Monday, 22 October 2012


The idea for Dishoom comes from the East, from the bustling Iranian coffee houses that were scattered across Bombay (as it then was) over a hundred years ago. Dishoom initially opened in Upper St Martin's Lane a couple of years ago. Now it has gone East again, to Shoreditch, to a new yet artfully distressed space on Boundary Street. It feels a bit ersatz, at first, if not quite the full Disney: chipped plaster; lots of battered Indian artifacts scattered around; dog-eared posters and sepia-tinged family photos on the walls; to say nothing of instructions to chai-wallahs, taxi-wallahs and others chalked on the carefully roughened, dirtied walls.  Ceiling fans rotate lazily as if to dispel pre-monsoon heat.

Even during the soft opening, though, there is a buzz about the place, with queues waiting in line at weekends. The original Bombay cafes were renowned for drawing in a wide cross-section of city folk to sit and chat or do business over a quick bite, and the same seems to be true here too: Indian families (multi-generational groups, many in sarees) rub shoulders with Hoxton hipsters and couples on first dates, or fans just back from the football.
Roomali Roti, Black Dall, Paneer Tikka and Raita
We are introduced to the menu by a very keen, Eastern European waiter, who explains it works a bit like Indian tapas: the cultural collisions begin to jar. Some odd "fusion" moments have also crept onto the menu itself: a section called Ruby Murray; dishes called Dishoom Slaw and Chilli-cheese on toast; nestling in the cocktail list are Chaijito and Bollybellini.

However, the food itself is a different matter. It starts well with impeccable Chai and salted Lassi.  The Lamb Boti Kabob is succulently well-cooked, the Raita and chef's Special Black Dall are both rich and sloppy, and the Paneer Tikka is crisp, juicy and very well spiced.  Reassuringly, there are also some real Mumbai favourites here as well: Keema Frankies, dribbling with lamb and chilli juice, and battered glass bottles of Thums up and Limca.  The highlight though is the delicate, lacy Roomali Roti, a wisp of bread just right for dipping, dunking, wiping or scooping.

The ceiling fan is still turning, seemingly bringing on the monsoon itself: it's now raining outside.

Saturday, 13 October 2012


Get thee to a nunnery. Oh, ok then, and I’ll have a cappuccino and a double chocolate brownie while I’m there. And perhaps one of those bagels, and a Nude Espresso.
The Carmelite Café is a long way from Elsinore, in a part of East London that may have been familiar to Shakespeare but one he would struggle to recognise now. (And no, that's a different Stratford.)
Bow has been the victim of some vicious urbanization; any romantic notions of cockney sparrows, Bow Bells and St Clements are dashed by the heavy tread of regeneration, the need for new housing and Tesco Metros. But do some exploration on foot and you’ll find clues to the past. The original Bow Church is still there, albeit surrounded on all sides by fast moving traffic, and St Clements stands in derelict splendour. The Bryant and May Match Factory, scene of Annie Besant’s matchgirl strike, has been sensitively restored. And the Carmelite Nunnery now houses Art galleries and this great little café. Bow’s history hasn’t vanished – it’s just kind of hiding.

Here we are in NoBow, just north of the Bow Road, in the London Artists Quarter, and a short slings and arrows shot from the Olympic site.  The reek of oilpaint wafts out from the studios that line the narrow alleyway leading to the Café, several advertising their wares by slapping old paint against the walls.
Small, unpretentious and dedicated to good homemade fare, The Carmelite is a quiet haven, and place to contemplate whilst also stocking up on carbs before plunging out into the rough and tumble of London life. Food for body and soul in a modern kind of way. The coffee is excellent and there is a good range of cakes, croissants, etc, to go with it.  High points are the zinging apricot jam (in colour and taste) and the rich, crumbly flapjacks.  The service is warm and friendly, and there's a genuine concern to see that everyone gets exactly what they want.  Nothing is too much trouble.

So Shakespeare obviously knew a thing or two about the best coffee places in London.  A shame Ophelia didn't heed Hamlet's excellent advice, but we will be back again soon.