India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
May 13, 2015

2 Indian Foodies in London

Text by Nisha Paul

Meet two food entrepreneurs from London — Shamil Thakrar, owner of restaurants chain, Dishoom and award-winning chef Dipna Anand

For those homesick for the flavours of India while in London, there’s hope in the form of Dishoom, which recently nabbed the top spot in the Yelp Top 100 places to dine in the UK and knocked The Regency and Michelin starred celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, Dinner, to be crowned the best in the UK.

Dishoom is modelled on the Irani café culture of old Bombay with quirky vintage styling that includes striking kitsch Bollywood posters, formal black-and-white family portraits, pendant lamps, whirring fans, monochrome tiles and a continuous flow of all-day grub that keeps the dining room bang up-to-date and swirling.

Despite a no-booking policy, the Covent Garden venue is often running a full show with buzzing young waiters that smoothly balance skewer-wielding action, carrying platters of sizzling charcoal grilled kebabs, simmering curries and savoury Indian street food. It’s a wonder that they don’t land up going ‘dishoom-dishoom’!

Dishoom’s first venue opened in Covent Garden and has been followed by successful duplicates at Shoreditch and King’s Cross. Interesting concepts include, a sign at the entrance at Shoreditch that greets guests saying Permit Room, which is Indian-English for ‘alcohol-licensed premises’ and a quick reminder of the old days of alcohol prohibition rules in India. And it seems only fitting that the old large transit shed at King’s Cross station which was used for more than a 100 years for transporting goods between Britain and India is now a much-in-demand recent endeavour, imparting tasteful original spicy Indian flavours at affordable prices.

SHAMIL THAKRAR
The Founder and owner of Dishoom, chats about his views on his expanding restaurant chain across London…

What was your inspiration?
Somehow we’ve always felt that there was more to say about Indian food and culture in Britain. Like any long and familiar relationship, that between Britain and India can sometimes feel stale. Although I grew up in London, I used to visit Bombay frequently to be with my grandparents. Somehow it seemed sad that the lovely old Irani cafés were closing down. They are charming, of course, but they also represent an important tradition – they were the first places in the city where anyone of any caste, class or religion was welcome to have a cup of chai or a bite to eat. So we really wanted to preserve this heritage and share it with Londoners.

What do you think of the London dining scene today?
London’s restaurant world constantly seems to be changing; there are new openings every week…. The restaurants here are incredibly diverse and you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a good meal. I think it’s really important to maintain that.

How do The three Dishoom venues in London differ in style?
It’s a bit like the differences between the Irani cafés. Each of the old cafés had a different owner, a different personality. In our case, although they are all recognisably a Dishoom, the designs are all quite different. We have a slightly different food offering at each and we have a different range of drinks on offer. Where they are all similar is the love and care and enthusiasm we put into curating a lively, buzzing space where all are welcome to come sit, eat, drink, meet, chat, read, work or simply linger and enjoy some chai!

What are your signature dishes?
Each café has its own Chef’s Special. At Covent Garden, we serve haleem, which is a slow-cooked lamb delicacy with wheat, lentils, coriander, cumin and lots of other aromatic spices. At Shoreditch, it is the lamb raan, a whole leg of lamb marinated in chilli, garlic and ginger, braised overnight with spices, then flame-grilled, sliced and dressed with fresh lime. We also put the pulled meat from the leg in a bun and serve it with a Dishoom ‘slaw’, some sali crisp-chips and a couple of chillies. Dishoom King’s Cross has nalli nihari. This is a real ‘working man’s’ meal.

Would you be opening a venue in Mumbai?
We have our hands pretty full. Our priority is not opening more restaurants but making sure every guest who comes through our doors feels totally looked after.

Special table 

“I am sure we have had a few celebrities through our doors, but our ethos is to be very democratic – all are welcome and everyone is treated with the same hospitality. I would, however, gladly make an exception for the owner of Britannia café Mumbai. If he ever came to London, I would give him the best table in the house – he is a true legend.”

Combating homesickness 

Dishoom’s Covent Garden venue features an open-plan kitchen with chefs handing out breakfast dishes like bacon naan roll, kejriwal (a green-chilli cheese toast topped with fried egg that originated in Willingdon Club, Mumbai), akuri and Bombay omelette. Definitely worth sampling are the fusion bhel with pomegranate, crispy calamari (drizzled with their house dressing of chili flakes, lime and jaggery), the 24-hour cooked black daal, spicy chicken tikka, the kacchi lamb (sealed with dough and slow cooked with rice the traditional Hyderabadi way) and the succulent chargrilled lamb boti kebabs that are a perfect accompaniment for the handkerchief-thin roomali rotis that melt in your mouth. Drinks include Thums Up and Limca (guaranteed to make any Indian nostalgic), bhang lassi (served with or without rum) and piping warm chai served in glass tumblers. Not to be missed is the Memsahib’s Mess, reminiscent of what the Malabar Hill memsahibs served at their fancy parties and is a delicious concoction of fresh cream, meringue, strawberries, rose syrup and gulkund.

  • Dipna Anand, award-winning chef
    Dipna Anand
  • Dipna Anand: creating healthy Indian food
    Revolutionary cookbook

DIPNA ANAND

A woman with a mission, Dipna Anand, is determined to prove that Indian food can be tasty and good for you at the same time even as she hopes to teach the British public how to cook it. The third generation of a family of chefs, the young Anand has cooking in her blood. For almost 40 years, her family’s restaurant, the Brilliant, has served traditional Indian cuisine praised by such stalwarts as Gordon Ramsay and is a favourite with Prince Charles. Her cookery school in West London offers well-constructed cookery courses and is recognised by the University of West London. Anand has also produced a unique range of Indian dessert ice-creams as well as being a popular face on television.

Having been awarded a National Award in Food Technology (Best food project in the country) as well as her concentration and creation of low fat Indian recipes at Brilliant restaurant, Anand has been on television, the radio and in the news endlessly. Her book of 40 Indian recipes, Beyond Brilliant, that features healthy ingredients and methods of cooking Indian food, is revolutionary in its approach. She claims that her success is due to her passion and commitment to her work, taking generations of her family’s expertise in Indian food to an entirely new level.

My Parents….are my life mentors to whom I owe all the credit for my success. I watched my mum cooking at home whilst growing up and I still watch her today and learn so many new tricks and tips from her. My dad is someone who I have always been inspired to be like; he has a very autocratic type of leadership style and is great at what he does. He is able to give instructions yet always manages to involve himself in the practical work. This is the reason why our restaurant, the Brilliant in Southall is successful. Dad is also a chef and learnt from his father and much of the restaurant and bulk cooking I know has come from him. My parents are my two pillars that stand on either side of me.

Work Experience….is something I feel I gain every day because life is a learning curve. Most of my experience came from my own restaurant where I started working at a very young age. This is what developed my passion even further for the hospitality field and my love for food became even stronger through working with Dad at the restaurant whilst growing up.

Began writing….about six years ago when I started making notes of the recipes I was cooking because I felt that someday I would write a book. In fact this had been my father’s dream for about 10 years. However it was not until 2012 when my award was announced by the UK Prime Minister that I was actually inspired to do so. I approached RMC Publishers who agreed and I gave them and myself six months to complete it, which is a very fast turn-around for a book consisting of 54 recipes. I did manage to meet my target and launched in May 2014. I will hopefully start my next book at the end of this year.

My New Book…. Beyond Brilliant, has been given more publicity and attention than I would ever have imagined. Three thousand copies were released and for a first-time author this is a big amount. I wanted to keep the word ‘Brilliant’ somewhere in the title because at the end of the day my successes stem from our family business. The name ‘Brilliant Restaurant’ was thought of by my grandfather back in the ’50s. As a chef I have tried recipes from books, magazines and the Internet and sometimes recipes do not work and at other times they work but do not look like the picture. Before writing my book I said to my dad, I want all of my recipes to work and they should look exactly like in the picture. I made sure each of my recipes was tested six to eight times. I get emails and social media messages and pictures every day from customers and all the dish pictures I am sent have been spot-on so far.

I am teaching….Indian cuisine, hospitality and catering at The University of West London. I also do guest chef lessons at the renowned world famous Leiths School of Food and Wine and run my own Indian cookery school at the Brilliant restaurant in Southall.

Favourite childhood recipe….has to be suji ka halwa (semolina pudding) which I learnt to make from my dad when I was a child and it was something I would cook all the time as I remembered the easy recipe off by heart. It is included in my book.

A cooking secret….when cooking a curry two key tips you must remember are to always add the two final touches one minute before switching off the heat. Garam masala is always added at the end so that all the flavour of the spice retains and is not lost during cooking (remember a good garam masala will have 12-15 whole spices within it). Fresh coriander too is always added towards the end as its one of the herbs that loses flavour the quickest.

Best meal I had….was made by my mum — masala lamb chops and paratha and to me it’s the world’s best dish ever.

Favourite non-Indian restaurant in London….is Zuma in Knightsbridge; I am a big fan of pan-Asian cuisine and love sushi.

Receiving the Special Inspiration woman award….from the British Prime Minister was one of the proudest moments in my life. I was awarded Personality of the Year at The British Curry Awards event in November 2012 and David Cameron praised me for being a successful female chef in the industry and making the nation proud.

Would like to meet or wish I could have met….my grandfather Bishen Dass Anand who started the food legacy of the Brilliant. He was the king of all chefs and my father tells me how he was a true master of the trade.

In the future my aim….is to teach the nation how to cook ‘real’ Indian food with my own TV cookery show, to open up more cookery schools, with varied cuisines and my own chain of restaurants focused around the concept of tandoori cooking.

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