Dishoom. It’s taken me a while to get there and more’s the pity. Dishoom succeeds on every level. To a certain extent I mean that literally. It is an enormous area with four floors to choose from and yet it oozes atmosphere. The last few years I’ve been sacrificing, if necessary, food quality for ambience. I am not prepared to eat while shouting – like here and here – and my boycotts know no geographical confines.
Yesterday we decided to give Caravan a try; it being one of the said boycotted cafes, we hadn’t been there for years. Walked in, sat down. Noise from speakers being pumped out, like it’s a night club for the hard of hearing. People shouting over it. And it’s breakfast time. Seriously? I can’t believe all these people actually think shouting during breakfast is the right way to start the day. But apparently they do. Far out.
We went far out before we’d even started looking at the menu. Well, not that far, really. Just around the corner to Dishoom which has been on my list to try for a long time now. For those who don’t know, it’s a homage to the Irani cafes of Bombay and it’s visually stunning. In keeping with the vintage feel is layback jazzy sound at a level which can be heard or ignored. Voice level is at a happy buzz, not the loudspeaker shout of Caravan.
We were in our element, so bring on the food. Everything on the breakfast menu is tempting, but I couldn’t go past:
KEEMA PER EEDU
A Parsi power breakfast: spicy chicken keema studded with delicate
morsels of chicken liver, topped with two runny-yolked fried eggs and
salli crisp-chips. Served with home-made buns. (S) 9.50
Is chicken liver in keema a traditional touch or a Dishoom innovation? I don’t know, but it was genius. The eggs were runny, as advertised. I wasn’t taken with the buns, but that’s because I’m not a Brit. I ordered a plain naan, possibly an extravagance at £2.90, but the dish was worth it.
The other breakfast dish we ordered was:
Two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast. A favourite of the well-to-do
Willingdon Club, the first such Bombay institution to admit natives; the
dish is reputedly named for the member who kept asking for it. (V) 5.90
That and a drink: a £10 breakfast of excellent quality.
We went back mid afternoon for a late lunch. Post breakfast, there is a full menu which is available all day. We were torn between almost everything on it, but in the end settled for:
HOUSE GREEN SALAD
Toasted pistachios and shredded spearmint leaves are jumbled with finest, greenest broccoli, fresh red chillies, pumpkin seeds and dates. All is dressed up with lime and chilli (V)(N)(S)9.50
Delicious, savoury jackfruit and delicately saffron’d rice, potted and cooked with mint, coriander and sultanas. (V)9.90
Puffed puris lay next to a hearty bowl of spiced chickpea curry, with sweet halwa alongside. Eat altogether. (V)9.50
These came with a variety of chutney/raitas.
Fantastic. And a special word for the service here, it was perfect.
Lantana It’s been a few years since we last visited this Fitzrovia cafe. It’s appallingly noisy, but doesn’t offend the way Caravan does, as long as you don’t want to talk, that is.
We were particularly taken with:
on sourdough with poached egg, labneh, hazelnut & pistachio dukkah, courgette & fresh herb salad with your choice of
Bacon 11.5 or Halloumi 11.5 or Beetroot cured salmon 12.5
Spiced poached pears, orange mascarpone & pistachio crumble 11
Coffee, tea and service were all excellent.
The reason we hadn’t been to Lantana for a while is that we felt like they’d dropped their ball. Like Dishoom, Lantana started out as a small venture, one cafe, and became an empire. Does anybody manage this and not pay a price? If the interest is in food, in having a cafe, why are so many of those who set up a cafe planning to take over the world? I much prefer cafes which are there for the love of it, not the empire building. Nonetheless, I have to say that both these mini-London empires have, at the moment, in their flagship locations, impeccable standards. I do hope they can be maintained.
The real indie
Savoir Faire We happened to walk past this slightly eccentric establishment and the menu looked both excellent and cheap. Their website proclaims:
This is neither a chain restaurant nor a franchise, it is a family owned and run restaurant and has been in business since 1995.
We cook all our food, sauces, bread, pates and desserts on the premises. Everything is homemade with fresh and natural ingredients. If we can’t make it, we don’t have it! We never use precooked food, flavour enhancers or preservatives. We only use natural butter, cholesterol free oils or olive oil.
Our wine has been sourced from the best wine producing countries in the world and the wine list has been put together with care, to offer the best value for money wines. The price you see is all you pay. There are no hidden charges and all the meals come with vegetables and a basket of freshly baked bread. We have no happy hour or buy one get one free. We try to give the highest quality food at the lowest possible price. There are very few restaurants that can make this claim.
And indeed, our meal attested to the veracity of the claims. We were in time to try their pre-theatre menu. A very nice selection of entrees and mains for £15.95/two courses. Lamb kidneys and bacon in a mustard sauce for me followed by pork belly with spiced pears and roasted vegetables. Oh, if only we could get French food like this in Geneva.