Hunger and jet lag make for a “hangry” mix as my husband and I power-walk along buzzing Regent Street in search of a late breakfast. We landed in London just a few hours ago and desperately need a morning cuppa. Around a corner, Dishoom Carnaby is a shadowy oasis of bamboo shades and psychedelic prints. We sink into a leather booth under photos of 1970s Indian rocker Asha Puthli and snapshots of the owners’ family. Bottomless chai quickly arrives in short, narrow glasses that my grandmother might have used to serve me milk, and soon the mix of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, star anise and ginger in a base of strong black tea starts reviving me.
In a city where curry houses have long shared streets with pubs and kebab-eries, breakfast may be the next frontier for culinary and cultural fusion. Ordering the Big Bombay brings me a prime example of how to update the full English for a multicultural reality: Parsi-style eggs scrambled with chopped tomato and onion come with sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, mushrooms and pau buns. The side of masala beans steals the show: spiced white beans baked with onion and coriander – miles from the English sugar-and-molasses original but still comfortingly familiar to my palate. My red-eye daze clears even more with a bite of a morning naan roll, an Indian remix of the bacon butty, a British breakfast sandwich of rashers typically served on buttered toast. In this version, soft naan hides smoky dry-cured bacon, cream cheese and fresh coriander, with sweet, spicy, ginger- and garlic-packed green chili jam subbing for HP.
Cousins and co-owners Kavi and Shamil Thakrar co-founded the first Dishoom in Covent Garden in 2010 and soon expanded to four locations (with a fifth soon to open in Edinburgh). Theirs is not the only England-meets-India brunch in town – posh Westminster restaurants like Cinnamon Club and Chutney Mary are also spicing things up – but this Carnaby address offers plenty of food for thought. The retro jukebox was sourced from Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar, the blue-and-white-patterned dishware from Churchill China. The textured-glass room dividers and bentwood chairs, Shamil explains, emulate the type of establishments opened by Iranian Zoroastrian immigrants to India: an homage to Bombay’s socially inclusive Irani cafés that have largely disappeared.
Dishoom Carnaby also plays on the neighbourhood’s central role in Swinging London’s music revolution. With blood sugar steadied and caffeine kicking in, I tune into the soundtrack. Like the food on the table, it celebrates the English-Indian connection: Vintage Hindi pop is intercut with British psych-rock covers by Indian artists. The restaurateurs partnered with Music Concierge to compile a tribute album called Slip-Disc after uncovering the 1960s London-influenced Bombay rock scene that brought together the Beatles and Ravi Shankar. Before leaving, I spot some Hindi text painted on the back walls, a translation of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” according to our server. I step back on the streets of Carnaby with lingering spice on my tongue, wondering what past generations of London-Bombay cousins must have thought of Cellophane flowers and marmalade skies.
Chutney Mary73 St. James’s St., 44-20-7629-6688, chutneymary.com
Cinnamon Club30-32 Great Smith St., 44-20-7222-2555, cinnamonclub.com
Dishoom Carnaby22 Kingly St., 44-20-7420-9322, dishoom.com/carnaby