Dishoom // JessOnThames

So here’s the thing: I have a dilemma.

What does one write about a restaurant everyone already loves?

Last night, I realised that in my first year and a half living in London, I have committed one atrocious crime: I did not go to Dishoom earlier.

Dishoom – or the Bombay Cafe as they describe themselves – is like an interior designer’s dream which serves incredible food. I’d seen a picture or two of their restaurants in London magazines, but I think what first hooked me was this description they have on their website:

“The Old Irani Cafés of Bombay have almost all disappeared. Their faded elegance welcomed all: rich businessmen, sweaty taxi-wallas and courting couples. Fans turned slowly. Bentwood chairs were reflected in stained mirrors, next to sepia family portraits. Students had breakfast. Families dined. Lawyers read briefs. Writers found their characters.”

Yeah. Sign me up.

Dishoom King's Cross

There was only one problem. I have avoided trying Dishoom because I am loath to wait for a table, which for some entirely insane reason seems to be all the rage in London. You can’t reserve for dinner unless you are a party over 6.

Cue bloggers.

We arrived at their King’s Cross location wondering if the early eating time of 6pm would suit us (the only time available to book a table on a Wednesday evening). By the time we were sitting, most of us admitted we were already charmed before we reached the table.

Dishoom / JessOnThames  Dishoom / JessOnThames

Dishoom / JessOnThames  Dishoom / JessOnThames

We ordered cocktails and loved reading about the Permit Room (in Bombay, the prohibition style room where drinking is sanctioned once you obtain a private permit). We were advised to order 2-3 dishes per person and could barely decide which to order.

I would say the Black House Dahl (simmered for 24 hours) were the champion of the dinner menu, but I also particularly enjoyed the Chicken Berry Britannia and Mattar Paneer. The calamari were also out of this world. We topped the night off with magical glasses of Bailey’s Chai which were delicious until the cream at the top of two of ours went a bit funky – but in all honesty, I didn’t care.

Truth is, I’d go back and happily wait the hour for the table in their incredible basement bar. I’d order an Edwina’s Affair – gin, rose & cardamom with mint. Maybe have some ocra fries while we wait.

I hear they do brunch. I will likely be back to sample it before you’ve even read this post.

Jewellery with meaning



The ring / JessOnThames

Ever since Jaime over at Angloyankophile wrote this piece about jewellery with meaning, I’ve been thinking about it.

Maybe its one reason why I find myself on the bus so often, headed towards the V&A on an idle weekend. Heaps of items with meaning lie in those halls… and I go to just stare at everything.

Staring is maybe the wrong word… I gaze with curiosity (and laugh at myself for the mushiness of that last sentence…) But its true – sometimes I’m surprised at how my imagination kicks into gear in places like that.

I think I’m fascinated with the V&A because I know that behind every gorgeous item, there is a story. Someone’s life is behind every object. Its why I was fascinated by Jessie Burton’s book The Miniaturist. Burton came up with the idea for the story after seeing an intricate doll’s house in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I’m fascinated by the stories behind things people make.

Jaime’s post resonated with me so much because the most precious item I own is a ring my family created for me after my grandmother passed away. Jewels, passed down through the generations, were some of the items she left behind and in particular, one necklace with three large stones. The necklace, while gorgeous in the 1920s, would probably be hard to find an occasion to wear these days and so my family had the stones cut down and fitted into two rings for my cousin and I.

We didn’t know anything about them until we found them in little tiny boxes under the Christmas tree one year. Mine is silver and hers is gold. I love to think that she’s always wearing hers in San Francisco as I wear mine in London. I haven’t taken it off for any extended period of time since the day I put it on.

At first, I stared at it constantly. I mean, this thing was SHINY. But with time, it has become a constant companion. Which doesn’t make it any less special. It is a portable memory I carry with me everywhere. It reminds me of their house in New Jersey, which I thought was the most magical place on earth as a child. It had perfectly manicured lawns and deer that would mysteriously eat my grandmother’s roses in the night. Lightening bugs would light up the trees in the evening and we were given sparklers on the 4th of July. We drew with chalk on the driveway and I would sneak up to my Dad’s old room and read the messages his friends had written on the walls. We’d sneak into the giant climbing tree in the front yard even though we knew we weren’t supposed to. We’d eat half a grapefruit every morning, without fail. We played Pass the Pigs for hours on end.

These days, its such a part of my everyday that it was nice to really think about it a bit more deeply again. The ring was with me as I drove my cats across the Channel to a new life in London and it was with me on safari in South Africa. It signed my visa application and my last two employment contracts. It swipes my Oyster card on the Tube everyday. It makes my coffee. It sits on my right hand as I type these posts – well… as I try to type these posts with a cat laying on my arm. Its been there for my most important decisions of the last few years. It accompanied me on my latest trip to Paris: my grandmother’s favorite city. Though it has yet to go on a “oh, you wouldn’t believe it, bateau mouche at sunset sailing in front of Notre Dame…” trip – an experience my grandmother couldn’t help but gush about to anyone who happened to mention France.

Thanks to Jaime for her inspiration and I would love to hear about pieces that mean something in your life.

Do you drink wine with your Chinese takeout?



Three wines

I think I might be the only person living in London who hasn’t ordered Chinese takeout.

Or any takeout (“takeaway” for the Brits) for that matter.  Don’t ask me why, but I just seem to forget that it is an option. I’m also the annoying person who asks a question out loud before they remember to Google it first. Call me old fashioned… I went to school in the days before you could use articles on the internet as a primary source.

Anyway, last night was a night of discoveries. The first being that there is an entire world of takeout across the UK to be found in Hungryhouse. How on earth did I not know about this before?

The second discovery was that two things I’m immensely fond of – but never thought to put together – actually work really well. And that is Chinese Food (well, Westernized Chinese food as I know it) and wine from the Central Loire Valley.

Based on solar and lunar calendars, Chinese New Year is just days away on February 19th, with 2015 being the year of the sheep. In London, festivities will take place on February 22nd on Trafalgar Square with a parade and a main stage from 10am-6pm. The London festivities are the biggest outside of Asia (so prepare for crowds), but Europe’s first Chinatown was actually founded in Liverpool (pictured below). With this taking place, the lovely folks at Centre Loire Wines challenged me to try something I’d never done before: pair French wines with Chinese food.


I’ll say off the bat that I naturally gravitate to big, spicy reds. I adore Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and (lovely recent discovery) Primitivo.

Because my knowledge of white wines is less experienced, I gravitate towards those I’ve found the most consistency in: dry, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and if I’m really lucky… Sancerre. I usually pull out the whites at lunchtime and on hot summer days – maybe paired with vitamin packed salads, marinated chicken or picnic material. Quite often with food that was already cold. So this was going to be a new experience.

(I had visions in my head of the one year I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Brussels and my boyfriend at the time showed up at my doorstep with two tuna steaks and a bottle of champagne. I thought he was crazy when he suggested we drink the bubbles with the fish, but the meal was a total eye opener. Champagne isn’t just a drink for receptions… you can pair it with a meal.)

Back to the task at hand: As I was feeling a tiny bit out of my depth, I decided to call in the troops.

Chinese takeout / JessOnThames

Five hungry friends – all of whom happen to enjoy wine – showed up at my door on Sunday evening and we quickly selected a menu of:

·      Vegetarian and crispy spring rolls
·      Satay chicken on skewers
·      Mixed dim sum (har kau, sui mai, shanghai chicken and vegetarian)
·      Grilled pork and vegetable dumplings
·      Steamed basket of har kau, siu mai, shanghai and vegetable dumplings with roast pork and custard buns
·      Special chow mein with pork, chicken, shrimp, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts
·      Mou shu chicken with egg & vegetables in a garlic soya sauce, served with pancakes and plum sauce

We chose three wines to taste during our meal and without hesitation, decided to try the Sancerre first while we waited for our delivery. Sancerre is a wine that you always want to instinctively go for, but which can be hard to find by the glass in a restaurant and is often kept for a special occasion due to its slightly pricier (completely worth it) price tag.

We uncorked the bottle, held our glasses out and… gasped.

Sancerre Rouge

The Sancerre was red. It was a Bois de l’Epine 2013 Sancerre Rouge.

Such rookies. We had not heard of Sancerre Rouge before.

A wine must be 100% Pinot Noir to be considered Sancerre Rouge and about 20% of the Loire’s wine production is red*. It was really interesting and we wished we’d saved it to drink with the meal itself instead of trying it as an aperitif. When you have such a clear expectation that you’re going to try one thing, it can throw you off a bit to taste something very different. The Sancerre Rouge truly tasted like a light blend of white and red wines – very earthy and chalky. It may have been a little bit on the young side. Next time around I’d save it for a nice pork dish on a warm spring evening. At £15 a bottle at Marks & Spencer, I want to try it again to taste it properly.

(For those who want to find out more about Sancerre Rouge, take a look at this article in the WSJ.)

Dinner party / JessOnThames

There are few things nicer as a host than the moment when you watch everyone pass dishes around the table. Even if you didn’t cook the meal yourself. We debated which wine to try next with the food: Half the group went for the 2012 Coteaux du Giennois Sauvignon Blanc from Domaine de Villargeau and the other half for a 2013 Champalouettes Pouilly Fumé.

The Pouilly Fume was so good the group unanimously decided it went well with everything regardless the dish they were eating. Crisp and dry, tasting like gooseberry, it had me aching for springtime and picnics. But it was also nice to drink in winter because we were warmed by the vegetables and spices of the food at the same time.

Pouilly Fume grows on the right bank of the Loire while Sancerre grows on the left (with about twice as many hectares). No matter how you swing it, wine is all about the soil it grows in and you taste that in the flavors: whether it be the clay and limestone ground that gives the mineral taste to the Pouilly Fumé or the higher, less homogeneous chalky terrain of Sancerre. You can find the Champalouettes Pouilly Fumé at Sainsbury’s for £13.

The acidic Coteaux, when paired with the richness of the dumplings especially, cleansed the palette and cut through the sticky, salty sauces. We were happy we were drinking it with the meal as it fell on the sweeter side and with some research, I learned that a great pairing for salty food is a sweeter acidic wine. It balances everything out and leaves your mouth feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed by any one ingredient in particular.

Coteaux du Giennois is actually a tiny appellation of 91 hectares of Sauvignon vines – grown right next to Pouilly Fumé, it is a steal for £9.99 at Marks & Spencer.

So what did we learn?

Here is where I was right: my favorite dry wines are still reliable.

Here is where I was wrong and where I want to be more adventurous in my wine selection: I shouldn’t have expected all the wines to be white! The sweetness of dry wines is not something to shy away from when tackling rich, salty or even spicy food, but rather something that can help you cut through it.

Wines high in tannins, like my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon would be your enemy with our menu, but crisp mineraly fruit will be your friend.

There was nothing left to do but open our fortune cookies…

Fortune cookie

Fitting, eh?

Many thanks to my taste testing crew and to the Centre Loire Wines team for sharing their wines with us. We were kindly sent five bottles and only had the opportunity to taste the three listed above. The other two you’ll see pictured above were a Coteaux de Giennois Rosé and the Reuilly Cuveé Nathalie.
*Facts from this article by Matthew Conway.
Second photo by SomeDriftwood, shared through Creative Commons.
Other photos by JessOnThames.

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