This week Ultra Vie met the team behind Dishoom, the critically acclaimed Bombay Cafe on St Martin’s Lane. Get ready to plunge into the magical atmosphere of Bombay’s Chowpatty Beach this summer with Dishoom’s pop up at the Thames Terrace on the South bank – open until 4th September.
What is the Dishoom concept? How did you come up with the idea of a Bombay Café in London?
We’ve spent a lot of time in Bombay. Over our many trips we found ourselves inspired by the amazing old cafes. They are very democratic places- anyone is welcome. On any day you might see some students catching up before class, people having business lunches, a taxi-wallah popping in for a cup of chai or a young couple on a date.
They were designed to feel like the grand cafes of Europe- white marble tables, bentwood chairs, mirrored walls. Sadly they are a dying breed. They were first opened by Persian immigrants early last century. By the 1960s there were about 400 all over Bombay and now fewer than 30 remain.
Dishoom tries to capture the spirit and magic of these old Bombay cafes and bring it London. Our cafe feels very much like the original cafes in Bombay. Our menu is inspired by all the food of Bombay- the cafes, the street grills, the beach food. We serve the food we enjoy eating. Of course India if familiar to many Brits, but there was a heritage of food and culture (and a sense of fun) that we wanted to introduce to Londoners.
What are the highlights of the Dishoom Chowpatty Pop-Up at Southbank?
Dishoom was asked to open a Pop-up for the Festival of Britain at the Southbank Centre. It is right next to the beach on the Thames they built for the summer. It seemed the perfect opportunity for us to share Bombay’s Chowpatty beach with London. Chowpatty beach is where all Bombay comes to snack and stroll. Every Bombayite has strong memories of evenings with family and friends spent there- we really love it. Dishoom Chowpatty beach captures the fun and spirit of the famous Bombay beach.
We decided to construct the pop-up in the spirit of jugaad (Hindi for ‘making do’) – old materials, furnishings and decorations were ‘up-cycled’, refurbished and given a new lease of life. We have used brightly coloured barrels for stools, reclaimed railway sleepers as bench seating, a bar made from recycled plastic bottles, walls made from tightly-rolled old newspapers and there are even old freight pallets cladding the outside of the building.
How about the food?
One of the highlights of Chowpatty in Bombay is the Gola Ices (shaved ice treats doused in brightly coloured fruity syrups). People dip the ice in the syrup and slurp away. We serve them at Dishoom Chowpatty beach- virgin or naughty! There are also fresh green coconuts that we serve with shot of rum and squeeze of lime.
We decided to serve some classic Bombay beach food, including Pau Bhaji, the Dishoom Frankie (freshly baked naan filled with spicy lamb mince), and what is almost an obsession in Bombay – the Vada Pau, fried potatoes in a bun with homemade chutneys – call it a Bombay chip butty! The food on Chowpatty Beach in Bombay is delicious. We think the food we serve at the pop-up is just as tasty.
Why did you decide to do a ‘pop-up’ at Southbank and what does a big decision like this entail?
We opened up the pop-up only 10 weeks after agreeing to do it. It was a huge team effort and the pace was non stop. We all absolutely love Chowpatty Beach in Bombay and were really excited to be bringing it to London. The main thing was for us to open something that we were all proud of that represented Chowpatty well. We hired a fantastic team that make sure all our guests are looked after- they really do make sure everyone has a brilliant time.
The food is really important. We worked hard with Naved (Dishoom’s Head Chef – see picture) to deliver a menu that offers snacks and meals as you would expect to find on the beach in Bombay (the Vada Pau and Bhel are must tries) but also gives guests a taste of Dishoom in London (think all day bacon naan rolls!).
Like I mentioned earlier, we created some delicious drinks especially for the pop-up – our Golas are a highlight, they are found all over Bombay and we were pleased to bring them to London for the summer. We even made them naughty with gin, vodka and rum! We have a variety of flavours ranging from the original Kala Khatta (an aqcuired taste for sure, but Indians love it) to a more summery Strawberries and cream or blue bubblegum! Bombay Pimm’s with saffron gin and ginger beer is also worth trying.
On top of all the hiring, cooking and drinks creation, we were also busy turning old offices into the pop-up beach bar. We had to design, source and construct it all pretty fast. In fact there is a photo of what the venue looked liked before we transformed it on the wall. Finding the materials to build everything in the spirit of Jugaad was also a challenge, but was important to us. All in all, a lot happened in the 10 weeks to make sure Chowpatty Beach came to London!
What other projects are you working on for the near future?
We are completely focused on ensuring that Dishoom continues to offer our guests a brilliant experience. We want people to really enjoy themselves. That means tasty food, great drinks, friendly service and enjoying our cafe. As for future projects, there is nothing currently planned. Of course if opportunities like the pop-up beach bar arise, we would definitely consider them!