Tag Archives: Dishoom

London’s Bombaywallahs. The chefs of Dishoom Shoreditch

London's Bombaywallahs

1993, Bombay: Ten-year old Yashpal Gusai begins plotting a career that would not involve mathematics or science.

1996, Gurdaspur: Rishi Anand peers into a tandoor that stands taller than him as he plays sous chef to his father in their back garden.

2005, Kathmandu: Tanka K.C follows a friend into a part-time job, cooking Indian food for tourists visiting the Pashupatinath Temple.

2011, Varkala Beach: Agra-born Saleem Khan gets on a plane to Heathrow, leaving the beach shacks of Kerala for the love of his life.

2013, London: Fourteen strangers work together as long lost friends, recreating the spirit of Bombay in a Shoreditch kitchen.

Fourteen chefs that were handpicked from across the Indian subcontinent by Dishoom’s Executive Chef Naved Nasir. With each one he was looking for three things – skill, personality and the talent to work a tandoor. “My chef interviews begin with making bread,” Naved shares. “The moment they touch the dough I know whether to take them or not.” As a result the kitchen has a strong team of tandoor experts that knead, roll, twirl and flip over 800 roomali rotis each week.

Growing up in Meerut, one of India’s most ancient cities, Naved never imagined he would one day be responsible for a team of chefs in London that serve 7,500 guests over 21,000 portions of food each week. Not even when he, at age five, took over his mum’s kitchen, cooking the family his favourite meal of mung daal khichdi with desi ghee and dahi. Naved fell into hospitality by accident. Adamant not to follow his father’s footsteps into medicine, he took up hotel management as a lark. Sixteen years later, as he begins to recounts some milestones – training in the hallowed kitchens of Dumpukht and Bukhara; working with Master Chefs Mohd. Shareef and Imtiaz Qureshi; leading a banquets team serving 3,000 guests a day; ITC Hotels’ youngest Executive Chef of the time – he almost sounds as if he is talking about someone else.

On a balmy Monday morning not so long ago, the exceptionally talented and unassuming Chef Naved treated me to a day with his chefs in their Shoreditch kitchen. This was my one chance to understand just what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick.

7am: I am assigned to Chef Sandy Shanmughan in the curry section, responsible for the daal, curries, biryani and chai. After “opening” the spotless kitchen, his first task of the day is to begin brewing the tea with Dishoom’s secret combination of masalas. He next turns his attention to the masterpiece on their menu – the Dishoom Black Daal. Their daal – the process for which begins at 6pm the evening before – takes nearly 24 hours to make.

Dishoom Black DaalBy the time Sandy has got to the daal this morning, it has been washed for an hour, boiled for a couple more, and then left to cook in its steam overnight. Without giving away much more of their secret recipe that I had the privilege of witnessing in action, he never strays too far from his vat of daal for the rest of day. It’s been a long journey for Sandy, from his mum’s Kerala kitchen to joining Dishoom three years ago. Listen to him explain the nuances of cooking his favourite dish on the menu – 50 litres every day – and it becomes clear how he is in the job destined for him.

9am: Breakfast service is in full swing and I adjust myself into a safe corner to watch Chef Tanka K.C expertly manoeuvre his way from fryer to grill to tandoor as he sends out order after order of Full Bombays, Bacon Naan Rolls and House Porridge.

11am: I now get to hang out with the only woman in Dishoom’s kitchens – Chef Sapna Macal – their powerhouse of a pastry chef. I aIMG_2930m mesmerised as Sapna swiftly kneads, cuts, measures and rolls 150 pillows of pau, whilst telling me about growing up in Hyderabad and spending afternoons watching Sanjeev Kapoor cook food on TV. Sapna barely pauses for breath as she tells me the story of how she earned her spot on the Dishoom team with her version of a chocolate mousse, all the while baking a Pineapple Crumble, piping cream on to a Memsahib’s Mess and serving up a dozen Mango Kulfis. (I compare this to how all the other (male) chefs had to stop what they were doing to answer my questions!)

More chefs begin joining the kitchen. Each one announcing himself with a distinct war cry. Each one flying the flag for a different part of the Indian subcontinent. Dishoom’s kitchen is a poster child for national integration – a lot like you see on the streets of Bombay.

Chicken Berry Biryani1pm and a food trial: Every Monday, Head Chef Yashpal Gusai, Manager Rob Ferne and Bar Wizard Carl Brown test a few dishes and drinks from the menu. The Chicken Berry Biryani didn’t quite cut it this week as the chicken pieces were too large. And the Chilli Cheese Toast lost a lot of points for “uneven browning”. This is a tough panel to please! From the cocktails we tried, my favourite was the Monsooned Cobbler (“Malabar espresso, bamboozled with spices, Cognac”) that you drink in two stages. First, black, as it arrives. Then you add cream, taste and pause as the drink transforms itself in your mouth. Genius!

I return to the kitchen with Yash. Even though he grew up watching his father cook, it wasn’t until he was faced with a potential career as an engineer that he considered a hotel management degree. A similar story to Naved’s, Yash shares, “I hated maths and science so decided to become a chef. Only, I didn’t realise how much time I would have to spend out of the kitchen and in the classroom!

The handsome chef towers over the rest on his team, taking in every station at all times, jumping in to help when the number of orders gets the better of a particular station. As the head of the kitchen Yash’s day is taken over by admin more than anything else. “I couldn’t change a light bulb before, but now am a mechanic and magician all rolled into one.” The only time he does cook is when he goes home to his mum’s kitchen, “but they don’t appreciate my restaurant-style cooking.” He was head hunted for Dishoom while working in Bombay’s Kabab Factory and almost didn’t go for the interview “because the name – Dishoom – was a bit weird.” But three years on he hasn’t once regretted his decision to move to London and Dishoom.

Chef Mobarak2pm: I am at my favourite station – the tandoor. Chef Mobarak Sheikh wowed Naved with the technique and speed with which he made his roomali rotis. The Orissa-born roti genius is all smiles all the time and even humoured me with a lesson in roomali rolling. He is joined by Chef Purna Prasad. You can hear and smell this section before you see it. The two chefs work like magicians, filling each order that comes in with soft roomalis, crisp naans, and my favourite – the moreish cheese naan. Growing up in Kathmandu, Purna always wanted to work in Bombay one day. That he is today working in a Bombay Café in London is such a lovely irony!

5pm: Dishoom is one of the few restaurants that has a dedicated grill chef. A genius move considering the 2000+ portions of kababs they sell each week. As I helped Chef Jaffer Khan skewer over 20 kilos of the Dishoom Chicken Tikka (for dinner service) he told me about his life as a computer operator in Delhi before his career took a more delicious turn. When he isn’t prepping for the Murgh Malai and serving up mountains of Paneer Tikka, Jaffer is on Skype with his new bride, counting the days before she joins him in London.

I return to the curry section to meet Chef Saleem Khaan.  A Dishoom success story, Saleem began as a kitchen porter and in two short years was promoted to a section chef. He takes over from Sandy and begins the Black Daal process for the next day. Like every other chefs, he also made sure I was well supplied with chai and chat even as orders flew in.

The kitchen’s second in command is Chef Rishi Anand. At 24 he is one of the youngest chefs in the room, but comes with experience that belies his age. He grew up making tandoori chicken at home with his father but went on to specialise in Pan-Asian cuisine first with Indian hotel giants Oberoi and then at Tamarai in London. He joined Dishoom to open their Shoreditch restaurant but still misses cooking Chinese food sometimes. His Orient-inspired staff meals seem to be everyone’s favourite!

The next few hours are a blur as dinner guests flood Dishoom Shoreditch and the kitchen is enveloped in a melodic flurry of sounds – claps of rotis, hissing kababs, crackling calamari, bubbling daal, and the chefs secret language to make sure that every dish in an order is finished at the same time.

Naved ensures his team is always involved in the creation of new dishes, “They have to produce the dish for the thousands who walk into our doors – I need my chefs to be happy. My only instruction to them is to ‘Think of Bombay and dream up an honest dish’.”

Can I now explain what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick? Can I explain what “Bombay food” is? Probably not. Bombay has many foods, each with a distinct personality. Yet the city has made that food its own. A lot like the fourteen chefs who travelled the world to make the kitchen of Dishoom Shoreditch, their own.

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This feature was first published in the online magazine The Non-Resident Indian. Read the original post here.

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Filed under Bombay, Daal, Foodie adventures, India, Indian, London, Open kitchen, Restaurant, Shoreditch

Circle of friends. A Birthday Month celebration

I turned thirty in London. It was a potentially horrid day – not only had I seen enough girlfriends turn thirty, depressed and surly, it was going to be the first birthday I would spend with absolutely no family or best friends with me. Until this year I never really gave birthdays much thought beyond presents, guest lists and a dress budget.

There wasn’t much I could do about turning thirty but I was determined not to get depressed or surly. So I came up with Birthday Month – why wait an entire year for just one day when I could celebrate an entire month filled with my favourite things? This year Birthday Month featured a day on London Underground’s Circle Line. The original version of this concept included youngsters getting out at every stop on this tube line for a pint. Instead, I picked favourite restaurants, cool bars and added a few boozers (as homage to the original concept). I also made up a few rules:

  • Eat or drink only one thing at each stop.
  • Everyone must have one alcoholic drink at least every third stop.
  • We won’t stop at every stop…
  • …and may walk for some of the journey.

Emails sent, announcements tweeted, phone calls made… this Table for One was looking forward to sharing her table with a new circle of friends.

Stop 1: Liverpool Street: Dishoom Shoreditch

I was seven minutes late for our 11.30am start, and boy was I glad not to be punctual. Arrive on time and I would have missed out on this debonair welcome party!

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Stop 1 had us eating Bacon Naan Rolls (Nayan, Martin, John and Thomas), Vada Pav (Naman), Nankhatai and Jeera Biscuits (Serena) and Akuri (me), There were also many cups of chai, a bloody mary and a few Kingfisher beers on the table.

I may have said this before but I’ll say it again. Dishoom’s Bacon Naan Roll is one of the most delicious pieces of genius I have ever tasted. A fluffy naan, crispy bacon, chilli jam and cream cheese. What’s not to love?!

Stop 2: Farringdon: Vinoteca

My original choice for this stop was Burger & Lobster but they didn’t open until 4pm and we had to improvise. Many thanks to our resident winemaker Nayan, for suggesting Vinoteca. It was only right that he chose our drink for this stop – a beautiful prosecco that went down (too) well.

A common Twitter acquaintance introduced me to Nayan Gowda and my first meeting with him was spent in a (different) wine bar. I have to admit, that if you had asked me then whether Nayan and I would become friends, my honest answer would have been no. He was charming beyond words and I spent the entire afternoon wondering if I may be a tad boring for him. Our worlds seemed so different… until I decided to take us both out of these tiny boxes I had trapped us in. Today I am thrilled to be able to call Nayan a friend. A great one.

Stop 3: King’s Cross St. Pancras: Wine Pantry

The Wine Pantry is the cutest new wine and spirit bar and serves purely British products. It is also where I came up with my version of the Circle Line day. We lost Serena to a working Saturday, and were now the Joy of Six who drank Sheep Dip Whisky (John), Old Salt Rum (Naman), Kernel IPA (Nayan), sparkling wine (Martin) and Rhubarb Chase Vodka (me). Thomas cheated and brought in a coffee from next door. Thomas Mielke is my most grown up young friend. From our first holiday together (Budapest in 2007) to our forthcoming trip to NYC (next week) he has been an unwavering pillar in my life. I have not felt so close to someone I am so dissimilar from. Six years later we sometimes resemble a crotchety old couple, and have agreed to disagree on many things (except perhaps my drawing skills).

Just as we were ready to leave we were joined by newlyweds Giulia and Sandy. We were now the Hard Eight!

2013-03-16 14.11.54Stop 4: Euston Square: Mestizo

We had every intention of walking to Euston Square. London rain had other plans for us and the Hard Eight took a rather long tube journey for a rather short distance. Mestizo, one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in town, was chaired by my favourite bartender John Leese. I first met John when he was making cocktails at the Match bar across from my office. Short version of our story: I flirted, he asked for my number, I gave it to him, he took two years to call me!

We may have never been on a date but (now that I have forgiven him for taking his time to call me) I know I can count on John. And I don’t just mean for good cocktails.

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John ordered the group (except Thomas who chose beer, and Martin who wussed it out with water) shots of Olmeca Altos tequila. But this beautiful tequila deserved sipping, and we all had strict instructions not to touch the salt or lime. John seemed to need a personal moment with this drink – as a result of which we got a mini master class (and iPhone-aided slideshow) on agave, mezcal and tequila. We ordered the customary guacamole (photo above by star photographer Giulia) and all agreed that today it was infinitely inferior to the free salsa and chips at the bar.

Stop 5: Great Portland Street: Queen’s Head & Artichoke

Grey clouds gave way to a burst of sunshine and we walked to Stop 5. Giulia and Sandy left us for furniture shopping and we were joined by a frozen Laxmi. It was a round of Timothy Taylor’s ale for everyone at Queen’s Head & Artichoke – a beautifully restored Victorian pub with the friendliest staff I have seen at any pub in the city, and a much needed fireplace.

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Stop 6: Bayswater: Mandarin Kitchen

We lost Thomas to a phone call and John to his job. What you have now, ladies and gentlemen, is the final group that will from hereon be known as the New Famous Five.

It was 4pm and I was craving MSG. The original plan for an Egyptian meal at Edgware Road was abandoned for greasy Chinese at Bayswater. Naman took care of the veggies (aubergine and tofu fried in garlic), Nayan ordered the minced pork with red chillies and Martin made an executive decision about an oyster omelette. All shockingly delicious, considering our location.

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What was shockingly un-delicious was Naman’s choice of rice wine. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so….

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This momentary lapse in judgement aside, Naman Ramachandran’s expertise in food and drink cannot be faulted. I first met Naman nearly ten years ago when my mother published his first book Lights Camera Masala. I have only recently reconnected with him and his fantastic better half Laxmi Hariharan. Many weekends are now spent cooking in each other’s kitchens and I am especially looking forward to my birthday lunch of real Bengali food, personally guided by half-Bong, Naman.

Stop 7: Notting Hill: Kensington Wine Rooms

After the ghastliness our palates were subjected to at the last stop, we demanded proper wine. Good thing Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Wine Rooms’ extensive wine by the glass menu were only one tube stop away. Nayan took charge again and ordered us a delicious bottle of red. I wish I could remember which one it was… It’s the seventh stop and the rules have been well and truly abandoned. Nayan spotted a South African wine made by his friend and ordered a second drink!  We’re definitely not yet drunk but the New Famous Five were now reduced to giggles for pretty much the rest of the day.

Stop 8: South Kensington: Comptoir Libanais

We were hungry again – the Chinese meal had not made a dent in anyone’s appetite. Thankfully Laxmi’s hummus cravings began exactly when we were whizzing past South Kensington and its Comptoir Libanais branch. I have nothing against chains except that unfortunately most abandon any hint of taste or flavour in favour of mass-produced mediocrity. Comptoir Libanais is thankfully different. The hummus and falafel were excellent, Martin, Nayan and Naman were happy with their arak and I loved my Mona cocktail with rose and prosecco.

I announced a new rule at this stop – no phones. So we had no photos, tweets, or people disappearing from the table. For the first time all day I had the chance of a proper chat with Martin. I don’t know if my words can do justice to our relationship. In the six months I have known him, Martin has seen me experience great joy, hit rock bottom, reach out to him, and shun his help. All through this he has been a rock and the best mirror I could have asked for. What more can a girl want? (p.s. Martin Lumsden outblogged me with his artistic view on our Circle Line day; read here.)

Stop 9: Victoria: The Shakespeare

You don’t get more touristy than The Shakespeare at Victoria station. The pub was filled with St. Patrick’s Day revelers and we got our very own four leaf clover.

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Stop 10: Embankment: Wahaca Pop Up

I have a soft spot for Mexican food (it’s the only cuisine to have featured twice on this Circle Line day) and all month long have been looking forward to Wahaca’s pop up on South Bank, and more specifically its fried grasshoppers.

Wahaca is the only restaurant in London to serve this Mexican delicacy. The grasshoppers have an earthy taste flavoured with garlic, smoky chipotle chillies and lime, and served as a baby lasagne smothered with cheese. The insect eaters in the group were not too impressed. There was just not enough grasshopper (or maybe way too much cheese) to have a real notion of what grasshopper must really taste like. Even the other dishes we ordered – guacamole, mushroom quesadilla and pork pibil tacos were strictly average today. We are all Wahaca fans and can only write this off to limitations in their pop kitchen.
2013-03-16 21.42.25The tamarind margaritas on the other hand were ace as usual and Nayan and Martin approved of their mojitos.

One of my favourite views of London is on the walk between South Bank and the Embankment tube station on the Hungerford Bridge. I’m glad this Circle Line day ended here, with my circle of friends, exactly 12 hours since it began.

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I have now had six Birthday Months and wonder why I was so worried about not being with family and best friends. Life always does come to a full circle. It doesn’t happen the way you planned it. But, always better.
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You can view more photos from the day here.

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Birthday Month, Brunch, Chinese, Cocktails, Foodie adventures, Lebanese, London, Mexican, Oysters, Small Plates, Street food, Wine, Wine Bar

To brunch, with love

He left me…” I cry.

Bastard.” said the well meaning friend/parent/sibling.

The first and last time I received a Valentine’s Day anything was when I was 17. Since then I have been in several relationships and as they broke, Hallmark’s most nauseating “holiday” lost its romance for me. The annual appearance of red lingerie in shop windows and Menus for Two at restaurants fills me with irritation – for the stores, the chefs, but mostly for the men who broke my heart.

Each time a relationship ended I was in self-pity heaven and hating them just helped me continue feeling sorry for myself. J Krishnamurti said it best: “So what you are really saying is, ‘As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.’

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Today I am giving up making them wrong. And what better way to bring them back into my happy memories than with a luscious brunch?

Read my blog for One Minute London where, in preparation for Valentine’s Day I revisit three restaurants (Providores, Dishoom & Workshop Coffee Co.) and three romances: http://www.oneminutelondon.com/blog-valentines-day/

Happy Valentine’s Day.

-p

 

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