The first thing you notice is the space. Dishoom is big. VERY. BIG.
In an age of bijou restaurants, where owners limit their exposure by limiting the number of covers, in an era where small is good and cavernous spaces are used to store grounded aircraft, Dishoom bucks the trend.
Occupying one of the key sites in Birmingham, overlooking Chamberlain Square, Dishoom is colossal.
With vast spaces that seem to extend somewhere beyond the Ring Road, it houses a huge number of covers. In an age of Covid-19, Dishoom is simultaneously packed and socially distanced, with room still to spare.
It wears that well, however, and boxes of drinks are stored overhead, in see-through crates. The bustling ambience makes it feel like a railway station or some other public free-for-all-space and in a week where British temperatures mirrored those of India, the concept could not have been more thrilling.
Dishoom is intended to replicate the busiest of markets in India and it does so pretty well. There may not be the smells and dust, the hawkers’ voices or humid warmth, but there is the clatter of happy noise and aroma of freshly cooked curry. It more than passes muster.
The concept has been rolled out across five locations in London in addition to Manchester and Edinburgh. Dishoom is an emerging chain that is going places and while the rest of the hospitality industry contracts, it is flexing its muscles and enjoying rapid growth.
The all-important Covid-guidelines have been put in place and patrons queue briefly outside before being shown to the reception desk.
Those with reservations are walked to their table by staff and a bottle of hand sanitiser, rather than menu, is the first thing brought to the table.
The young and energetic staff have clearly undergone the same training regime with all quick to enquire of their customers’ wellbeing, though at times service is almost a little too much.
One over-zealous waitress hovered later on as I attempted to eat. She muffled, indistinctly, through a face mask, repeating herself three times as chicken hovered on a fork.
“Would it be okay if I just ate?” I eventually asked, and she departed, shoulders shrugging. Training is all well and good – and the staff have clearly been drilled like an electrical appliance at B&Q – but there has to come a point where humanity intervenes and discretion becomes the better part of valour.
The concept for Dishoom is that of cafe, bar and dining, rather than out-and-out restaurant. Just as The Ivy caters to a crowd who enjoy quintessentially British food, so Dishoom does similar for fans of Indian food.
That means you can order a bacon naan roll for breakfast, or a sausage naan roll with award-winning Shropshire sausages wrapped in a naan and spiced with cracked black pepper.
There are specials for those with dairy intolerances and gluten allergies as well as plenty for vegans, kids and groups looking to feast.
The principle menu, however, is the All Day Dining Menu, which features a range of rolls, tapas-sized plates, grills, side dishes, biryani and a small number of curries. It’s an interesting concept, where tiny plates of samosas, gunpowder potatoes or kebabs replace the traditional starter-main-side combos beloved by so many restaurants in our region.
The drinks menu is wonderfully extravagant with teetotal tipples mixing with slings, coolers and fizzes, a vast array of wines, plenty of cocktails and a number of champagnes.
I opted for two small plates and a curry with naan, a generous lunch when one fewer small plates would have sufficed.
First up was a plate of chilli chicken, an Indo-Chinese dish of crispy garlic, ginger, soy and chilli chicken. It was fabulously hot, to the point where I imagined I’d become a dragon from a book of legends and was literally able to breathe fire. It was a stunning dish, big on flavour and with more heat than the Pakistani pace attack. I wondered whether it might be prescribed on maternity wards to induce deliveries.
A mango lassi with carraway doused the flames, though I quickly had to order another as the dish continued to smoulder.
Happily, a paneer with pineapple side brought the temperature under control. The subtle cheese had been lightly marinated in delicate spices and was served with grilled pieces of fresh pineapple. Hot pineapple is one of nature’s great gifts and this very-Indian take on a 1970s British classic was a treat.
My main was a chicken ruby, a delicious and expertly cooked chicken curry with a silky makhani sauce. Rich, buttery with plenty of cream, ample spice and a sweet tomato base, it was delightful, a quality dish from a kitchen with good skills.
A naan bread mopped up the sauce.
I skipped coffee, heaven knows what a shot of caffeine would have done following the chilli chicken, and made my exit following a quick, no fuss lunch.
Dishoom is a restaurant that is going places and moving fast.
Having launched at the worst possible time, it presumably has a well-oiled PR machine that is spreading the word quickly.
On a day when it might expect to be less than half-full, it was packed with happy diners who were tucking in merrily to its simple and flavour-packed food.
Or perhaps word of mouth, that most reliable of recommendations, has done the job instead. In a short space of time, Dishoom has become a firm favourite among discerning West Midlands diners and looks set for a long and successful stay in the Second City.
A menu full of interest and intrigue, a dining room buzzing with anticipation and excitement, well-trained staff who are determined to please and a drinks menu that offers drama and delight make this a stand-out venue.
It’s heartening to witness sectors of the hospitality industry thrive when the cards are so heavily stacked against it.
Yet Dishoom has done just that and is putting smiles on the faces of diners of all ages.
Chilli chicken, £6.90
Keema pau, £6.50
Vegetable samosas, £4.90
Dishoom chicken tikka, £9.70
Gunpowder potatoes, £6.90
Sheekh kabab, £9.90
Chicken berry Britannia biryani, £12.50
Jackfruit biryani, £12.50
Chicken curry, £12.50
Dishoom slaw, £4.20
Garlic naan, £3.50
Steamed basmati rice, £3.50
1 Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3AX
0121 809 5986