NEWCOMER Dishoom has a dreamlike quality like nowhere else in Manchester. Greeted by incense in a wood panelled foyer straight out of Raj Bombay central casting… shooed off hospitably into a drizzly Manc afternoon, warmed by a Viceroy’s Old-Fashioned, a bottle-aged muddle of Woodford Reserve bourbon, bayleaf reduction, green tea and a raft of other spirit hints.
And in between? Waltzed around a dazzling revamp of a gloomy old Freemasons haunt. Neighbours in what is now Manchester Hall, the Masons restaurant/bar and late-night bar Vanitas have both made a good fist of transforming this 1920s building, constrained by its Grade II listed status, but this is something else. We loved the way canny wood and glass partitions have created an such intimate spaces, belying Dishoom’s 230 cover expanse.
Imported marble top tables and ceiling fans combine with original stained glass alongside mix and match mustard and red leather for banquettes in an ambience that might have been here for decades. A similar trick was pulled off by Hawksmoor.
Akin to the six other Dishooms in London and Edinburgh, in homage to Bombay’s historic Irani cafes, but this particular ‘gateway to India’ playing upon Masonic links shared by Manchester and the Indian city feels unique. The best recent interior in Manchester? Definitely. Sorry Ivy, all that floral overkill doesn’t do it for us.
We prefer the gorgeous looting of Bombay’s Masonic heritage carried out by Dishoom’s London-based co-founders Shamil and Kavi Thakrar to create a pre-Art Deco backdrop to their creative take on Indian cuisine and cocktails . Let’s call these ebullient cousins the ‘Magpies of Mumbai’.
As they gave us a first look into this temple to Indian comfort food inspired by Twenties crime noir The Tower of Silence we never thought we’d be sharing such enthusiasm for vintage Indian electric circuit boards from an old governor’s mansion and duplicated oil paintings of Masonic Grand Masters of yesteryear.
"We know people may not know these details but I think you feel the attention to detail," Shamil tells us. "We go to the things we love as a way to evoke Bombay. You might not see it or recognise it as Indian but all together I think it gives you a sense of a different time or place.
"I'm really excited to be here and to open our doors in Manchester. We are coming in here with humility to hopefully earn people's love for our food and drinks and what we do."
The Freemasons' Derby Room, the grand hall at the back of the restaurant is now the Bro Cursetjee Dining Hall, named after the first Indian Mason, the prime dining space with its own spectacular bar in front of the pick of the stained glass.
Of course, you may never get beyond the Permit Room bar, named after the law brought in with the Bombay Prohibition Act in 1949 (and never officially repealed) that drinkers must have a licence to buy liquor. Here catch classic Indian-inspired cocktails sold in 'pegs' - the measures that alcohol would be prescribed in, in miniature glass bottles.
Your chance to release your inner Mounbatten and explore all this comes from this Sunday (November 25), start of the half price for walk-ins soft launch up to the official opening on Thursday, December 6.
And what do we recommend you eat at Dishoom? Follow these tips, beginning with exec chef Naved Nasir’s legendary breakfast bacon naan.
Dishoom, Manchester Hall, 32 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT. 0161 537 3737. Open from 8am on weekdays and 9am at weekends with a breakfast menu.