An Ode to a disappearing food tradition: An Irani cafe in London

photo copy 5Round white tables with wooden chairs, transparent glass tumblers with steaming chai, steel glasses for water, memorabilia from the 70s and 80s on the wall, signs in Hindi all over the place, chequered black and white floor and even a ‘nimbu-mirchi’ strung together to ward off the evil eye!

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There is a word for finding something when you least expect it:SERENDIPITY……I think I found something I was looking for.

The menu offered delights that reminded of an era gone by, in a country far away. The Irani fare promised to recreate memories of eating in the most basic eateries found in India- the Irani cafes.

Waiting for the order was no problem- the prints on the walls provided enough amusement-old, old covers of Eve’s weekly[ you have to be old enough to even remember this magazine], cheeky signs at the door, old black and white photographs of families from the 70s, nostalgia evoking advertisements from the past-including one about a grooming school for ladies, posters of unheard of Bollywood films……

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Soon our plate of delicious Keema pau came to the table. The Brittania berry biryani with raita and black daal followed. In between mouthfuls, a slug of masala chai [or Baileys chai, if you preferred], warmed the soul as cold fingers gripped the familiar ‘cutting chai’ glass for comfort.

Spotted a wada pav at another table.[ but being eaten with a fork and knife, by an Indian!]. Salivated at fresh roomali rotis being spun about in the open plan kitchen and promised to try a Frankie next time. That will be the real test because to me Tibbs frankie is the only Frankie.

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I always judge a place by its toilet. A clean toilet speaks volumes for the general hygiene of the copy 4

photo copy 10So of course, a visit to the loo was a must and I wasn’t disappointed.In fact, made 2 visits so I could take pictures of the absolutely hilarious decor. In each toilet which had a number in Hindi on the door[!], there was a glass cabinet with  toiletries of a certain vintage on display- all kinds of balms, ointments, creams, lotions, potions, laxatives evoking memories of childhood in India came rushing back. There was even a plastic bathing mug. In the ladies’ was a huge poster with 2 hunky lads from the distant past.

All in all a brilliant concept and a wonderful ode to what is a dying tradition in India- the humble Irani cafe- presented in a not so humble avatar. In fact a glamourous twist to what is a essentially a no frills, down to earth copy 3

Nope, I did not get paid or fed to write this, but genuinely felt elated on eating at this place, which by the way seems as popular with Indians as it is with non-Indians. The queue to get in was long and well worth copy 13

Hmmm…. just realised, I’ve got more photos of the decor than of the food!

Venue: Dishoom, Covent Garden, London.







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