Article & Picture Courtesy – Gauri Yennawar
10th May 2013
Bombay’s Irani Café in London: Dishoom – an experience in itself. This article is about History of Food from Irani cafes to its design engraved through its experience straight from people’s hearts.
As always my class at Architecture school at Prabhadevi finished at 1 so a few friends and me rushed to celebrate our project submission. It was really sunny in the afternoon and we entered the 102-year-old Kyani & Co. Café, a heritage landmark in south Mumbai. Pleased with the hospitality of the fun filled waiter, I decided on the all time classics Kheema Pav, Irani Chai and Bun Maska. Coming from India which is a culinary birth place to some of the finest cuisines in the world, I shall focus on Irani cafes from its food, culture and design value. Hidden Art recently visited Dishoom for a complimetary Breakfast. Its my pleasure to share my personal experiences as I relate to the Bombay cafes where I grew up as well as Dishoom in London.
The old Irani cafes in Bombay which were started in the late 19th and 20th century by Persian immigrants still retain their menu and the interiors. These cafes form the main arteries in Bombay’s (Mumbai) urban life. These walk you through the historical existence of Bombay’s rich history which encompasses its past and the future. The cafes started by the parsi (Zoroastrians) welcome people from all walks of life. In short, I relate it to the tradition of Dhabas (roadside restaurants specialty for local cuisine) on the highways were truck drivers and travelers are the main visitors. And the cafes in Mumbai had taxiwala’s, workers and business people going there for Chai, Bunmaska & bakery items which is affordable to any classes.
Unfortunately, Iranian cafes found it hard to sustain themselves because of the new restaurant culture. In the 1950s, there were 350 Irani cafes in the city of Mumbai and today hardly 15 remain. London has got the Bombay inside it. Dishoom certainly tries to sustain the legacy of the Bombay Irani café here in London. It closely replicates the menu and the interiors to celebrate its style. Not only does it resemble the physical forms of the cafes but also its emotional and cultural form.
The classic format of these Irani cafes is the Colonial décor. They have developed their own special style and ambiance which was very different from other Indian eateries and restaurants. They had high ceilings with mezzanine seating, languid ceiling fans, black and white tiled floors, Italian marble-toped tables or tables with table-cloths under a pane of glass, bentwood or bent-cane chairs, walls with mirrors and portraits of old pictures hanging on the walls. Dishoom replicates a similar interior character of the place. Designed by the Russel Sage Studio, Dishoom mirrors the combination of Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles sitting against aging furniture and dishevelled décor. The restaurant juxtaposes opulent detailing and antique furniture against worn out fittings.
Some insights into the friendly culture, menu & style of cooking ~
I got to interact with the people working inside the café, they were really friendly and welcoming. They follow the friendly interactive culture which is a tradition of a irani cafe. Eileen welcomed us with a super happy smile. Oscar comes with a menu where he explains you the idea behind eating in an irani cafes. Common who does that? Isnt it amazing? They explain you the culture of sharing food between each other before you could order your meal. The notion of provenance, where something comes from, has become highly important in this new value system, with people expecting transparency and honesty about the origin of foods and their cultural context. So it is not only the interiors and the menu its also about paying homage to the Bombay cafes. The refill chai option is one of the great ways for inviting people to feel comfortable in an informal way. You can sit here all day working on your laptop and chatting with the people while sipping your pipping hot irani masala chai. Sapna was generous enough to take me around and introduce me to the chefs (Yash Pal, Rishi Anand, Naveed Nasir, Mubarak) who then explained me the secrets of the delicious Iranian menu.
Lamb Raan – Dishoom Special Dish – highly recommended
Design and Food ~
The design of the plates is a unique way to capture the history of the experiences of the visitors to these cafes. You feel just amazing to be served in these plates where you can relish the Iranian cuisine with some memories which take you back to Bombay itself. Eileen told me that few days back they received a message from a guy in Spain who wanted to design a plate for his proposal to his girl friend. He then had dinner at Dishoom during which he presented the plate to his girl friend with a question mark saying, Will you marry me? People actually become part of a tradition which lays a foundation for perfect memories for the future. This is indeed a creative way to keep the spirit of Irani cafes alive!
Let the tradition of dipping Maska Pau in steaming Chai live on!
Location: 7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE, United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7420 9324
Monday – Wednesday 8am – 11pm
Thursday – Friday 8am – 12am
Saturday 9am – 12am
Sunday 9am – 11pm
Facebook: Dishoom Shoreditch
previous article about Dishoom here