It isn’t often that somewhere like Dishoom opens.
Not only was it (one of) the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, the Manchester site was the seventh in line in a dynasty of well-respected and successful restaurants.
Dishoom has an air-tight concept that pays loving homage to the Irani cafés that were once part of the fabric of life in Bombay. Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were almost 400 of these cafés at their peak in the 1960s.
Today, fewer than 30 of these establishments remain in what is now Mumbai – a place far away from the nostalgic magic of the Irani cafes.
Although modest in its conception, the 231-cover restaurant located in the Masonic Hall on Bridge Street certainly holds an air of grandeur. I don’t know whether it is the paintings, high ceilings or stained glass which gives it away, but one feels like you are sat inside some converted country estate. Despite Dishoom only being open just over a month, the place feels ‘lived-in’ – which I assume is exactly the point.
It is important to point out that this Dishoom is completely unique compared to its London and Edinburgh relatives. Each Dishoom has their own varying identity, taking inspiration from the aforementioned Irani Cafés in 30’s Bombay, right up to 60’s London (and everything in-between).
At the Manchester Dishoom, you are greeted with a tiny reception before being led through a labyrinthine series of incense-filled rooms to your seat.
We were greeted by a friendly waiter who took us through the menu in which he was incredibly well-versed. I understand that Dishoom put a lot of time into their staff and it shows.
Ordering was therefore easy – we just went with everything he suggested and left it at that. Minimal stress with maximum results.
Starting with a cocktail (and finishing with copious amounts of beer), we supped on a couple Chevalier’s Sours (£8.50) – a delectable concoction of raspberry, tamarind and Rangpur gin which was made especially for the Manchester site, I believe. Chin bloody chin.
On to the food, it was one of those comes-when-it’s-ready affairs which I am more than happy with.
First up was the Chilli Chicken (£5.90) which was a fantastic marriage of Indo-Chinese flavours. Coated in a crispy outer-layer and tossed in a sticky sauce of garlic, ginger, soy and chilli which combined to bring the most perfect umami flavour.
Chole Puri (£9.50) was a hearty bowl of chickpea curry served with puffed, oily puris (balloon bread). The warning that it was the hottest item on the menu was the main pull for me, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. This dish was served with a sweet halwa on the side which really undercut the spice as well as some pickled veggies for an extra element.
This Chole Puri was a vegan dish, and I always love to get bamboozled by accidentally eating vegan, however, the next dish neutralised it. The Nalli Nihari Biryani (£16.90) is the ‘Manchester Special’- a dish reserved exclusively for the Manchester menu.
It takes a famous hearty and robust dish- the Lamb Nihari which is synonymous with celebration and made it into a biryani which makes it all the more exciting. Topped off with a golden and crisp puff pastry lid, what lies beneath is layers of tender lamb shank with rice and caramelised onions.
This dish is filing to say the very least- so I would suggest sharing it between a few of you, that’s if you think you will be able to share the succulent meat without breaking out in a fight. On the side is a delicious Chicken Liver Raita (kaleji) which was the real star of the show for me as well as a sumptuous Nihari Gravy. Top marks.
On the side, there was a portion of Gunpowder Potatoes (£6.20) from the grill menu (smoky-grilled and broken apart potatoes tossed in butter and aromatic herbs) and the House Black Daal (£6.20). The latter was a real highlight and a nice change from the more-often-than-not bland daal.
Cooked over 24 hours, the result of this daal was dark, rich, deeply flavoured and creamy. There was an underlying note of tomatoes which niggled at a nostalgic love for tomato soup when I was a child. To call it comforting would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Somehow, I managed to find room for dessert. Granted, I took a little convincing, first from the waiter and secondly from the beckoning smell of the Chocolate Pudding (£6.90) as it went past to some other lucky customer.
This did not disappoint in case you were wondering. It was gooey, melty perfection with a deep dark chocolate flavour and topped off with Kashmiri Chilli Ice Cream which brought a welcome tingle of spice with each bite.
The Memsahib’s Mess (£5.70) wasn’t my bag but they get top marks for trying to turn me into a fan of meringue. Apparently, this is what the Memsahibs of Malabar Hill used to serve at their fancy schmancy parties and was a perfect marriage of Indian ingredients with a British classic.
My favourite of the three though however was Kala Khatta Gola Ice (£3.50), which is said to be a bit of an acquired taste. It sits somewhere between a sorbet and a cocktail as it takes shaved ice and steeps it in sweet kokum fruit syrup so it looks a bit like a slushie. So far so good.
What they then do is add blueberries, chilli, lime and salt which makes it savoury, sour, cold and sweet all in one confusing mouthful.
The first spoonful is a very strange experience, but you will find yourself going back for more and more. It makes the perfect way to cool your mouth down from spice too and after eating you can consider your palate officially cleansed. No meal at Dishoom is complete without one if you ask me.
All in all, Dishoom is certainly an experience. Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping into a time portal where you are transported to a different world of sleepy sepia-toned nostalgia.
The food is nothing less than exquisite, and it challenges everything we think we already know about Indian cuisine. Everyone is catered for whether you are an avid meat eater, vegan or teetotal – Dishoom is inclusive of everyone just like the Irani Café’s it has evolved from.
Dishoom like to keep their tables unreserved, so you may need to wait if you arrive when it’s busy.
If you have a group of 6 or more you can reserve below:
Dishoom Manchester, 32 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT
0161 537 3737