The Dishoom dynasty is something of a London icon. What started as one Bombay-style cafe in Covent Garden quickly spread throughout the city and then again to the rest of the country.
One of the greatest curiosities about Dishoom is how it has managed to do so and still make every iteration an almost carbon copy of the first – both in menu, service, vibe and – crucially – quality. You could be dining in Carnaby one night and Birmingham the next and both meals will feel like sitting in the same spot – right down to the capacious, cafeteria-style metal water cups.
This is all to say that Dishoom is about as integral to London’s dining scene as the Shard is to its skyline. There have been conversations about its authenticity (the conclusion was, not really) and people love to bemoan its omnipresence as they do any successful, semi-chain eatery.
But what Dishoom can never be accused of doing is scrimping when it comes to what you see on the plate. Authentic or not, the food is consistently of a quality that can’t be argued with.
Service is friendly but efficient and table turnover is high – it’s not somewhere to come if you fancy a long, languorous meal. Dishoom is a staple of London’s culinary scene – whether its critics like it or not – and it’s wonderfully, beautifully reliable.
What’s the vibe?
Intending to replicate the old school Irani cafes of Bombay, Dishoom has a very specific vibe to it. Heralding olde-worlde India, each outpost is littered with dark wood tables, vintage family photos (“who do you think they are?” whispered my dining partner “imagine just being some random person and ending up having your photograph hung in a restaurant halfway across the world for all of eternity”) and tongue-in-cheek signage (“Rules of the cafe” read one).
Getting into Dishoom is almost as difficult as cracking the tightly sealed doors of a high-security members club. If you don’t have a reservation (a new innovation, brought in during the pandemic), then you’re resigned to waiting in line while a staff member patrols with an iPad, giving you a usually wildly over egged wait time.
Once you make it to the front of the line, another staff member with an earpiece shuffles you to the hostess desk, where they then check you in and pass you over to another member of staff who will shepherd you to your table (usually with another iPad in hand, sometimes talking into their ear piece. It's all very CIA).
Once settled, service is friendly but swift. They will never make you feel as if you’re overstaying your welcome, but your experience at Dishoom will never be a lengthy one. No – this is a well-oiled machine, adept at satisfying table after table of hungry diners at breakneck speeds. To avoid being overwhelmed with food, attempt to order your meal in two blocks; snacks and starters first, grills, curries and rice later.
What to order?
As we say, every Dishoom is more or less the same, so you can go into any venue with your classic order locked down. That being said – there are no duds here, and everything on the menu is a pretty strong heavy hitter.
Our favourites include the keema pau – fluffy, buttery grilled buns with spiced mince and peas, which resembles an Indian take on a sloppy joe once constructed.
Oh – and the okra fries. Oh, the okra fries. These crispy little nuggets are battered with a spice-spiked mix and fried until crispy, rendering them crunchy, snacky perfection. They're the dream way to begin your meal and fend off any threatening hunger pangs while you decide on the rest of your order. And there is plenty to choose from.
House black daal is always silky, creamy and delicately spiced, the kind of homely food that hugs you from the inside out. Chicken ruby is everything you want from a chicken curry in the most inoffensive of ways. Lamb chops give those at Whitechapel staple Tayyabs a run for their money in both flavour (generously enhanced by the smoke of the grill) and tenderness (nibble away and watch as the meat almost voluntarily detaches itself from the bone).
If you come at breakfast time the bacon and egg naan is the stuff of legends for good reason. Criminally simple, it is breakfast in its most exciting of forms – jammy yolk, crispy bacon and lightly carcinogenic naan bread all slopped together with a healthy shmear of cream cheese and a dollop of tomato-chilli jam for a necessary dose of zing.
But, really, the drawcard of Dishoom is that it’s almost impossible to go wrong. The food is reliably, heartily yummy no matter what you order. It may not be breaking any culinary boundaries, but it is satisfying taste buds.
What’s the damage?
Almost dangerously low. Perhaps the biggest draw of Dishoom is its bafflingly decent price points. You could have more than enough food for two (trust us, we did) and a bottle of wine for less than £70.
This may be what makes Dishoom so much of a crowd pleaser.
Anything else to note?
Dishoom does not yell about this necessarily, but since 2015 the company has been donating a meal to hungry children for every meal a customer enjoys in one of their restaurants (or via delivery). In February the restaurant reached the milestone of donating 12 million meals over this period of time.
This kind of commitment to paying it forward can be rare in business, and it’s an extreme motivator for putting your money where your mouth is as a customer. Go Dishoom!
View on Instagram
Multiple outlets across London; Dishoom