When it comes to Sunday mornings, and Saturday mornings for that matter, there is one sure fire way to trigger that warm weekend feeling: brunch time. Good weekends are made and unmade by brunch, depending on its varying grease factor, the runniness of its egg yolk and, most importantly, the crispiness of the bacon. But when the thought of yet another Sunday morning’s greasy fry-up doesn’t quite appeal, then there’s always brunch with a Bombay twist at Covent Garden’s all-day café, Dishoom. This is one for those who don’t take their weekend brunch too seriously.
Dishoom is an old Bollywood sound effect for when the hero’s well-aimed fist hits his nemesis. It’s the Bombay Kapow if you will, and a worthy name for this retro Indian café. Dishoom’s menu is filled with Mumbai specialities and exciting versions of good old brunch classics. And each certainly knows how to pack a punch.
Situated on Upper St Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden, Dishoom is a popular restaurant modelled on the original Bombay cafes that used to fill the streets of the bustling Indian trade port during the 19th and 20th centuries. Then, they were commonly known as Irani cafes, as they were opened by Persian immigrants to the city, and were traditionally places where worlds could collide: immigrant and native, rich and poor, family and business. From the rickshaw puller to the wealthy businessman, these were welcome coffee houses where people could watch the world go by over a hot cup of chai.
Very few of these old Bombay cafes remain in Mumbai nowadays. And as this tradition sadly dies, Dishoom is resurrecting some of this faded colonial elegance for the London crowd. And it largely succeeds. As you walk in, the black and white tiling, wooden tables with gleaming marble tops, and rotating overhead fans immediately imbue a sense of retro glamour. There are sepia Bollywood photos framed all over the walls, reflected back on themselves in shiny mirrors. Low-hanging lamps and polished brass bars give it a smoky brasserie feel. All this, and you can even keep an eye on the chefs as they bustle about the open-plan kitchen.
Décor aside, we had heard a great deal about the food at Dishoom. So, with this in mind, we went along one Sunday morning for a spot of brunch. Our verdict? This was brunch that lived up to expectations. Dishoom’s comprehensive menu includes all the traditional Mumbai specialities, and the breakfast section itself is a bold take on ordinary brunch fare, each with its own Bombay spin. There are bacon naan rolls with homemade chilli, spiced Bombay omelettes, and the full Bombay breakfast complete with akuri (Irani spiced scrambled eggs on toast), crispy bacon and juicy Cumberland sausages. Like any decent continental breakfast buffet, there was a thoughtful selection of breads on offer. Forget the humble baguette, at Dishoom it’s all about roomali roti and garlic naan. And those watching their weight can sample the breakfast lassi, a delicious yoghurt drink with mango, banana and oats.
Feeling adventurous, we tried the Dishoom chicken roll, which turned out to be delicious grilled chicken exquisitely seasoned with herbs, leaves and garnished with chutney, all served in a lightly baked roti. Yes, it felt odd to be sampling such strong flavours before midday, but somehow it worked. Less impressive, however, were the vada pau which we shared as a table. Billed as a Bombay obsession, these curried potato and chutney buns were somewhat heavy, the texture a little too gluey to be savoured.
And whilst any good brunch lets a good brew tie it all together, at Dishoom it’s the array of chai teas and lassis that put the icing on the top. The menu listed everything from the virtuous mango and fennel lassi (the ideal accompaniment to a spicy brunch, I discovered) to the genuinely named ‘naughty chocolate chai’ complete with chocolate shavings and a shot of Bourbon.
For those who can’t stomach the thought of curry in the morning, then lunch and dinner at Dishoom looked good too - the menu offering everything from chicken tikka with ginger and green chillis, to sheekh kebabs and grilled masala prawns. Even on a lazy Sunday morning, Dishoom was a fast-paced crowd-pleaser, and with prices modestly ranging from £2.50 to £7 apiece, it was brunch on a budget, too. This is one jewel in London’s list of brunch brasseries, and a fitting tribute to Mumbai’s heritage. Just don’t try it if you’re hoping for brunch to cure a hangover…