London’s one-item restaurant scene makes some of us rejoice. No more half-hour perusals of endless dishes, with the second the menus are collected a feeling of doom setting in: should have ordered something else from that 5-dish shortlist, we think. However despite the logistical efficiency and lack of FOMO, it’s become something of a hackneyed concept of late, and one that’s not without its inevitable drawbacks. Your one veggie mate when everyone else wants to go to the joint that serves only steak, and the fact that one item to focus on means that it should be fairly near perfect (not a tired, production-line style offering from chefs that are bored of serving up the same stuff for the duration of every service). Though there’s a newly opened Soho basement, Dum Biryani House, that’s proving that a one item menu needn’t make you yearn for variety.
On a dank November evening, we descend a tiny staircase, part the thick curtain sealing off the blustery night, and step into a laidback, bijou dining room that’s a playful mix of traditional Bombay café and funky Soho cool. An A-grade tiled floor and mix of blue and peach is clashiness down to an art form, and the suspended light bulbs cast a subtle glow onto tongue-in-cheek, Asian-style pop art.
And now for the food. The concept comes from acclaimed chef and former supper club maestro Dhruv Mittal, and it’s clear that simplicity is paying off: there’s a buzz about the place despite the place having only opened its doors 2 weeks prior. A concise, A5 menu is on offer here: a few starters, two slow-cooked biryani mains, a couple of sides and one dessert, flipped over to reveal some spice-infused house cocktails, and a couple of cherry-picked wines and beers.
Along with Campari, gin & prosecco-based cocktails, we start with a traditional balti bowl of dreamily succulent king prawns, tossed in gorgeously spicy-sweet chilli & coconut. At £4.95, this is value you’re unlikely to find value anywhere else in Soho, or London, for that matter.
Next comes sour-spicy chicken wings in masala sauce. The true test of the chicken wing is if it can be eaten with cutlery, in my opinion, and the meat is so tender that with a mere tease from a fork, it slides right off the bone in chunks.
And now for the main event: the Hyderabadi-style biryani. The perfectly formed, crisp pastry roof is sprinkled with nigella seeds, and tapped through like the top of a soft-boiled egg. This reveals a heavenly swirl of saffron and cardamom-scented steam, and the pastry is set aside for scooping up the (heaps of) rice and smooth, silky sauce. Lamb shank is so rich and gorgeously tender it probably would have fallen apart at the force of a sneeze (though we didn’t try it), and lapped up with nutty mirch salan and smoky aubergine raita. The vegetable version (filled with chickpeas, potatoes, wild mushrooms and peas) is equally flavoursome, and served with a fried okra raita that I could have sat and eaten with a spoon only and been fully satisfied with. If Mittal’s next venture happens to be a fried okra raita restaurant, expect to find me hammering on the door.
Happy to have found a one-item London restaurant that’ll be more than a one-visit thing, we head out into the night talking of how though there’s little we didn’t try from the menu, we’ll be back imminently. Forget variety: Dum Biryani House is the new spice of the London restaurant scene.
Dum Biryani House
187B Wardour Street, London, W1F 8ZB