There are currently five Dishoom restaurants in London (skip these to go straight to the story & people behind Dishoom’s launch, and its subsequent growth) –
Dishoom Covent Garden
The original: a gorgeous monochrome brasserie with tiled floors, lazy fans whirring overhead and evocative Bollywood posters on the walls. Sip Hoppy Paanch (a foamy mix of Dishoom IPA, whisky and butter syrup) in the downstairs cocktail bar while you wait for your table, before tucking into this branch’s unique dish; a delicate prawn moilee served with idiyappam, a ‘string’ hopper made from rice noodles… VIEW DETAILS
Details: 12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB | Mon-Thurs 8am-11pm, Fri 8am-12am, Sat 9am-12am, Sun 9am-11pm
Evolving subtly in its East London home, the second Dishoom has a tangibly more bohemian, eccentric feel than its predecessor. The bar here takes centre stage with its homemade, Indian-inspired bitters and peach brandy moonshine; and out back there’s a convivial verandah filled with inviting antique sofas, mismatched chairs and an eclectic collection of household clutter… READ MORE
Details: 7 Boundary Street, E2 7JE | Open Mon-Wed 8am-11pm, Thurs/Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 9am-midnight, Sun 9am-11pm
Dishoom King’s Cross
Taking inspiration from its station neighbour, the third in the family is a vast, multi-storeyed space with the unique aesthetic of an old gentleman’s club housed in an industrial godown (an East Asian warehouse). Wood-panelled cocktail bars and lazy, Colonial-era furnishings are married with ironwork, exposed beams and dimmed, industrial lights, with a basement cocktail bar to kick off the evening… READ MORE
Details: 5 Stable Street, N1C 4AB | Mon-Wed 8am-11pm, Thurs/Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 9am-midnight, Sun 9am-11pm
Sweeping Arco lamps, psychedelic upholstery and low-slung, midcentury furniture give an appropriately 60s accent to this Carnaby Street offshoot, immersed in a soundtrack of hypnotic 60s ‘beat’ music from Indian and British bands. Like its predecessors, it has both excellent cocktails and dishes inspired by Bombay street food, but unlike its predecessors, it also has a signature dish of gravy-braised lamb with buttered roti… READ MORE
Details: 22 Kingly Street, W1B 5QP | Open Mon-Thurs 8am-11pm, Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 9am-midnight, Sun 9am-11pm
Perhaps the grandest branch, Dishoom Kensington finds itself in the former Barkers’ building off High Street Kensington, and melts into its 1930s architecture with softly curving booth seating; art deco glass panels and vintage lighting. The whole place is cast in a soft-focus glow, like an old movie, and the end of the week sees live jazz musicians take to the stage… READ MORE
Details: 4 Derry Street, W8 5SE |Open weekdays 8am-11pm, weekends 9am-11pm
THE PEOPLE & STORY BEHIND DISHOOM
In 2010, Shamil Thakrar had no idea how restaurants worked.
He was, instead, a successful strategy consultant, while cousin Kavi and co-founders, Adarsh and Amar Radia, were in finance. And yet from the off, their labour of love, Dishoom, has become something of a darling of London’s restaurant scene. No other place seems to have captured the public imagination quite like it. In the face of London’s obsession with novelty, it’s stood strong for eight years – and despite opening another four branches here (with one more in Edinburgh and another mooted for Manchester), its famously long queues still haven’t dwindled. The fans have only multiplied proportionally.
And it’s not hard to see why: the Bombay-inspired dishes are perfection on a plate (and surprisingly affordable). The service is consistently warm and welcoming. And the beautifully thought-out, nostalgic interiors transport you across continents and through time.
Not bad for a bunch of amateurs.
Tired of the clichéd tropes that defined Britain’s relationship with India, they wanted to tell a new story. And so Dishoom was born: a tribute to the Irani cafés of old Bombay, opened by Iranian (then Persian) immigrants in the early 20th century. Themselves inspired by the Grand Café tradition in Europe, they had their heyday in the 60s, with over 400 in the city – a number which has since dwindled to around 30. But crucially, they had values that resonated with Thakrar and co.; as Bombay’s ‘outsiders’, these café owners welcomed everyone – and it’s this egalitarian democracy that they found so fascinating.
B Merwan, an Irani café open since 1916.
Of course, balance sheets are generally pretty indifferent to dreams, philosophies and values. And having worked in business from the other side of the table, it was hard not to worry about figures in the early days. They let staff go home early in quiet periods, and tried to negotiate with suppliers for lower prices. But despite their best belt-tightening, the figures stayed put.
And so they did something relatively unheard of – they decided to loosen their grip, and trust in the concept. Instead of focussing on the numbers, Thakrar forged a new doctrine: “creativity, complexity and culture” – and it’s this staunch refusal to sell-out that’s ultimately fetched them a cult following.
That creativity is obvious in every branch (see above). The attention to detail in the interiors (designed with Afroditi Krassa and then Russell Sage) is nearer the level of film-set than restaurant, whether its the stacks of household bric-a-brac sourced for the Dishoom Shoreditch verandah, or the Dishoom Covent Garden clock that recalls its iconic counterpart in Mumbai’s Victoria Station. What’s saved Dishoom from meeting the same grim, soulless end as most other corporate roll-outs is the distinctive identity of each of its branches; each continuing to pay homage to those Irani cafés, but given their own voice, their own story to tell that’s subtly informed by the culture of its neighbourhood, the architecture of its setting, or a particular time period. Each is instantly recognisable as a Dishoom, yet each is unique.
As for complexity, the team vowed early on not to reduce the offering on their menu, or to try to cut corners. Instead, they tried to ‘unlearn’ some of their business nous and embrace quirks and complications. The result is a place that never feels like it’s trying to cheat its customers – it’s one of the only restaurants in London where they’re prepared to give your entire table a free meal on the roll of a dice*.
And the culture? Well that’s not just for the diners’ benefit. New staff do yoga with Thakrar during training to raise spirits and promote the idea of ‘selfless’ service. The company holds festivals not just to celebrate religious occasions like Holi and Christmas, but also private ones mid-year for staff and their families (they bring every one of their Edinburgh employees down by train). No wonder they’re ranked as one of the best companies to work for. And on top of all that? They donate a school meal to disadvantaged children in India and the UK with every meal that’s served.
So, maybe the secret to owning a successful restaurant in these difficult times is to stay true to your philosophy, and er, be nice. Unfortunately, however, most chefs and would-be restaurateurs don’t have the capital that would enable them not to have to answer to investors who have different ideas on how to run things.
But for now we can be happy, at least, that we have Dishoom….
*It’s called the matka, and it’s specific to each branch. Just walk in and ask nicely if you can have one – if you roll a six on a weekday before 6pm, don’t reach for your wallet.
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