February 12, 2013
Although I’ve been writing for Umami Mart for almost three years, I have yet to meet any of my fellow writers as most of them live across the Pond. But a few weeks ago I received a lovely surprising. Anders, a Danish designer who writes the Skankynavia column for UM and was crucial in designing the Umami Mart shop in Oakland, was visiting London and wanted to meet up! Of course I had to, right?
And so on a blustery Saturday, we met up outside St. Martin in Fields Church in Trafalgar Square to eat some old school Bombay grub in nearby Covent Garden. Dishoom opened about a year ago and is modeled on the vanishing café culture that used to be so prevalent in Bombay. I have no idea what that means but I’ve been hearing lots of good things about this place and thought Anders would be a good companion. It’s a good thing Anders reminded me to book a table because it was packed. The interior was modern with an old worldy, comfortable feel, taking you back in time.
As we ordered our drinks — ginger beer for Anders and a nimbu pani (Indian lemonade) for me — and the waiter plonked a selection of chutneys in front of us.
Coriander and mint on the left (my favourite), date and tamarind at the top and chilli sauce on the right.
We ordered a couple of starters.
Vegetable samosas which were crisp and spicy:
Bhel which is a crunchy, savoury street snack which is a mixture of crispy rice, Bombay mix, diced onion and tomato, slivers of green chillies, pomegranite seeds, coriander, mint and tamarind.
This was cool and refreshing and packed a spicy punch.
We ordered a couple of grilled meat dishes. First came murgh malai, chicken marinated overnight in garlic, ginger, coriander and cream and then grilled.
This was a tad mild for me. The accompanying salad was pickled in salt which I thought was a nice touch.
And my favourite, sheek kabab or minced lamb skewers. This is one of my favourite dishes and I always order it whenever I have South Asian food. Together with the coriander chutney, it’s a beaut.
We also ordered garlic naan and a roomali roti which is thin and stretchy and reminded me a lot of the Sri Lankan godamba roti aka handkerchief. It’s my favourite kind of bread.
And to soak it all, we ordered Dishoom’s house black daal. This was stronger and darker than the usual daal (lentil curry) I’m used to but was hot, creamy and spicy.
You can’t really have a complete South Asian meal without daal. It’s scandalous.
We were pretty stuffed by this point but we decided to celebrate this historic occasion with two desserts to share.
Pineapple and black pepper crumble with cinnamon ice cream. This was a hot pudding with spicy stewed pineapples topped with crunchy oats, sunflower seeds and sugar. I prefer normal crumble topping which is just butter, flour and sugar baked until crisp but the pineapple was delicious.
Anders thought this would go down nicely for breakfast. The cinnamon ice cream could have been a bit more zingy though.
The surprising star of this meal was our second dessert which looked like it could be hit and miss at first but which we thought we had to try: the Kala Khatta Gola ice.
The menu says ‘Fluffy ice flakes steeped in kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, white and black salt. The first spoonful tastes bizarre. The second spoonful is captivating.‘
They had us with the first spoonful and we agreed that it was like an Indian version of kakigori (shaved ice) but weirder. Much weirder. Even the waitress looked stunned that we liked it so much. It was a strange combination of flavours, sweet, sour, salty and hot that worked perfectly and I would go back to Dishoom just for another glass of this. It reminded me of the Southeast Asian tradition of eating fruit dipped in a mixture of salt, sugar and chilli powder which draws out the sweetness of the fruit. Astounding.
I wish I’d tried their chai but we were too full up by them. I could not stuff anything else down my throat.
And here’s a little bonus pic of Anders and I. And yes, I am really short.
It was wonderful to finally meet Anders and I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Umami Mart crew some day.
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