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My friend was visiting from Paris over the weekend. To celebrate we all went to an Indian restaurant called Dishoom in Covent Garden.

Apparently, the restaurant draws on ‘the heritage and tradition of old Bombay Cafés’. Never having been to a Bombay Café I admit that this might have been lost on me. The atmosphere felt dark, stuffy and claustrophobic. This was especially the case when we were waiting at the bar for our table to be prepared. Squeezed between a pillar and someone’s shoulder it is nigh on impossible to look sophisticated holding your Bollybellini. I wasn’t terribly impressed by the rude waiter telling us to get out of the way either. Where were we meant to go?

The menu has some interesting choices available, particularly for snacks and starters. We ordered their crisps (poppadoms with a hint of lime, a sprinkling of paprika and something spicy), lamb samosas (crispy with a light, aromatic lamb filling – delicious!) and calimari (not what you’d expect in an Indian restaurant, but always a hit). After these nibbles I was looking forward to something more substantial.

However, the main courses were disappointing. For a start, there isn’t a great deal of choice. It’s mostly a choice between something from the grill or a Biryani. You can also have Roomali Rolls, but considering they’re just glorified wraps more suited for a lunchtime meal than dinner I stayed away from them. Decisions decisions. I have the most pathetic tolerance level for spicy food, so anything marked ‘(s)’ was immediately discounted. The only thing on the menu that described itself as ‘mild’ was the Murgh Malai. I was expecting something like butter chicken that would be creamy and delicious, melt in your mouth type food – not even a hint of that disagreeable burning sensation. What I got was a plate of tender chicken that set my mouth on fire. THIS was mild?! Yeah right… I ended up dousing the entire plate in a bowl of raita.

Another criticism lies in the portion sizes. My Murgh Malai was a side plate of chicken. Apart from a lime, a very small pot of slivers of cucumber and tomato (also spicy) and a sprig of parsley there was nothing else on the plate. I would have expected some sort of salad or a bit of rice to go with the chicken. In fact, I would have settled for a smaller portion of chicken if there was something to go with it. Those who ordered Biryanis fared a little bit better, although the presentation in a small stoneware bowl made the portion look smaller than it actually was.

Nevertheless, to end on a positive note, I have learnt several things from this experience. Firstly, not even dishonest chicken can make a night out with good friends less fun. Secondly, if in doubt, make sure the waiters/kitchen staff are aware of your spice intolerance. It’s not a recognised allergy, but for me (and hopefully others) it makes a huge difference. Finally, if all else fails, a bowl of cucumber raita will always help you through tough times.

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