Indian cuisine generally suffers from having become too British. The spices and tastes of the sub-continent have become as synonymous with Britain as good old fish and chips, which presents both a paradox as much as an opportunity for any new contender.
‘Dishoom’ is the boldest addition in years to Edinburgh’s restaurant ranks and is nothing short of an attempt to reinvigorate the fourth plinth of culinary expectation in the UK.
Styled after the old Irani cafes in Bombay, Dishoom prepares bespoke, freshly prepared Indian ‘street food’ at affordable prices in an elegant example of resurrected history.
Overlooking St Andrews Square, the restaurant is a three-floor historical tour de force of 1920s colonial India. It’s impossible not to sit and behold a sea of sights and aromas that tantalise the senses and open the eyes to the grandiosity of Indian cuisine.
Gone is the Friday night sludge creeping out of aluminium tins. The menu offers a focused selection which, although requiring some explanation, is of modest complexity with a strong option to mix and match.
Of particular delight, the ‘Vada Pau’ is Bombay’s equivalent of a chip butty and serves as a wonderful starter. The delectable variant on a presumed British classic has a solid, spicy kick of apply-your-own Ghati masala powder that might just test the taste buds. The ‘Murgh Malai’ is a worthy main with its rich, delicious selection of chicken thighs in garlic, ginger, coriander and melts in the mouth. Accompanied by the ‘Prawn Koliwada’, crispy prawn pieces with chutney, you have one possible combination in a magnificent menu of flavour.
Bombay’s coke variant, ‘Thums Up’ cola, is an excellent accompaniment to dinner and is equally matched by the ‘Chocolate Chai’, a dark chocolate with spicy chai drink, as a relaxing way to conclude proceedings.
Dishes are impeccably presented and measured without indulging the absurd minimalism that seems to follow city centre establishments. Portions are sizeable, but never enough to obsess over, and ensemble emphasis is rightly encouraged.
The staff are immaculately knowledge on the best combinations of starters and main courses and they do not shy away from making recommendations. Like some ancient Maharaja’s court, they’re attentive to the hilt, charming and charmed and who, and such is a rarity, add to the pleasure of the meal simply by how much of a charged interest they take in your order and experience.
To the cynic, the automatic service charge added to the bill might make one question their sincerity; yet, the choreographed skill with which drinks are ordered and literally appear as the original order is still being taken is a dance of foods impossible not to marvel at. That technology is utilised is not a disservice to their trade, but the pinnacle application of it to the benefit of the customer.
Dishoom holds the rare distinction of creating a vintage period setting that works to showcase culinary capabilities instead of its decor. The skills of the kitchen and authentic environment are neither pastiche or lacklustre, and for such a specialised menu, exuberant service and beautiful setting the cost is both modest and much less than rival restaurants in the city as a whole.
Ultimately, Dishoom’s true triumph is to showcase the skill of the staff and menu with pomp but no condescension. This is a place sure of itself but not cocky; offering specialised dining while clearly hoping for the first-time visitors to relish in their formula. Ignorance is bliss here, and an introduction to another world, or, as they would have you believe, another time.
Dishoom is a revitalization and testament to the possibility of Indian cuisine if it’s prepared with skill and respect. The Edinburgh branch of the London-based chain is much more than a serial franchise. To the contrary, it’s a rare breed of business in that it actually deserves its cross-country distribution. Such is the success of their goal and the joy of the visit that you feel you’re saying hello to an old friend who you never knew you missed.
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