Book Review: Dishoom “From Bombay With Love”

The brilliant new Dishoom cookbook explains the when and why of the restaurants' take on Indian cuisine as well as demonstrating how to make their recipes.

Robyn Alexander

Dishoom | House and Leisure

For Dishoom I am prepared to change my usual meal time. That might not sound like much, but believe me, for the world’s most conventional ‘eat at 7am, 1pm and 7pm’ omnivore – it is. And if you turn up at any one of Dishoom’s seven locations (five in central London, one in Manchester and another in Edinburgh) at 7.15pm, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be joining the rear of a minimum 45-minute queue. 

Dishoom | House and Leisure

Dishoom does do reservations, but after 5.45pm these are taken only for parties of six or more. The queue time is, obviously, worth it – in the locations where it’s situated, there are a myriad of alternatives, so the mere presence of the queue indicates how consistently excellent are the food and drinks.

But given I’ve usually been walking all day when I get to one at 6pm, as I am a tourist where they are situated, I’m always plenty hungry. 

And hungry is the best way to arrive at Dishoom. Inspired by the Irani cafés of Bombay, each branch is decorated in homage to the decor of these unique spaces, which had their heyday in the mid-1950s and are now greatly reduced in number, although still part of the Bombay scene. 

Plus, each branch of Dishoom has its own unique Bombay-Inspired back story and focus.

The attention to detail and research that has gone into them means that these are not gimmicky themed restaurants, but historically accurate tributes to their ‘founding myths’ – whether that is Bombay’s brief late 1960s-early 1970s rock ’n’ roll scene, or Scottish botanist, ecologist and town planner Patrick Geddes, who helped improve the town planning of Bombay and worked in Bombay University’s Sociology and Civics department between 1919 and 1925. The latter’s life story inspired the design and decor of the Edinburgh Dishoom.

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Dishoom | House and Leisure

Dishoom serves up some of the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever had. On a recent visit to the one in Edinburgh we ate keema pau – spicy lamb mince with peas, served with a freshly baked bun to mop up the juices – and the signature house black daal, which is as good as Bukhara’s (I cannot offer higher praise) and takes 24 hours to make. 

Chicken Ruby, perfect basmati and a buttery naan rounded out the meal, with a bowl of chargrilled greens on the side.

When I got back to my hotel, I immediately searched for keema pau recipes so as to try to recreate it when I got home. Even more reason to welcome the Dishoom cookbook, as their recipe is included in it.

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Dishoom | House and Leisure

I’ve also eaten Dishoom’s take on lamb biryani (outstanding) and their succulent murgh malai (grilled spiced chicken thigh pieces cooked on skewers).

All the sides, from classics such as kachumber and raita to less well-known options such as fried green chillies, are delectable too.

I’ve already planned my order for my next visit: the lamb chops, preceded by pau bhaji – based on a well-known street-food snack in Bombay and another of Dishoom’s signature dishes.

And now there is the Dishoom cookbook, although reducing this book – which combines being an idiosyncratic Bombay travel guide with a compelling history of the city’s Irani cafés as well as recipes and the story behind the restaurants’ creation – to a single category seems a bit unfair.

At the very least it is a contemporary cookbook par excellence: a work that explains the when and why of a particular cuisine as well as demonstrating how to make its recipes at home.

I devoured Dishoom “From Bombay With Love”: Cookery Book and Highly Subjective Guide to Bombay with Map (Bloomsbury) in three sittings, reading pretty much every word of this ode to a city and its food.

A city that, authors Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir convincingly show, is one of ’massive and closely juxtaposed extremes’ as well as ‘startlingly full of accumulated difference’ and in the end, ‘once you have found your places of refuge… delightful’. 

Dishoom | House and Leisure

The authors explain their preference for the name Bombay over Mumbai by saying ’To channel the late, great Bombay historian Sharada Dwivedi, we choose “Bombay” over “Mumbai” because we cherish the inclusive, cosmopolitan associations inherent in the older name.’

Suffice it to say that, although I’ve briefly visited Bombay in the past, I now can’t wait to go back, with the map pinned into the front cover of this book firmly clutched in my hand. 

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