak.
We ordered some chai, Indian tea – it’s particularly good here, made with ginger and pepper and spices (although the single-estate coffee at Dishoom is rumoured to be exceptional). Everything looked tempting. Breakfast Lassi is a yoghurt drink with banana, mango and oats. Ideal for those days when you want to feel noble. It’s delicious and quite substantial so my guest and I shared that. Granola with cinnamon, fresh fruit and yoghurt with Madagascan vanilla sounded appealing. It’s the vanilla that was striking. The yoghurt was so flecked with those distinctive black specks that it could perhaps be likened to a negative of the star-strewn heavens above the Arabian Sea.
There was also porridge with dates and bananas, hot Toast, Cinnamon Rolls, Fresh Mango & Vanilla Yoghurt for those who want a more traditional start to the day, but Fruit Roomali also beckoned. Roomali roti is sometimes referred to as handkerchief bread. It’s light and makes a perfect wrap, and at Dishoom it accompanied seasonal fruit, mascarpone and honey. Healthy but hearty.
Bombay Omelette is good here and Sub-continental friends tell me it’s a common home-cooked breakfast item. It’s a spiced omelette with grilled vine tomatoes, served rolled and on toast, and if you are looking for an even more substantial plateful then there is the Full Bombay – Bombay omelette, Cumberland sausage, bacon, grilled vine tomatoes, mushrooms and toast served with house chai.
The Sausage Naan Roll and the Bacon Naan Roll were intriguing. The smell of bacon always starts the day well, so the sausage naan will have to wait for another visit. I have mentioned that this was the best bacon sandwich I have ever had, and it’s the truth. Like all good dishes it relies on the quality of the ingredients as much as the preparation. The bacon at Dishoom was just how I like it. Smoked and full of flavour. The regular sliced loaf has been replaced by split naan. Just enough bread to keep one’s fingers clean and not enough to detract from the filling. This is a winner and a must-try.
Dishoom has a delightfully vintage ambiance. It deserves to be buzzing at breakfast. It already has a loyal lunch and evening following and it’s only been open a short while. It must surely just be a matter of publicity, so GO TO DISHOOM FOR BREAKFAST. I’ll be returning to try a cinnamon roll; there will be chai on the side and another bacon butty …or shall I try the sausage?
Monday – Friday 8am – 11pm
Saturday: 10am – 11pm
Sunday: 10am – 10pm
12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2H 9FB
Phone: 020 7420 9320
Visit Dishoom here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018