Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Adam Coghlan and olive reader Zoe Harrison compare notes on DUM, London W1
Adam Coghlan is a food and restaurant writer based in London. He is also the head of content for London Restaurant Festival. He admits to a weakness for Worcestershire sauce crisps.
Zoe Harrison lives in Croydon and works in marketing. She loves spicy food and her guilty pleasure is KFC hot wings with chicken gravy.
One of the latest restaurants to grace London’s Wardour Street is DUM, a biryani house opened by Dhruv Mittal (formerly of The Fat Duck and Hibiscus). It’s predominantly Telugu cuisine, from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in southern India, where red chillies and rice are abundant. Hence the focus on biryani, which is served Hyderabadi style: aromatic ingredients are put in a large sealed pot, and kept on ‘dum’ – steamed on a low heat – for hours until the rice and meat are tender.
Starters, or small plates, on the menu include kodi veppudu (chicken wings in a spicy, sour masala); gurda kapura (dry masala lamb kidneys) – which is a roadside ‘dhaba’ classic usually eaten after work; and andhra fried shrimp with coconut and chilli, all at around the £5 mark. There’s one dessert, currently rabdi, an Indian milk pudding, and a cocktail list that includes delights such as the Gande Sapne – cardamom, sesame seeds, vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso.
Our pro says…
This is a small, family-run restaurant in a Soho basement. And without ignoring any codes of professional hospitality, the service is conducted as if in an accomplished home kitchen – confident and attentive. General manager Gopi Ketineni, formerly of Trishna, is joined on the floor by Dhruv Mittal, DUM’s amiable owner. Their experience and competence sets the tone. *I was recognised.
There’s a trend in London restaurants to narrow their offering, and there’s also a new appetite for authenticity. The cuisine from the Indian sub-continent, like Chinese, is one that has typically been dumbed-down. But, happily, operators such as Mittal are giving diners a much truer expression of rich culinary traditions.
Here the focus is on biryani and the short menu comprises small dishes from the Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh regions of India. It’s tempting to order them all. Spiced nuts, kala channa (spiced black chickpeas), dahi kebab (fried yogurt patties), kodi vepudu (chicken wings) and Andhra king prawn fry each demonstrate the kitchen’s understanding of spicing; all are gloriously aromatic and distinguished by subtly different masala blends. As well as curry leaves, a lick of coconut milk and grated coconut on the prawn fry softens the kick of a red chilli paste; the chicken wings – coated in masala – are tempered by a squeeze of Indian lemon. Both are complemented by a cut-through Amrut whisky and soda.
And the biryani. If two of you share all of the starters, one will suffice. It arrives under a cloche of golden, nigella seed-studded pastry, designed to insulate and steam-cook the saffron-stained rice. It’s perfect, a dish busy with tender meat or vegetables, caramelised onions, dagarful (an earthy stone moss) and chilli. A trio of accompaniments: fried okra or smoked aubergine raita, a luscious mirch salan (sesame paste curry) and a kachumber are intended to be added according to personal preference.
The bottom line
Home cooking – or ghar ka khana – is a cherished Indian custom, and one wholeheartedly embraced and skilfully translated to a restaurant context by DUM’s chefs and owners. My hope is that a concept so ripe for a roll-out will remain faithful to its founding ethos.
Total for two, excluding service: £46.85
Our punter says…
The warm welcome we received on what was a particularly chilly night was just the ticket. DUM was quiet when we visited on a Monday evening, but that meant we were looked after exceptionally well for the entire evening. Dhruv Mittal, the brains behind the restaurant, was on hand to answer questions and was passionate about introducing Londoners to the breadth of Hyderabadi cuisine.
Our waiter was keen for us to start our evening with something from the snacks menu. We ordered most of them, and two stood out as absolute winners – juicy king prawns were perfect and in a spicy sauce softened with a dash of coconut; and the intriguing dahi kebab – not a kebab as such, but two fried yogurt patties, that were tangy, moreish and unfamiliar. We accompanied our snacking with two of the cocktails, which were delicious, particularly the desi barbaadi, a Hyderabad take on G&T with a curry leaf giving it an unusual but elegant flavour.
It’s a choice of two biryanis for main: meat, which on this occasion was lamb, or seasonal veg (look out for specials too, though). They’re very impressive to look at – huge, with the potential to defeat the biggest of appetites. Cracking through the crisp pastry, we found a whole lamb shank falling off the bone, mixed beautifully with the rice. We were less enamoured of the veggie option, with the delicate Indian girolles not packing the same punch, and almost drowned by the spicing.
Be warned: for those with delicate taste buds, there’s nowhere to hide from spice here. Levels are high, and there are no cooling dishes to counter it. There’s one choice for pudding, but it’s a good ’un – a little pot of rabdi, a traditional Indian milk pudding, was a brilliant end.
The bottom line
There are so many great Indian places in London now, but DUM will tick the boxes of many a biryani fan, especially those who can handle their spice. Good value, quick and tasty, it’s a fantastic place for a midweek meal out with friends.
Any restaurant, like DUM biryani house, with a menu limited to five starters and two main courses has the opportunity to ensure that its handful of ingredients are impeccably sourced. The lamb biryani certainly fits the bill and with a monthly changing menu, the focus is on seasonality (wild mushrooms have recently been dominating the veg biryani) and a good proportion of the vegetables are British. Good to see that the chicken wings are free-range too. King prawns can come with a heavy cost to the environment and the people involved in their production. DUM didn’t confirm the provenance of the prawns in its stir fry. The drinks menu is limited and disappointingly doesn’t feature any craft British beers.
DUM has built sustainability into the restaurant, with reclaimed wood tables and bar, as well as recycled copper edging and reclaimed wood cladding. There are few measures in place to reduce waste, energy and water use and, as yet, limited initiatives to support the local community.