I didn’t just like Dishoom’s Chowpatty Beach on London’s South Bank I loved it. In fact, I’ve not stopped banging on about it. Even colleagues at work are going just to see what I’m making all the fuss about and thankfully, they agree.
So, what do you get when you shift 48 tons of sand to the South Bank, construct a pop-up beach bar-cum-restaurant and serve authentic Indian beach food?
Well, in anyone’s book it’s a pretty good effort at recreating Bombay’s Chowpatty Beach,sadly without the astrologers and monkey shows, the lively carnival beachfront in Mumbai, which comes alive at dusk. The owners of the Leicester Square restaurant Dishoom decided that this year they’d bring London an Indian summer and the best of what beach food from that region has to offer.
Slap, bang, next to the Royal Festival Hall a stretch of the concrete jungle has been occupied by what was once an office prefab, transformed into a brightly coloured tapestry on a dull fifties backdrop.
With just ten weeks to bring their idea to life the designers were incredibly resourceful. For example, the outdoor seating are former Scottish Railway sleepers, the bar made from recycled plastic bottles, a wall made entirely of newspapers and the lampshades are old jars even the exterior cladding keeping the elements at bay are recycled palates.
On arrival you order a drink at the bar and at the same time you order your food. You find a seat inside or outside and then staff issue you with a food ticket. It’s cooked fresh-to-order and vocal waiters scream out your number – some more vociferously than others – and the order is delivered in brown take-away bags. Corrugated cardboard keeps in the heat and protects the delicate contents. If you aren’t a fast eater, however, I’d pace yourself and maybe order in small amounts as it could be a race to eat the food whilst it’s hot. There’s no pre-booking either, it’s a case of rock up and chow down.
The menu is split into four – Famous Naan Rolls, Beach Snacks, Rubies and Hot and Cold. Here’s a little of what you can expect.
Famous Naan Rolls
Who would have thought a Cumberland sausage wrapped up in a fresh naan would provoke as many oohs and aahs as it got? Was it the home-made chilli jam, the quality of the herbed sausage in the Sausage Naan Roll (£4.50) or the price tag that left me wanting more. The Bacon Naan Roll (£4.50) had a couple of thick rashers of smoked back bacon which was also treated to a dollop of that spicy jam and the Egg Naan Roll (£4.50) again was a well fried egg with the even the egg, yolk breaking free in all the right places.
The Dishoom Frankie (£6.00) was a freshly baked naan filled with a spicy lamb mince and red onion.
Pau Bhaji (£4.50) ‘mashed veg’ had a really nice consistency, the spicy masala-like sauce was delicately flavoured and served with a soft bun.
Bhel (£4.00) is a Chowpatty Beach special and the recreation here was a cupful of flavours. Crispy rice, juicy pomegranate, mint, peanuts and a tamarind dressing.
The Vegetable Samosas (£3.50) x3 were lightly spiced with cinnamon again packed with filling and I was pleased to bite into the pastry binding and not be greeted with a mouthful of surplus oil.
Vada Pau (£4.00) the Indian chip-butty was fried to perfection and popped onto a soft bread roll, the only real sense of spice here was the chutney but a delicately flavoured potato patty – I have to say I ditched the bun.
Dishoom Calamari (£5.00) was by far my favourite. A large portion of calamari was dusted in a sweet and spicy coating and deep fried, the subtle intensity hit me after my first mouthful and stayed with me.
Ruby’s (Ruby Murray, rhyming slang for Curry) are tomato based, again served in those corrugated cups. Whilst they are spicy, the flavours were by no means overpowering and would be easy on the palate of any heat-hating diner.
Chicken Ruby & Naan (£7.00) No shortage of tender chicken which, I’m assured, is all free range. A soft naan with perfectly crisp outer acted as my scoop.
Veg Ruby & Naan (£6.50) Chunks of my five-a-day were peering through a chilli and saffron sauce – potato, crunchy French bean, and corn with strips of freshly-grated ginger as a garnish was a nice touch.
Daal and Naan (£6.00) a slow cooked black lentil, comforting and creamy with not too much spice.
The drinks range from Indian Pimms, mixed with Saffron gin and ginger beer with tons of pomegranate seeds and mint which was truly delicious to spiked or Virgin Gola ices, the traditional shaved ices. Indian brands of cola Thums Up and Limca have also been imported for your pleasure. Nice to see too that there was Greenwich Union ales available, keeping the Thames theme firmly on the menu.
The House Chai (£2.50) was perfectly spiced with cardomom and as expected teeth-rottingly sweet. The Kulfi (£2.50) was something else. I had the pistachio, but you can pick from classic Malai or Mango, and it was so creamy, very naughty, but over too quickly so I had two! And as I waddled over Hungerford Bridge I regretted it. That one dish too far. I’ll order a whole lot less next time and there will definitely be a next time.
Special praise to Richard who looked after me incredibly well and the bright, bubbly, well informed staff who clearly enjoy what they do. Surely the sign of a well oiled machine and more importantly a well-paid contented bunch of employees.
So, if you want a bit of heat on the beach and can’t afford the flights to Mumbai, then get yourself over to Dishoom’s Chowpatty Beach. Bombay on the Thames will stay until October 4th.
Queen Elizabeth Hall Terrace, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX