Saturday, 22 October 2011

diwali at dishoom

dishoom covent garden
this tuesday i skipped my yoga class to do something very fun and special. i went to dishoom for a diwali preview dinner. the evening began with all of us seated in somewhat of a circle near the bar downstairs. a most serene and elegant lady brought to life the story of diwali. well known as the festival of lights, diwali is the shortened version of deepawali which literally translates into row of lamps. this five day festival marks the hindu new year. a number of legends from the ramayana are part of the celebration and on this night we heard the story of rama and sita. as vayu naidu says, this is a story for all ages so that in the telling of an epic of old she embraces the new - like the sounds of cocktails being mixed at the bar, or the flavours of food tasting unbecoming to the lovelorn sita. we were even told that the legends have responded to changing times through changing versions. so during the time of the mughal's sita walks behind rama rather than alongside him as is often done in muslim tradition. diwali is an affirmation of hope, of light against darkness and knowledge against ignorance. so rapt were all of us that despite the din near the bar we were able to hear most of the story and join in the conversation afterwards. 

after the story telling all of us diners were led to two booths to begin the diwali feast. the quintessential indian street food dahi puri, bhel and pau bhaji opened the evening. the dahi puri were delicious little crunchy shells filled with creamy yoghurt and the tart flavours of pomegranate and tamarind. the bhel was a combination of crunch, ginger and tart flavours. after that there was a succession of entrees most of which were from the vegetarian and lobster diwali feasts including some of dishoom's favourites. the vegetable biryani came to the table secure under its 'purdah' of dough which is traditionally used in the subcontinent to seal and steam this spiced rice dish. the lobster tail served in its shell was heavily grilled marked. a squeeze of lime brought out the heat of the chili even more. plump grilled masala prawns disappeared as quickly as they appeared. there flesh was soft and piquant with the heat of the grill and chili and coriander. the paneer tikka at dishoom is by far the best i have had in london. thick, soft and creamy cubes of paneer with dark edges had a mild slick of marinade. the peppers retained a bite and added a good contrast to the soft paneer. i recall at some point tasting delicate vegetable koftas simmered in a brick red ruby curry with a sharp chili note. the house black daal heavy with cream is a favourite. i tried not to over indulge so that i would have space to try everything else.

masala grilled prawns
paneer tikka
during the course of the evening i had the chance to speak with one of the three owners of dishoom, shamil thakril. his favourite irani cafe is in bombay and is called britannia. as he spoke about the dying generation of parsi's and irani cafe's bhavit who is the director of the dsc south asian literature festival and i struck up a conversation about the parsi writer rohinton mistry. at some point we were joined by robbie who is also part of the dishoom team. with him the conversation was about food, how to got into the food industry and the tales of growing up in a large jewish family. he did the honours of introducing the table to dishoom made videos on youtube which had us in stitches. 

the entrees were cleared to make way for dessert. there was much kulfi. as i have said earlier dishoom's kulfi could do with a little tweaking, basically a little salt to tame the sweet cream. i would personally recommend that you forgo the kulfi at dishoom for the alco-chai's. i am not sure i would have tried these if i had come on my own. the cognac chai was good but it was the bailey's chai that i really loved. there were bite sized pieces of barfi with a lacquer of dark chocolate. both of these worked surprisingly well as the barfi had a crumbly and loose texture more like a sweet cheese. to close the night i had a chaijito. i really loved this as the cardamom had a strong and very cooling effect. 
dishoom downstairs
dishoom is a polished version of an irani cafe. granted you can get cheaper curry in east london but there is something to be said about being able to come to a place that has a interesting decor, slightly psychedelic flooring and really good cocktails. i know that i'll be coming back for the lobster, paneer tikka, masala prawns and house brown daal. meanwhile, if you are celebrating diwali dishoom is doing a family friendly one on sunday the twenty-third of october. you won't be disappointed. 

on a side note, dishoom chowpatty beach bar is no more, but in case you are interested in reading about it you can do so here.

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