One of the most eagerly awaited city centre restaurant openings in recent years, Dishoom has announced they will open in Manchester this winter, in the historic Manchester Hall on Bridge Street.
Like their other restaurants, this newest member of the Dishoom family will pay loving homage to the old Irani cafés of Bombay, and will be open every day from early until late with capacity for 200 diners.
Irani cafés were once part of everyday life in Bombay. Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were almost four hundred of these cafés at their peak in the 1960s, breaking down barriers by bringing people together over food and drink. Fewer than thirty remain.
The expanding Dishoom brand now boasts five branches in London and one in Edinburgh. But what can we expect when it comes to Manchester?
We headed to London to explore the branches, meet the founders and chefs, and try as much of the menu as possible to find out. 26 dishes – including their famous bacon naan roll – and 11 drinks later, here’s what we’ve learned.
First look at the interior:
The Dishoom team loves exploring the connections between their restaurant locales and Bombay, so they visited Bombay’s Freemasonry Hall – the Lodge Rising Star – for inspiration. Many of its charming or eccentric characteristics have informed the design for Dishoom Manchester.
The creative team behind Dishoom always write a story – a founding myth – for each restaurant. This provides the basis for every design decision and is always rooted in Bombay history. While exploring Bombay-Manchester links, the team discovered a novel called The Tower of Silence, written by little-known author Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier and published in 1927- the same time that Manchester Hall was under construction.
The novel sees the fictional but famous British private eye Sexton Blake and an elusive Parsi vigilante known only as ‘Beram’ journey between London, Manchester and Bombay. The restaurant continued this story, imagining how it might have progressed, for their Manchester narrative.
“We look at how we can bring the building to life in a way that’s faithful to our heritage,” says Dishoom’s marketing manager Sara Stark, who has invited us to Dishoom’s head office in Shoreditch to see plans for the Manchester branch.
Diners enter the building on Bridge Street and go upstairs to the lobby, where they’ve made use of the original tiling and parquet floor. A light, bright breakfast room includes original artwork, fixtures and light fittings from Bombay.
A dining room with stained glass windows has a striking structure in the centre. “It will bring in the feeling of the family rooms in the original Irani cafes,” says Dishoom co-founder Kavi Thakrar.
The bar area, overlooking the dining room, will be known as the Permit Room. Since 1949, and to this day, Bombay has been under a state of prohibition. A personal permit is required by law if one requires “foreign liquor and country liquor” for preservation of health.
Set apart from the family room, there are places known unofficially as Permit Rooms, where liquor can be sold and imbibed, but only for the goodness of one’s health.
And what of the food and drink? Will the Manchester menu be the same as the other branches?
“A lot of our menu is the core Bombay comfort food that people come to us for,” says Kavi.
But Manchester will have its own special dish as well as several bespoke cocktails unique to the city. These are currently top secret, but details will be revealed soon. There won’t be any bee or Hacienda themes though, they insist.
If the dishes we tried are anything to go by, Manchester is in for a treat.
Dishoom have become famous for their breakfast, and especially the bacon naan roll. Each naan is freshly baked – by hand, and to order – in the tandoor oven.
Graced with cream cheese, chilli tomato jam and fresh herbs, the naans are wrapped around Ramsay of Carluke’s smoked streaky bacon which has been matured for two weeks and smoked overnight. Other fillings includes handmade, award-winning Shropshire pork sausages and free-range fried eggs.
Other breakfast options include kejriwal – two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast – along with organic porridge oats cooked with milk, banana and sweet medjool dates.
Keema Per Eedu is a Parsi power breakfast: spicy chicken keema studded with delicate morsels of chicken liver, topped with two runny-yolked fried eggs and sali crisp-chips. The ultimate hangover cure, they say – and after a night on the cocktails ours certainly did the trick.
There are fresh fruit juices, house chai and breakfast lassis, as well as boozy Bloody Marys. The Dhoble, a refreshing breakfast cocktail, was ironically named for the notorious party-pooping assistant commissioner of police of Bombay, Vasant Dhoble. Think fresh orange and lemon juice, Luksusowa vodka, jaggery and orange bitters, served over ice.
Executive chef Naved Nasir’s all-day sharing menu of Bombay comfort food – small plates, grills, biryanis, salad plates, rolls and curries – is equally enticing.
“The Covent Garden restaurant opened in 2010 and was really well-received,” says Naved. “We felt there was a big gap in the market. There were traditional curry houses and fine dining restaurants, but nothing in between.”
The menu certainly delivers.
There are snacks of crisp samosas and spiced okra fries, spiced minced lamb and peas with toasted home-made buns, and bhel: puffed rice, Bombay Mix and nylon sev (crunchy seasoned chickpea noodles) tossed with fresh pomegranate, tomato, onion, lime, tamarind and mint. Garlic and cheese naans are freshly prepared and cooked to order in the 500-degree tandor oven.
House black daal is dark and deeply flavoured, the lentils cooked slowly for over 24 hours. Gunpowder potatoes are smoky-grilled, broken apart and tossed with butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs. And the Vada Pau is Bombay’s version of the chip butty, sprinkled with red ‘hillbilly’ Ghati masala to taste.
Then there’s the grill section. Vegetarian paneer cheese is marinated then gently charred with red and green capsicums. Chicken tikka is a family recipe, using a marinade of sweet vinegar rather than yoghurt and laced with ginger juice, turmeric, garlic and green chilli.
Juicy lamb chops lie overnight in a marinade of lime juice and jaggery, warm dark spices, ginger and garlic before being blackened by the open grill.
Puddings are just as comforting. Memsahib’s Mess is a take on the Eton, with fresh cream, crushed meringue and strawberries lifted by fragrant rose syrup. Melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding is served with a scoop of Kashmiri chilli ice cream. Kulfi, a sweet, creamy lolly, comes in mango, pistachio and caramel flavours.
Then there’s Kala Khatta Gola Ice, which proves divisive. Fluffy ice flakes are steeped in kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, white and black salt. The first spoonful tastes bizarre – spicy and pungently salty. The second spoonful is captivating. Some find it too unusual, the chef says. I couldn’t get enough.
Naved has a word of advice for diners intrigued by the unusual dessert. “Just try a second spoonful before you send it back!” he insists.
Equal thought goes into the drinks menu. There are slings, coolers and fizzes alongside pale ales and wheat beers, wines by the bottle and glass, and alcohol-free cocktails.
The classic Gimlet was devised for sailors to evade scurvy, and Dishoom’s shakes Portobello Road gin with Rose’s lime and a touch of celery bitters for a punchy short drink. An Old Fashioned muddles Woodford Reserve bourbon with bayleaf reduction and green tea. A Bollybellini sees raspberries, lychees, rose and cardamom sparkling with prosecco.
At the Shoreditch branch, one of the specials is Lamb Raan, a leg of lamb marinated in chilli, garlic and ginger, braised overnight with spices, then flame-grilled, sliced and dressed with fresh lime. At Christmas, they do the same process with a turkey leg.
“It’s the best turkey you’ll ever have,” promises Kavi.
The Manchester restaurant will open towards the end of the year, just in time to try the special Christmas menu.
We can’t wait. And luckily, Manchester won’t have to wait much longer. See you in the Permit Room.
Dishoom Manchester will open in late 2018, date to be confirmed.