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Hot spots: Dishoom, Covent Garden, London

Catharine Nicol


Is this a typical Indian restaurant? Traditional Indian restaurants are an institution in London and if you've been in one you've pretty much been in them all. There's the music that makes Pavlovian dogs of your taste buds; the mouth-watering but strangely armpit-like aroma; the velvet seating; and the white tablecloths soon to be spattered with poppadum crumbs, condiments and curry. Dishoom, by contrast, is a cafe that's heir to the popular Persian immigrant-run eateries that had their heyday back in Bombay circa 1960 (see main travel feature). Located in Covent Garden (with another branch in Shoreditch), it offers a breath of fresh, um, spices, with a modern, open-plan interior (open kitchen included), checkered floors, low lights and ceiling fans, and Bollywood portraits. It's kind of Anglo-Indian meets French bistro. Don't be surprised if you laugh out loud at the witty menu or the board listing a string of forbidden activities, including the combing of hair and talking loudly.

No talking loudly? Is it a bit formal? No, Dishoom has a welcoming, casual feel, despite being surprisingly stylish. Its popularity means there's a buzz here from the moment it opens for breakfast - serving bacon or sausage nan rolls, or "fire toast" (served "char-striped") - through to the lunchtime rumali roti (flatbreads; or more literally "handkerchief breads") with warm murgh malai kebab, and dinner, which runs late into the night. This means having to wait for a table is likely - especially in the evening, when you can't book for parties of less than six. There are, fortunately, several good pubs in the Covent Garden and Leicester Square vicinity to help pass the time.

What's the crowd like? When seated (the ground floor is more fun than the basement), you'll find yourself surrounded by young, beautiful Indian diners, most of whom look as though they have stepped out of a Bollywood movie. There are also plenty of other Londoners and tourists, all drinking in the friendly service and the bhang (without the, err, bang, obviously), rose and cardamom lassis, cocktails, wines, Indian beers and chai, which, when mixed with alcohol (the Naughty Chocolate Chai comes with bourbon), makes a great alternative to Irish coffee.

What about the food? The staff give helpful advice about how much to order and which are the most popular dishes. It's advisable to turn up relatively early to sample the popular rumali roti, but if you miss out there's plenty more on the menu that will have you vowing to return. The addictive "gunpowder potatoes" are small skin-on spuds roughly squashed with herbs, spices and onion; kheema pau (right) is spicy minced lamb served with white rolls rather than rice; the kacchi lamb biriyani is a pot of perfectly cooked and lightly flavoured basmati hiding big chunks of meat underneath; and the house black daal is a medium spicy, creamy mess of lentils - the ultimate Indian comfort food.

Dishoom is open from 8am weekdays and 9am on weekends. For more information, go to



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