A very classy place with the richest middle-kingdom nosh I’ve ever tasted. Jake Gyllenhall and Reese Witherspoon were at the table next to ours (with four others) and the highlight of my night was making brief eye contact with him while he entertained his friends with an anecdote. That, and the magnificent lettuce wraps and chilli prawns. Dress up for this one.
Tube: Hyde Park Corner
I have to admit to a twinkly-winking fondness for the Iranian cafés of Bombay; their sturdy tables, glassware, lack of veggie – and most odiously, Jain choices* – and above all, their dry lamb chops and thin marzipan rotis. Zoroastrians run these joints, with a brave conviction that what is best for them is the dish you want to order: homemade and wholesome.
Dishoom opened just three years ago and on my third visit I realised that it may be my last: the bar doesn’t quite know what to do with you if you’re waiting for a table, neither serving you drinks nor putting you in an area of other hungry anticipating punters. Like many London bars and restaurants that have been overwhelmed by consumer confidence recently, they don’t turn you away at the door; names are taken, approx waiting times stated, and then you are waved towards the bar so they can still rinse out your pockets without even waiting on you,
However, cocktails are quite good and the bar area is worth a few minutes of eavesdropping. Young Asian professionals and media types, painted housewives and ex-colony anecdotists, leafy suburb commuters and Sunday supplement addicts all jostle for position here.
The menu offers such Bombay classics as vada pau (potato croquettes with sharp chutney in a fluffy Portuguese-style bun) and bhel (crunchy puffed rice with sharp tamarind chutney and pomegranate seeds). The thin, smoky roomali rotis are the accompanying stars here, soft and slightly moist, though not greasy at all. Their black dahl is lighter than many top-drawer Indian places in London but their lamb samosas are crisp and very meaty. The calamari choice surprised me the first time I came here but I realise now that it’s become such a pescatarian expectation on London menus. But a ganja-free bhang lassi or rose and cardamom lassi just ain’t my bag. Don’t leave without trying the lamb chops.
*A strict Jain diet excludes all meat, fish, onion, garlic, and in some cases even tomatoes.
Reservations are taken for breakfast and lunch, but only for groups of six or more after 5.30pm).
Underground: Covent Garden / Leicester Square
This is possibly the only Surti food restaurant in the UK, and it could only thrive in Kenton or Wembley with the support of the large Gujurati community, as well as curious locals. Plastic tables and veggie food make it look a little cheaper than it actually is; It could actually be considered a desi greasy spoon, with its tea and coffee and fried dishes. The food really is soulful and exceptionally fresh, if a little oily and unhealthy. The signature dish here – and one my grandmother slaved so hard to make – is undhiyu, a heavy mix of stewed bananas, three types of potatoes and beans. Also good was the khichadi, a nicely nutty mix of rice and mung beans, served, thankfully, with a pot of yoghurty kadhi gravy. I always order the almond milkshake and
Go to Tayyabs early on a weeknight and order the lamb chops and juicy seeks kebabs. The mains are nothing to write home about, but it’s easy to order one jeera chicken and a channa masala and be perfectly happy scooping it up with the fluffy naan. There’s been far too much hype about this place on the basis of just two or three dry dishes executed well, but it is a worthwhile experience if you have live nearby or have friends in the area; just don’t queue up more than twenty minutes for it.
BYOB, so $-$$