As a vegetarian, festive meals can be disappointing. There are only so many times you can pretend to enjoy a lacklustre nut roast or a limp filo parcel stuffed with something that vaguely resembles cheese without feeling a bit, well, bah humbug.
So imagine my excitement when an invitation to try the Christmas Feast at Manchester’s Dishoom landed at Northern Soul Towers. After all, this is a restaurant that pays homage to the Irani cafés which were once part of the fabric of life in Bombay (now known as Mumbai). Or Indian tapas as I like to call it.
Ordering sharing platters is absolutely my favourite way to eat and I love nothing more than gathering around tasty plates of food with friends. While some might prefer a sit-down turkey roast for their yuletide celebrations, I’m fully on board with Mumbai’s Bohra community tradition of coming together over Thaals (large platters) laden with sumptuous dishes.
While there are inventive turkey dishes on the menu, both Helen, editor of Northern Soul, and I (we’re on a rare editorial team day out) are vegetarian so we’re sampling the veggie side of the menu – and what a decent sized list it is. We’re informed that two to three dishes will be more than enough and Helen, who has previously been to Dishoom for its famous breakfast, comments that the plates are quite generous, so we opt to skip the starters and head straight to the mains.
What arrives is a notable banquet. The gunpowder potatoes, cooked in their skins and tossed with butter alongside crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs, are quite possibly the best I’ve ever tasted and I polish them off. We pick the house black daal, a signature dish cooked for 24 hours, which is unlike any daal I’ve eaten before (or cooked – my daal skills are lacking). It has the consistency of rice pudding – creamy, thick and scrumptious. We also plump for mattar paneer because we’re both cheese fiends. Described as a ‘steadfast’ and ‘humble’ veggie curry, it’s undersold on the menu. The paneer is perfectly cooked, and the sauce is so moreish that I keep mopping it up with bits of roti. We also order kachumber, a side dish of cucumber, tomatoes and onion, and are given a tasty selection of dips. One is reminiscent of minted mushy peas and delicious.
As we’re eating, an adjoining table is dressed for what is later revealed to be a work Christmas do complete with cute Santa hats (optional but fun). While it looks a little out of place in the otherwise ornate, panelled and cosy dining area, it’s a thoughtful aside which is immediately used by the jovial guests. Even on a Thursday lunchtime, Dishoom is busy but somehow still feels like an intimate dining experience. The tables and booths are arranged in a way that gives diners privacy but manages to be atmospheric.
After some coercion from our lovely waitress, we each try a Kulfi (I choose pistachio while Helen picks mango) which looks much like a Mini Milk and tastes like a creamier but slightly disappointing version of the childhood treat. Perhaps it’s because we’re too full, or maybe it’s because I physically can’t bite into ice cream without succumbing to acute brain freeze, but the puddings go largely uneaten.
My only gripe (and it really is small) was the lack of festive non-alcoholic beverages. While Helen samples a mulled bramble, which she assures me tastes like Christmas, I sip a Diet Coke. There’s nothing wrong with a fizzy pop but a tasty Christmassy mocktail would have gone down a treat.
To finish, we order more drinks and, since it’s bordering on arctic outside, we make this a warm round and I’m served the sweetest, tastiest Chai. Often the spice to sugar ratio is way off and it can be a bit like chugging a cardamom milkshake, but Dishoom manages to create the perfect balance. Helen opts for a chai eggnog, another merry tipple, which hits the spot.
I can’t recommend Dishoom highly enough, for veggies and non-veggies alike, and will certainly be heading back soon. After hearing about the epic breakfast fare, the vegan scrambled egg has my name written all over it.
Main image: Dishoom Manchester by John Carey. Other images courtesy of Dishoom.