Dishoom, Edinburgh

Certain things irritate everyone. One of my pet hates is busy restaurants because it usually means they’re really good and I can’t get a table. This was very much the case with Dishoom during the Edinburgh Festival this year, which led to a slightly unfortunate altercation with the (otherwise enormously helpful) staff. I had heard wonderful things from Marcus Brigstocke, who had apparently received a round of applause from his fellow diners on finishing his food (he is a man of prodigious appetites, is Mr B.) I had also heard tales of wonder concerning the breakfast naan from Paul Sinha, who is certainly a man who knows his way around an Indian flatbread.

So, my wife and I tootled along early one evening, only to be told there was an hour plus wait for tables, and were given a pager which would apparently buzz when one became available. It was not a particularly warm August evening, but after a bit of discussion, we decided we could sit outside as there were a couple of tables free, and maybe move inside later, which is when the staff explained this would mean they had to take our pager off us and remove us from the waiting list. This struck us both as officious and unnecessary, but we were hungry, so we grumbled over a couple of menus, which is never the ideal start to a meal. As we ordered, spots of rain appeared, and I explained to the waiter that if it started raining in a properly Scottish fashion, I would be leaving without paying for my food. The waiter then explained they didn’t have an awning, which is when I explained this was the exact reason I wouldn’t be paying for our food should it become damp. I also think I might have pointed out that if you are a large restaurant which is open all day and has a waiting time of over an hour at 6pm, you could probably afford a f**king awning, so mightn’t it be an idea to get one?

Luckily the rain held off, and I seem to remember we had some nice okra and a very tasty black daal amongst other things, but to be honest, the whole experience had left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, which had nothing to do with the food, and we paid quickly and walked down to Brasserie Prince on Princes Street for a decent dessert to cheer ourselves up.

This weekend I found myself in Edinburgh again – with no sign of a festival going on whatsoever, thankfully. I was playing the quite marvellous Stand Comedy Club, and the lovely flat they house comedians in is a mere two minute walk away from Dishoom, so I thought we should give each other a second chance. And I wanted to try that breakfast naan, dammit. Imagine my irritation when I arrived fourteen minutes after they’d stopped serving it. On the plus side, a table had been found immediately and my bright and breezy waiter explained enthusiastically/apologetically that they were very strict on timings as it’s a halal kitchen, and everything needs to be cleaned down to start the rest of the day’s service. To be fair to Dishoom, it’s hardly their fault if I turn up for breakfast at midday.

I considered going somewhere else for what was clearly, by this point, lunch, but decided against it and was rewarded for my indolence. I ordered three small plates – a delightfully sticky chilli chicken which I motored through like popcorn at the movies. Also, a pau bhaji – a smooth vegetable curry with hot buttered buns (fnaar,) freshened up with a little lime and chopped red onion. In a nod to my naanlessness, the waiter threw in a couple of extra buns which, as I’d also ordered a vada pau – a thoroughly pokey little potato butty with an exquisite green chilli paste – I didn’t think I needed. I really wasn’t going to eat them until I did.

I don’t normally blow my head off this early in the day, but it’s safe to say this was not food for the faint-hearted. Real heat, but married with proper flavours, and washed down with a delicious lime soda made from, er, lemon. All this for around twenty quid with superb service and my entire opinion of Dishoom had been magically transformed. It is easy to see what the fuss is all about with food this tasty, and fun.

Still, no breakfast naan – #sadfaceemoji etc. It was only Friday, though and a quick conference with the front desk, whom I now felt so much better disposed to than I had in August, meant I presented myself back in front of them at ten o’clock the next morning.

I am happy to report there is no finer way to start your Saturday in one of the world’s great cities than with one of the world’s great breakfasts. I opted for a bacon, egg and bacon naan and it was a thing of deep, deep beauty. Why on earth have I never had a bacon sarnie with a naan before? Why haven’t you? Excellent ingredients wodged together with a little fresh coriander that just threw in an occasionally welcome herbal note, and a homemade brown sauce that is how I imagine HP tastes in heaven. My only criticism is I wanted another, but my wife gets irritated enough with my Instagram feed while I’m away as it is, and I really wanted to get up Arthur’s Seat, so further carbs and fats and proteins would have been somewhat counter productive.

I’m ashamed to say that in over quarter of a century of visiting Edinburgh, I had never made it to the summit, and I’m very glad I took the opportunity to do so today – the view down is every bit as magnificent as the view up has always been. I’m equally pleased I decided to give Dishoom another go. Twice. I’m sure it won’t be another twenty-five years until I make it back up Arthur’s Seat. If only Dishoom opened before I had to get to the airport on Sunday morning, it wouldn’t even have been twenty-four hours before I’d be visiting them for another naan. I hope we’d both be pleased to see each other.

Nov ‘18

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Aqua Pazza, Boston

IMG_2005There is so much to love about America, and I think we have to add American waiters to the list. As long as you can stifle the giggle reflex, their desire to accommodate your every whim, whilst exuding Moonie-ish levels of happiness and bonhomie AND making you feel like you have ordered better than anyone else ever in the history of restaurants can make for a truly heartening dining experience. I *know* no one can read a menu like I can Chris, but *thank you* for saying so. Now please stop beaming for a second because at this rate your face will be killing you by last orders.

I had never been to Boston before, and it is a sturdy, square-jawed kind of a city. One of America’s insecurities is its youth as a nation, but if there is a state that can claim some serious lineage it is Massachusetts and the surrounding area. Settlers first arrived nearly four hundred years ago and probably found themselves as welcome by the local inhabitants as they would under the present regime. Plus ça change. We walked the Freedom Trail, and attempted to go for dinner in the Union Oyster House, but a wait of over an hour was too long for us, especially with a little one it tow, even if it is the oldest restaurant in America. There is, admittedly, a lot of this about in Boston, including a number of the oldest pubs in America within spitting distance which gave the whole place a slightly disconcerting similarity to central Nottingham.

Finding ourselves in the Italian Quarter, we essentially took pot luck with Aqua Pazza, which the door plaque informed us was ‘a Frank DePasquale concept’, and as it turns out, Frank knows his concepts. Despite a relatively busy marble cocktail bar, a raw bar, shiny glassware and softened lighting of the sort you find in a place where deals are done and assignations, er, assignated, they found us a high chair and made a little family of Brits feel hugely welcome. My daughter even got crayons to eat, which is always a bonus.

Chris, our beloved waiter, would indeed have been mocked by a puppy for his wide-eyed eagerness, but I say this in admiration, not admonition. When you can report back from the kitchen that a certain item can be cooked ‘without removing from the dexterity of the dish’ while keeping a straight face, you have my vote, not to say my undivided attention while I try and work out what the hell you’re talking about.

There is an excellent selection of seafood and Italian accented specials and we ordered fairly simply and quickly – parenthood does tend to mean the luxury of languorous dining is a thing of the past these days. There was some excellent sourdough, which I’m pretty sure Chris took commission on as he kept on bringing it as fast as I could shovel it into my mouth. This was probably a good thing, as the portion sizes were not extravagant, but I’m happy to report the flavours were.

My starter of tuna crudo – flash seared fish with a green curry paste and enough chilli to give it proper attitude – was a refreshing thing of beauty, while my wife’s tartare of the same fish was a similar delight for the taste buds but with the added texture of a natty little wonton cannoli.

Scallops with cauliflower is boring, so I ordered it to see how good the kitchen was. I can cheerfully report the reason this is a classic combination is that it tastes like one, and this was simply the best version I have ever eaten. While portion size in terms of extras may not have been excessive, I’m pretty sure six actual scallops is a pretty good return on a $30 investment and they were cooked to perfection. This was a nutty, brassicy, buttery kind of a dish, with a lot of caramelisation going on. I loved it ever so slightly more than my wife’s lobster roll, which although beautifully indulgent, was still a sandwich, so I won. I should add that the roll came with truffle crisps, which were so good I’m starting a campaign to have them installed as the only crisp flavour allowed from now on. All this was washed down with a ‘frizzante’ (someone’s been Googling) glass of Vermentino which Chris said was ‘possibly his favourite wine ever to go with seafood’. I avoided the temptation to ask him if there was anything he didn’t like, mainly because it really was absolutely bloody lovely.

We should have had dessert, but it was a Friday night, and the restaurant was obviously hotting up for the kind of weekend service that I would be delighted to take my wife to if we hadn’t got a small attention-seeking missile launcher with us. It also allowed us the luxury of leaving an American restaurant without the feeling we were about to burst from conspicuous consumption, which is genuinely the only time this happened in an entire holiday. It wasn’t cheap, but food this good shouldn’t be, and anyway, someone was going to have to pay for Chris’s therapy and the surgery required to return his face to its natural state.IMG_2109

We sauntered off into the night, utterly replete, and were able to return to Boston a few days later and grab an afternoon plate of some of the best oysters I’ve ever had at the Union Oyster House. Service was once again impeccable, and even included a lovely man who brought out a lobster the actual size of my daughter to take photos with her. Twice. It may be a tourist hotspot with plaques all over the place listing all the famous people who’ve been there, but there is a reason for that. People want to go there. And I want to go back. I also want to go back to Aquapazza. And Boston. And America. But I would prefer it if they made Chris President.

 

Oct ‘18