“Hi, do you have a reservation?” asked the maître d’; it hadn’t gone 7pm and already an overflow of guests had filed into a sizable queue across the street. Having spoken to a few people, it seemed these queues were customary at any one of the five Dishoom restaurants spread across London. I’d just arrived at Dishoom’s newest addition on Carnaby Street, which opened just a couple of months ago.
While planning for the Carnaby site, Dishoom’s founder, Shamil Thakrar, unearthed a surprising relationship between London and Bombay that had flourished during the 60s. As youth culture took hold of America and the UK, Bombay, too, would soon have a rocking scene of its own. Inspired by the Irani Cafés that came to dominate Bombay during this period, Shamil and long-time friend and music curator Rob Wood (of Music Concierge) set about making a compilation to not only share these all but forgotten musical treasures, but to also capture the true flavour of Dishoom. Tonight was the launch of the compilation, titled ‘Slip-Disc’, which featured a talk between Shamil and Rob – guided by the very capable Max Reinhadt (Radio 3’s Late Junction) – followed by a Q&A.
“This is not a history lesson,” Rob stresses. At its core, the Dishoom experience is a powerfully sensory one, where sound, sight, taste and smell collectively immerse the guest. While the concept behind the restaurant is steeped in vibrant history, Dishoom is alive, experiential, current. Shamil is quick to reinforce Rob’s emphasis on how important music is in terms of actively shaping the environment, to the extent of even “changing the way your drink tastes.” While music is a vital aspect to it, however, it’s impossible to ignore the overall painstaking attention to detail and aesthetic, from various memorabilia hung along the walls, the unobtrusive wafts of incense, to the lampshades and the lavatory doors. You quickly begin to realise that the thought behind every decision made in the creation of the place is driven by the desire to evoke a feeling.
While the tracks on Slip-Disc are cultural artefacts in themselves, their historical prescience is secondary to the vibe they simply bring to the space. The pair indulged in some welcome detours, touching on the unique ‘randomness’ of compilations and the social aspect they bring to music, as well as some entertaining stories behind some of the track selections. The compilation revives illustrious characters such as Gabriel Roth, Bashir Sheikh, and Asha Puthli (and you’ll have to check out the sleeve notes for some great anecdotes), who, alongside the other musicians, deliver sitar-drenched rock riffs and sultry vocals aplenty.
Aside from both the uncanny London-Bombay connection and the music’s face value, the compilation also turns people onto Indian culture in a different light: “we give Indians permission to get how cool the culture is.” Perhaps Indian cultural stereotypes within Britain have suffered under the totalising image of Bollywood, and this album goes some way in reframing things. One thing that was wonderfully clear with Shamil and Rob, though, was their unbound love and enthusiasm for sharing this culture with others, and inviting them into a world they probably didn’t know even existed.
Words: Vince Morris