CITYLIFELOCAL ALWAYS ROOM FOR LIKES OF DISHOOM
SNEAK PEEK AT THE IRANI-INDIAN RESTAURANT OPENING LATER THIS YEAR
SOME came and conquered. Others, giddy on northern property prices and aggrandisation, opened ludicrously large sites they struggled to fill and slunk back down south, tail between their legs.
Running successful restaurants in London is no guarantee of making it in Manchester, as many operators have learned, to their chagrin. The best, like Hawksmoor, came with humility and respect for the city they were trying to crack. Dishoom looks set to fall into the same camp when it opens in Manchester Hall this winter.
“We’re always nervous going to a city we’re not from,” co-founder Kavi Thakrar admits when I meet him in London to get a flavour of the plans for Manchester.
“But we’re confident in the way we do things, the way we look after our team and our customers, and the quality of our food and drink and environments. All we can hope is people enjoy it.”
Founded in Covent Garden in 2010, the Irani-Indian restaurant group now has five sites across London and one in Edinburgh, catering to 45,000 diners every week. Its Manchester restaurant will occupy part of the grand old Freemason’s Hall on Bridge Street, marrying its grade II listed
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Its footprint includes the lodge’s grand Derby Room, where original features including the parquet floors and stained glass windows will be preserved and restored.
Respectful of the building’s heritage, the team carried out several trips to Mumbai to research the city’s own links with Freemasonry to inform the interior design.
They brought back with them furnishings including an antique notice board that will sit behind the reception desk in the lobby, as well as repurposing chairs found inside the Bridge Street building.
“We inherited a really beautiful room at the back, in the Derby Room, and we’ve brought that back to life,” he says.
“We’re restoring a lot of the original features - its beautiful parquet floors and stained glass windows - but then introducing this layering of Bombay into it to bring into this space the feeling of the Irani cafes.”
Opened by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran in the early part of the last century, the cafes soon became part of the fabric of life in the Indian city and welcomed people from all walks of life. There were almost 400 at the peak of their popularity in the 1960s; fewer than 30 are now said to remain.
“We stumbled across these pieces of heritage, which were a democratic, shared dining experience and it felt so comfortable to us,” says Kavi.
“That’s our approach. We felt, why don’t we create this fantastic, democratic, shared social space to the English and bring people the food of the city?” The menu mixes up traditional Iranian and Indian dishes with Dishoom’s own interpretation of British dishes like its famous bacon naan - rashers of smoked, streaky bacon rolled in a baked-to-order naan with chilli jam and cream cheese.
“We thought what would happen if an Irani cafe opened in London? You’d want to localise, and we all love a bacon sandwich - those of us that eat bacon - and we thought that’s a really lovely thing that an Irani cafe owner might put on his menu if he opened in London,” says Kavi. 0161 330 1133
Served from 8am on weekdays and 9am at weekends, the breakfast menu also includes dishes such as kerjriwal (fried eggs on chilli cheese toast), akuri (spiced scrambled eggs with grilled tomatoes and home-made buns) and bottomless banana and date porridge, along with coffee, tea, chai, fresh juices and brunch cocktails. Later in the day the menu includes irresistibly crunchy prawn koliwada, dunked in sticky date and tamarind chutney; pau bhaji, a hangover-slaying bowl of spicy vegetable mash with a hot, buttered bun; lamb chops marinated in lime juice, jaggery, ginger, garlic and spices; and buttery gunpowder potatoes crusted with fennel, coriander and cumin seeds, and tossed with green chilli, coriander and spring onions; plus biryanis and a handful of ‘ruby murrays’.
It’s food people often queue for over an hour to get their hands on in London; a ‘humbling’ sight for executive head chef Naved Nasir - and a challenge too.
“It’s double the amount of pressure,” he says. “People who have been queueing aren’t going to be forgiving.”
So will the queues follow them to Manchester? Independent gems like Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza and Pollen Bakery have proved we’re willing to wait for good food.
Happily, diners will be able to do so in the restaurant’s own bar, named the Permit Room after the law brought in with the Bombay Prohibition Act in 1949 (and never officially repealed) that drinkers must have a licence to buy liquor. Fittingly there’s a range of convincing, grown-up mocktails - the Dry Monsoon Martini, a sober spin on an espresso martini, nearly had us fooled - alongside classic cocktails like gimlets, old fashioneds and negronis with an Indian twist.
An opening date for the restaurant and bar has yet to be confirmed, but the team is aiming for a winter launch around November or December time. www.worldwidetravelplan.co.uk