Christmas lunches are an office tradition in the UK, and are therefore basically terrible. The company I work for is a joint venture between two others, which means I get three office parties: one for each parent company, which are tedious hotel affairs packed with people I don’t know telling in-jokes I don’t get, and the actually good one, when my Bandersnatch Cummerbund-lookalike department head takes us out for killer martinis at a hyper-posh hotel bar in St James’s. A colleague reports: “Last year I had two drinks and woke up in Dorking.” (This year that’s on the Friday night before a Kerry and the Jewish Dad Rockers morning service, so I look forward to entertaining ~100 Jewish children while wearing sunglasses and crying softly, in true rock star style.)
Much preferable is Christmas lunch with actual friends, where if you get super drunk and start making fun of Oxfordians it’s basically all right, rather than a god who was that weirdo in the corner doing Derek Jacobi impressions? (This happened. Sorry all.) The group I went out with for lunch on Saturday is one of those amoeba-like social blobs that forms in universities or large cities; I met them as Ewan’s friends but I have edged in by relentlessly turning up at birthday parties with jointly signed cards and making for the fizzy wine.
Now, I hate Shoreditch and everything it stands for – it’s full of people wearing stupid hats, too-tight trousers and too-big glasses they don’t even need and its only redeeming feature is very good cocktails. But Dishoom, as it turns out, is a good restaurant with great food. Here is a list of acceptable things in and around Shoreditch:
Dishoom has an metropolitan Indian theme it describes as “Bombay in London”, and although I’ve never been to India and can’t judge it does feel a lot more buzzy than traditional British high street curry houses. It’s modelled on a 1960s-style Bombay cafe, which are apparently less common now but used to be popular all-day places to hang out and eat. [Note: I am aware of the city’s name change to Mumbai, and that it was at least partially intended as a move away from British colonial names; I’m using “Bombay” through this post as that’s what the restaurant uses to describe its style.]
We’d picked the cheapest £30/head menu, which still looked like a lot of food. When we arrived there were moustaches and Santa hats at each place – an ominous sign, but happily the only appearance of Enforced Party Fun. We started sticking moustaches on as beards, which kicked off a conversation about the trope of Evil Alternate Universes Have Beards.
I’ve come to drink all your prosecco! Wait, Normal Universe Kerry does that too.
The beard convo segued into “Who Had More Sex, Kirk Or Riker?”, which was still going when I left the post-lunch pub six hours later; I believe the conclusion was that Riker is shown having more sex, as his series ran longer, but Kirk has a higher frequency of sex, so in a given four-week period it can be assumed that Kirk will be getting more action than Riker. Yeah, try having that conversation at your office party (DON’T DO THIS)!
Drink orders were taken and arrived promptly: I had a ‘Bollybellini’, rose, raspberry, lychee and prosecco. It was a little sweet for me – the rose was a bit too much, I just thought it tasted like the lip gloss I used when I was 13 – but that was on me for not thinking through the ingredients, and it did taste cheery and festive. Dishoom also does an in-house India Pale Ale which Ewan was very excited about.
The first course arrived soon after we sat down. Starting from ten o’clock in the photo below:
Vegetable samosas: Flaky triangles of peas, potatoes and great spices. I kept my powder dry and only had one, which turned out to be a very wise decision thirty minutes later as I crammed forkfuls of grilled paneer and slow-roasted turkey into my mouth.
Pau bhaji: Spicy tangy veg goop and hot buttery pau buns – I’d never had these before, they’re a bit like brioche and verrry good.
Bhel: Puffed, crunchy rice with pomegranate seeds, mint, tamarind, lime and several other delicious spices. HOLY GOD THIS WAS SUPER TASTY. I nearly rowed with Hazel over who got to lick the bowl, before we did the polite British thing of offering it to each other three or four times then dividing it carefully down the middle.
(Trays were shared among four people.)
To help the starters go down (…what) I ordered another drink, a Bombay martini ie Rangpur gin flavoured with “Dishoom bitters”: vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, sandalwood, cassia wood and wormwood. I ordered it assuming it would take ages but the service was so prompt that it arrived before I’d finished my Bollybellini, hurrah!
“Are those olives?” “Let me find out!” I said, drawing them out and slopping delicious-winter-spiced gin on my dress. “YES.”
Ewan and I also took silly pictures:
(Imagine the blurriness is an artistic representation of the room after too many above Bombay martinis, rather than it being too dark to focus properly. Yes.)
Mains arrived. From one o’clock in the picture:
Lamb sheekh kebab: lamb, coriander, lime and cumin, grilled over an open flame. This was the only thing I didn’t finish; not because it wasn’t delicious but because it wasn’t as mind-blowingly good as everything else and you know, there is only physically so much room in my stomach.
Naan and roti: DANGER DANGER. Always so good but filling. Fluffy garlicky naan was an excellent specimen of the genre and as ever, I had too much. I REGRET NOTHING
Paneer tikka: I think this might be my favourite dish of all time, in all seriousness. Marinated in spices then char-grilled, it tastes like smoke and the texture is incredible: crisp and mouthfilling. This is also the only way I will eat peppers.
Black daal: Not included in the original menu, we asked to swap it with the Christmas pudding because it’s reportedly very good. It was, indeed, very good: dark, nutty and caramely. I think one of us actually licked the bowl. Not naming any names.
Salad: I have no idea why people persist in serving salad with curry. We picked out and ate the cucumbers to pretend to be healthy before cracking on with fried bread and grilled meat.
Raita: Creamy and minty, see, this is how you are supposed to serve cucumbers!
In the centre is chicken biryani, which you can see more clearly in the picture below of another plate. Also note action shot of lamb sheekh kebab being attacked.
Immediately after the plates were down, the WHOLE TURKEY LEG that had been cooking for 24 hours arrived. It was cooked raan style, which is usually done for lamb but Dishoom adapted it for Christmas. It’s served on the bone but was so tender that it was just falling off it; along with it were Bombay-style potatoes (fried with spices and peas) and a cranberry-chilli chutney that was wonderfully tart and berry-y. I didn’t expect any “traditional” English Christmas food, but that plate of turkey, potatoes and cranberry was a clever (and incredibly delicious) blend of English and Indian holiday food traditions.
People started to worry as we remembered there was still pudding to come, but it was well-judged: pistachio and mango kulfi on sticks, exactly the right size for a sweet after-dinner treat without kicking off the food sweats. I was angling for a mango but Ewan beat me to it, le sigh.
Pistachio kulfi. That’s fine, Ewan, just fine.
This lunch was on Saturday and I genuinely think it’s the best Christmas lunch I’ve had ever. (It even tops the extremely memorable work lunch in 2009, which was held less than 24 hours after we found out which half of our magazine staff had been made redundant. Rarely have I vomited so much into so many potted plants.) Even if you really like your coworkers (and, I have been lucky enough to work with many fun, funny and generous people, but nobody thoroughly likes all of their coworkers), forced work socialising is a bit awkward and depressing: you’re enacting fun without actually being able to relax and properly enjoy yourself. No such problem with friends, and I’m very lucky Ewan and I have so many good ones.