One day, an eccentric old Irani Café (born circa 1930, Bombay), creaking slightly at the seams, made the long trip from Bombay in 1970 to London in 2012. Tired from the long journey, it shuffled into an empty space in Shoreditch and made itself comfortable. This old Café had for some time been maintaining correspondence with its slightly more showy cousin who had made a similar trip and had found a home in Covent Garden.
However, while the cousin in Covent Garden had worked hard to polish, primp and style itself, this Café was less concerned. It knew instinctively that the layers of imperfection and eccentricity built up over the many years of serving customers in Bombay weren’t merely clutter to be cleaned up and scratches to be polished out, but were in fact its very memory and character. It decided to leave its disheveled corners right where they were, as little reminders of home.
Gradually, as it grew to know and love its new community, it realised that it felt very much at home in it. The customers enjoyed hearing its stories of old Bombay, many of which were even true. They liked the faded pictures of the relatives on the walls. They smiled as they gradually grew to know the quirks of this old Café – which seemed constantly to be hankering after a lost mid-century Bombay. They seemed to care little that the shininess of the Covent Garden cousin was absent.
And most of all the Café loved serving food and drink with so much enthusiasm. The food which came quickly out of the open kitchen. The Lamb Raan which had been cooked overnight and seemed completely at home in a burger. The warm baked biscuits and Keema puffs, just like those still being served at Sassannian Café in Bombay. The endless cups of chai, the best thing to revive energy levels on a wilted Tuesday afternoon. The bar, which served the most delicious and sincere old cocktails – Flips, Gimlets, Juleps and Sours, felt even a bit pre-‘47.
Brunch on Sunday would be deliciously lazy, laced warmly with the aroma of the bakery. Lunch with colleagues on a Wednesday, busy and brisk, waiters bustling on to the verandah with trays of abundant food. Afternoon chai would provide a calm refuge from the East London street. Meanwhile, dinner and drinks on a Friday or Saturday night would see the place at its liveliest, buzzing with Londoners coming to a good old knees-up hosted by the eccentric old Café.
Throughout, the Café smiled inwardly to itself. It was never happier than when it was being true to itself and serving its guests – sharing its love for Bombay, serving its food, telling its stories. And before too long, the Café began to feel as if it had always been there wedged comfortably into Boundary Street, accumulating its own East London layers.
DISHOOM SHOREDITCH, 7 BOUNDARY STREET, LONDON E2 7JE. (OPENED OCTOBER 2012.)
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We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.
Crisp and organised, Roda Irani leads her daughter through the narrow gullies of Swadeshi Market. “Come, let us get to the café.”
Its not often you get the chance to make 1 + 1 = 3, but if you ever do - you should grab it with both hands. Because these are the moments you will remember, the ones you will cherish, the ones that makes it all worthwhile.
Under a canopy of stars and lights, we welcomed our biggest-ever line-up of exceptional South Asian talent to Dinerama for our Diwali celebrations.
Coronavirus has blown our world apart, and all Dishooms are currently closed. It feels like the right thing for us to do.
While the restaurants are closed, we offer solace in our cookery book, which is most certainly still available to order. May it bring Dishoom, joy and plenty of Daal to your home. From all of us, with love.