Thursday, September 27, 2012


Long lost cousins? Clue is in the moustache...

Eating out in Indian restaurants in London is something I said goodbye to a long time ago. My family are such geniuses with a curry (and samosas, idlis, dosas....) that it seems madness to hand over cash for food that's just so-so. And it's not just the food. Trading the old maroon flocked-wallpaper of the traditional curry houses for the bland contemporary styling of the new breed of pricy Indian restaurants doesn't fill me with joy either.

Then Dishoom burst on the scene. Based in London's Covent Garden but styled as a vintage Bombay cafe, it pays homage to an era when Iranian immigrants to Mumbai opened up cafes dishing out chilli cheese toast (spicy, melty bits of breaded goodness), red-hot chai, minty lamb chops and kulfi for dessert. These cafes are fast fading to become a mere footnote in Bombay's history, replaced by temples to American fast food like pizza and fried chicken. But the old cafes weren't just memorable for the food, but for a distinctive air that inside, time stood still. Fans whirred slowly overhead, people hung out for ages over a single cup of tea, and all around was quiet vintage decoration.

Dishoom Shoreditch (I'm desperate for one of those chairs)

Dishoom's attempt to preserve some of the old Bombay charm has gone down such a storm in London, it's opening a new branch in Shoreditch, East London in October. Dishoom's kitchens produce some phenomenally tasty food but it's not just that - they do everything with a big fat sense of humour. Whether it's serving a gin and tonic with a drop of angostura bitters in a vintage brown glass "medicine bottle", sepia portraits on the pale blue walls, or the retro Indian cosmetics in the loos.

The 'rulebook' at Dishoom Shoreditch

Air-con at Dishoom Shoreditch

Dishoom Chowpatty Beach, the summer pop-up on London's South Bank

On its own, this styling would feel like a cunning marketing ploy to tap into our current love affair with all things retro driven by a nostalgic yearning for anything vintage. But Dishoom is full of celebration - whether it's Holi (the Indian festival of colour) or its own tongue-in-cheek take on Valentine's day (Velan-Times Day).  When good design is infused with integrity - now that's when it really flies. Whatever the Dishoom-wallahs do, they seem to do with love. For food, for India, and for immigrants everywhere. 

Tastes every bit as good as it looks...

I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts. Dishoom, Covent Garden

All photo credits: Dishoom

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This has been a month of catching up on movies I didn't have time to see in the cinema, and this week was a Snow White extravaganza of back-to-back Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Not even the luscious Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame) could save Snow White and the Huntsman for me, but Mirror Mirror on the other hand, was genius.

Throughout,  the uber-bling costumes and set design gave me the sneaky suspicion I was watching a Hollywood take on a Bollywood film, and the film just let rip at the end with a mad Bollywood-styled musical number sung by Snow White herself (played by Lily Collins, daughter of Phil). The lush set design is the work of Eiko Ishioka, a Japanese designer, who has collaborated with Mirror Mirror director Indian-American Tarsem Singh, on visually delicious films like The Cell.

What I love about the Mirror Mirror set design is that the Indian detail is a subtle influence, like the red peacock dress that Julia Roberts wears, and, as my sister's eagle eye spotted, the peacock feather detailing on the palace wall.

Ishioka herself died earlier this year, just before Mirror Mirror was released, but what a legacy she's left behind.

Here's J-Lo in the surreally genius The Cell:

 Bram Stoker's Dracula                                           Grace Jones

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


When I'm bored (by which I mean, when I'm on deadline), I like to try and work out the plot of old Bollywood movies just from the poster. This one is making me lose my grip on sanity. Why is there a tiny midget yanking on a bell? Why is that dude's face green? And why is sour-puss getting a pink rose? Send me your best caption and I'll send you a prize!


These posters aren't the most subtle, but they're brilliant because they each radiate personality (even if that personality is one that you would cross the street to avoid). Just as the distinctive glamour of old Hollywood (the sexy sizzle of Marilyn and the gamine quirkiness of Audrey) has been replaced by a homogenous army of stick-thin chicks with trout pouts, new Bollywood is populated by an identikit array of girls and boys with vaguely Western features and a 'wheatish complexion' (read an Indian matrimonial advert to know what that means).

The hand-painted posters and billboards of vintage Bollywood are as unique as its film stars were, and the images are now cherished for their kitschy cool. Indian graphics company Indian Hippy makes goodies like bags and pillows with the images on, but they've gone one better. They'll put your face on a vintage poster, and bob's your uncle, you're a Bollywood star!
You could, for instance, take a picture of you and your lover in a cab, slightly mashed, on the way home from a party (just guesswork here from looking at the photo), and transform yourselves into star-crossed lovers from the Moghul era:

Or what about a Bollywood-style memento of a wedding?

Personally, I'd pick this one. Feathered head-dress, chimpanzee-looking guy, weird nude on the floor. What more would I want from an evening in Paris?