A long-awaited opening brings an authentic taste of Bombay to Birmingham at Dishoom, as Amy Norbury discovers
If you haven’t taken a trip into Birmingham city centre since lockdown began, you could be forgiven for feeling a little disoriented when you do.
Take a stroll up from Grand Central and venture up past Victoria Square and what was, back in March, a vast building site in the place of the old library is now home to the smart new Paradise development, combining office, retail, leisure and residential spaces galore.
The first piece in the Paradise puzzle is One Chamberlain Square, a vast office building which overlooks Grade I listed Birmingham Town Hall, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the Chamberlain Monument fountain and is now mostly home to professional services firm PwC’s largest UK regional office.
But nestled on the ground floor of this impressive piece of architecture is one of the city’s most hotly anticipated restaurant launches.
Dishoom pays loving homage to the Irani cafes 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, though, fewer than 30 remain.
These cafes broke down barriers by bringing people together over food and drink. They were the first places in Bombay where people of any culture, class or religion could take cool refuge from the street with a cup of chai, a simple snack or a hearty meal. People from all walks of life shared tables, rubbed shoulders and broke bread together.
With restaurants already in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, the family’s newest member, Dishoom Birmingham, was mid-way through its launch when lockdown struck.
But happily, you can’t keep a good eatery down, and eager punters flocked to the stylish restaurant when it eventually flung open the doors in mid-July.
And once the launch frenzy, followed by a packed month thanks to the government’s Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, had passed, J’AIME were delighted to be invited over to sample Dishoom’s Bombay classics for ourselves.
Inspired by Birmingham’s history as the ‘city of a thousand trades’, Dishoom Birmingham explores the
unique parallels with the trades and markets of Bombay and the importance of the city’s commercial past. The stylish interior features plenty of quirky touches inspired by Bombay’s cafes, while a spacious wraparound terrace offers ample outdoor dining.
The menu, meanwhile, is packed with Bombay comfort foods for any and every time of day, from breakfast bacon naan rolls to late-night snacks. Street food staples, hearty biryanis, rich curries and the famous grills of Colaba all vie for space among executive chef Naved Nasir’s creations – guaranteed to transport diners right into the heart of India.
Our Dishoom experience started with a couple of classic dishes, the pau bhaji, £5.70, and the chilli chicken, £6.90. The pau bhaji is, according to the menu, the essence of Bombay in a dish. A spicy mash of mixed vegetables served with a toasted, buttered homemade bun, this is simple pleasures at its finest.
The chilli chicken is a prime example of the crowd-pleasing Indo-Chinese cuisine offered up by many Irani cafes. Our plate, piled high with crispy chicken strips coated in a sticky combination of garlic, ginger, soy and chilli was definitely one to order again; moreish, comforting and packed with flavour.
Each Dishoom has its own signature dish which reflects the location in some way. And in Birmingham, home to Britain’s Balti Triangle no less, it had to be a curry. But rather than trying to flog baltis to Brummies, Dishoom’s creative chefs have offered up something a little different.
Think of a korma, and you could be forgiven for picturing something heavy on the cream and coconut and light on the, well, flavour. But you’d be wrong. Birmingham’s signature mutton chaap korma, £19.50, combines marinated mutton chops with a rich sauce full of onions and cashews to create a classically Indian version of the dish – none of your watered down, extra mild curry here, because at Dishoom, the korma certainly packs a punch.
The accompanying khamiri roti is beautifully light and crisp, perfect for mopping up the tender mutton and luscious sauce. It’s a curry worthy of a place on Birmingham’s culinary map.
A slow-cooked jackfruit biryani, £12.50, is a flavourful vegetarian take on this classic rice dish, with the brightly coloured saffron-infused rice punctuated with fresh herbs and sweet jewels of barberries and sultana, the satisfyingly meaty texture of the pulled jackfruit belying its vegetarian credentials.
With a bowl of greens, £4.50, on the side – the tastiest grilled broccoli, snow peas and kale tumbled with a zingy dressing of chilli and lime – it made for a sumptuous feast which we devoured with relish.
Dishoom’s impressive drinks menu features a vast array of tasty cocktails, fine wines and refreshing beers, but we washed down our lunch with some signature soft drinks; delectable sparkling passion fruit sharbats, £3.90, and cups of house chai, £3.20, made the proper Bombay way.
With little room for pudding, the mango and pistachio kulfi sticks offered the perfect conclusion to a whistle stop tour of Bombay’s – via Birmingham – finest.
In a year fraught with difficulty for the hospitality industry, Dishoom’s introduction to the Midlands may have been a rather stunted one. But in a city not short on Indian dining options, the tantalising taste of Bombay has certainly found a most welcoming home.