Dishoom can be translated as that Bollywood sound effect heard when someone is punched. ‘Pow!’, in another word. This might seem a strange name for a restaurant, but when you walk through the door your nose is indeed hit by that wonderful aroma of gently-frying spices. If this isn’t enough on a Sunday morning to get your tastebuds going then I’m not sure what is. However, breakfast at home at a weekend is difficult to beat: eggs with a kiss, toast with a hug, and bacon crisped within an inch of its life – that’s mine please if anyone’s listening. But it’s still worth trying to beat it with a morning trip to an Indian restaurant, nonetheless. Hindus are well-known for their reverence and utmost respect for cows, to the extent that daily life can grind to a halt to ensure that the animals are wholly satisfied. It’s rather ironic, therefore, that at Dishoom diners are treated like cattle.
The restaurant draws on the Bombay café of yesteryear, but with its checkered tiles, leather banquettes and marble-topped tables, Dishoom gives off a surprisingly colonial vibe; that of faded elegance. The menu is as expected of anywhere that serves breakfast in the capital, but with a subcontinental twist: cinnamon granola; mango and oat yoghurt; and a selection of spicy morning staples, involving eggs and (in very un-Hindi fashion) bacon and sausage. In my mind, the test of a good chef is how he does his eggs. So that’s what we went with.
The Bombay Omelette (£5.90), although it had a nice layer of spice, chilli and red onion running through, was overcooked and oozed cooking oil into now-sodden toast. Raw toast. Bread. A similar story could be said of the Akuri (£5.90), the eggs this time scrambled. Again, good flavour, but the eggs weren’t light and fluffy as they should be, but dry and over-salted. The Full Bombay (£7.90) was a poor attempt at making Indian a British classic: eggs as above with the undercooked bacon-sausage combo that is so unappealing, but ever-present, at hotel buffets. Vine tomatoes were vine-less. All three plates were cold which, combined with marble and air con, resulted in the food being, at best, lukewarm. Just as disappointing was the dirty state of the crockery and glassware. Nevertheless, the porridge with dates and bananas (£3.50), a safe bet, got strong approval from across the table, as did the House Chai (£2.50), a hot milky drink laced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Luxurious, warming, and perfect for the current move into chilly October. I should note that the blogosphere highly rates the bacon naan roll, which – in hindsight – might have been a better option. Equally, the lunch and dinner menu reads much better, and the food has had largely good reviews since the restaurant opened in 2010.
I’m all for things coming in threes. Wise men. Musketeers. Bee Gees. But less so when dining as a four. Three drinks arrived, followed by a fourth ten minutes later. The same happened with the food. The excuse? ‘Oh that’s difficult to prepare’. Not sure you’ve quite grasped why I’m eating-out… The menu states that “Food will be dishoomed to your tables as it is prepared”, but surely this is in reference to the many small plates at lunch and dinner, rather than the one-course of breakfast. With only 10 of the 150 covers seated that morning, I dread how slow things are when queues to get a table snake out the door, as they regularly do of an evening. Service started promisingly with the bouncy “I’m Veronica and I’ll be your waitress this morning” sort, but then completely disappeared. As did the service charge.
I expected better things of Dishoom. The premise is novel and great, and I’m sure it works in the afternoon and evening when the kitchen can really flex its muscles, but the trouble is if a restaurant offers all-day dining it needs to be good all-day. At the moment, it seems Dishoom offers breakfast just because of where it is: a stone’s throw from Leicester Square and numerous surrounding hotels. The British year-on-year have voted for curry as their favourite meal probably because it tastes so different to the usual fare. Indeed, we love it and can handle its differentness. So I suppose I’d like to see the restaurant ditch the ‘classics’, and serve up something totally fresh, allowing the chefs to do what they do best. Only then will the restaurant really live up to its name.
Dishoom, Upper St Martin’s Lane, Leicester Square
23rd September 2012, £38 for four (without service)
Food: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 6