Boy, is this place massive. 9000 square feet makes this the largest Dishoom in town! But trust that it gets packed fast. Décor is incredibly detailed, and somehow intense, considering how it’s not jam packed with decoration. Bollywood tunes from the 80s and 90s make this a fun, upbeat venue.
Serving up Indian, and subcontinental twists on classic cocktails, the cocktail menu in the Dishoom restaurant above differs from the Permit Room bar below. This review might be a bit longer than usual for the uniqueness of the cocktails on offer.
Above at Dishoom, the cocktail list is short, simple and not particularly eye-catching.
The Naughty Chocolate Chai is a fun little indulgence, dark chocolate, chai and a splash of bourbon – and with friends living round the corner, our new coffee date spot.
The Chaijito – a mojito with added coriander, ginger, and sweet-spice chai – essentially comes down to being a mellow mojito. Bit of a blank, this one. Not a fan.
Downstairs at the Permit Room, the whole list of cocktails is available, and it this time, it certainly stands out. 7 of the cocktails down here are served by the Indian measure of pegs – ‘chota’ (small) pegs for 8 pounds, and ‘burra’ (large) pegs for 15.
The IPA Paanch, hop-infused gin (inspired by the IPA), lime, jaggery unseparated cane or palm sugar, English Breakfast tea and assorted spices – now this packs a punch! Okay, that pun wasn’t intended. The name for the drink punch comes from the Hindi word ‘paanch’ for ‘five’, as in 5 ingredients: An alcohol, lime, sugar, water, tea or spices. In favour of keeping both tea and spices, water was tossed out for a short, intense drink.
It took the Hoodooist a while to separate the flavours when this drink hits you so hard – the orange-red colour probably comes straight from the tea and jaggery, and served with large, sharp shard of slow melting ice. Smoky, tobacco, peat come through on the tongue. The intense sweetness of the jaggery help balance it a bit, with a date-sugariness. The gin goes straight for the back of the jaw where hops make their presence known – loudly. We suspect the spices include cumin, probably smoked paprika? Loved this drink, complex, with a wonderful smoky-sweetness.
The Chai Paanch though, throws those rules out the window with 2 spirits, 2 liqueurs and house chai. With the spices of the chai mixing in with the Gosling’s dark rum, Johnnie Walker Black Label, ginger and 80% Cocoa liqueurs. The most prominent flavours are first the sweet rum, then the chai, a splash of ginger, followed by simmering of cocoa in the background and the dryness of the Black Label. Half a glass of this I can enjoy, but then it can become a bit tiresome. Not a bad drink though, it’s one of the few drier drinks here.
The Tanchoi Fix is one of the few aged drinks here, in oak: mandarin shrub, ginger, Hayman’s 1850 Reserve gin, quinine, to end with Szechuan pepper. I like how the pepper works in this drink, it’s not the predictable throaty burn after the flavour – it hits you on the first sip. The mandarin shrub isn’t too sweet, and expectedly works incredibly well with the ginger, leaving a subtle quinine aftertaste. Not too sweet, not too citrusy, very well balanced. A great intro for anyone who wants to try stronger drinks that they aren’t used to. The 1948 Sour is another of the great introductory drinks here, on the sweeter side, dry Indian Amrut whisky, peach, hibiscus, honey and lemon, layer of egg white. The peach and the honey are potent with the hibiscus rather subtle. A sour that’s not too sour, ‘mellow’ or ‘pleasant’ would be the right word to describe this drink.
No worries, there are longer drinks here too on this varied menu: The Toddy Tapper, a copper cup drink in the Julep family, instead of bourbon uses Sri Lanka’s answer to rum: Arrack. The ingredients are blazed and mixed into the ice, first the explosion of chilli to warm you up, through the savoury fennel and finally the sweet berries. A rollercoaster, this drink. There is the Bollybellini, Prosecco, raspberries, lychees, rose and cardamom. Rose and lychee taking centre stage with raspberry on the side.
Two aged Old Fashioneds are on the cards too: The Viceroy’s Old Fashioned, bottle aged, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, bayleaf reduction, green tea and orange bitters, needs to be served far shorter than it is. Not my favourite, the aging of a sugared drink really emphasises the almost cola sweetness of it all. Green tea eventually gets overpowered half way through the drink, and the bayleaf only comes in too late. The Horniman’s Old Fashioned is a good choice for a pineapple fan, a very well-constructed drink (unfortunately I’m not that pineapple fan, but I recognise a decently made drink when I taste one). Oak aged, rum, pineapple syrup and bitters yield a very intensely pineapple drink with loud rum sweetness.
But as you can imagine, there are also drinks that don’t work. The Sonia’s Negroni makes a great Negroni, but I don’t see the Sonia bit. Made with Dishoom vermouth and macerated vanilla, cinnamon and ginger, the Campari heavy Negroni yields none of the added flavour till the ginger in the last two sips. Finally, for us Martini fans, neither on the table took to the Bombay Martini which, predictably, had far too much going on (you can guess this was our last ‘hey, what the hell, let’s see what happens’ drink). Stirred Tanqueray Rangpour gin, Noilly Prat, Antica Formula sweet vermouth (unexpected), and bitters made with *deep breath* vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, sandalwood, cassia bark, and wormwood *exhale*. What you get goes way past fragrant into drinking-perfume territory. No.
Service has to account for incredible busy-ness. Was annoyed upstairs that there seemed to be no communication among the staff, no one had any idea if the queue was for the upstairs dining, or the bar downstairs, who was going where, your table is ready –but we didn’t ask for a table, yes you did, no we didn’t, where’s your pager, etc etc etc. The increasingly terribly presented (oh yes, arts university next door, let’s dress *interestingly*) waiting list fellows seemed to have no idea what they were actually doing. Those outfits are enough to second guess going in, you start wondering if it is a cocktail bar or a half-arsed uni drinking den with sake, red bull and sparkling wine as an ironic special. But once we settled at our table, things started running more smoothly. Downstairs, service was polite, attentive.
Dishoom upstairs may not provide a great list of drinks, but downstairs, the Permit Room opens up a huge pathway into bringing in subcontinental flavours to cocktails – not an easy task – many have tried and failed. And true, some cocktails here can be hit or miss, but the ones that hit, do it very well. Ambitious, well-constructed, well done!
Take advantage of the soft launch running till 19th Nov 2014, all the cocktails except large burra pegs are half price.
Drinks: Upstairs: **, Downstairs: ****
Dishoom King’s Cross
5 Stable Street, Granary Square,
London N1C 4AB