Born in Hyderabad, India, raised in Manchester and trained at Le Cordon Bleu, Dhruv Mittal is the Chef Founder of Dum Biryani House in Soho, an authentic Indian street food restaurant. We caught up with him to discuss teaching cookery classes, where he likes to hang out in London and why Indian restaurants are just so popular.
We’re seeing a real increase in Indian fine dining, why do you think it has taken off in London?
Indian food in London has always been hugely popular to the point that the Tikka Masala is our national dish! That said, customers are now savvier than ever, having travelled around the world, eaten at the best hotels and restaurants, and being more involved in food through TV, media and film. They want food that is reminiscent of what they know exists but is unique, different, and multidimensional.
Indian restaurants have been forced to elevate their offering as a result, bringing tasting menus and more regional specialities to the same customers who would have formed much of the ‘curry and a pint’ culture back in the 90s.
With restaurants such as Gymkhana, Cinnamon Club and Quilon, the path has been paved for upmarket Indian cuisine, and the response they’ve had has been brilliant. Therefore, it is no surprise that Indian fine dining is having its moment, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon.
This is your very first restaurant. How did you figure out what you wanted the look to be?
When I started DUM, I wanted to remove all the stereotypes of a ‘curry house’ and replace them with elements that me and my friends would often seek out in restaurants that we repeatedly visit. That meant no more waiters in suits, rickety cork tables, red walls or carpets, and no Bollywood instrumental in the background. In my vision, I wanted the place to feel like an offbeat drinking and eating hole, where people would be reminded of a modern India, with our bold food, rustic undertones in design, contemporary artwork, and music that very much formed my childhood – Old School Hip Hop. The site itself had many interesting facets that lent itself well to this vision; for example, the coal vaults which make up most of our private dining rooms, the curved arches, light from the ground level pavement windows, and original brick walls behind bonded plaster. I decided to open up the restaurant as much as possible to bring in light from every direction whilst keeping some of its rustic features with a simple painted concrete floor and earthy elements like the brickwork. We also made our own sharing tables out of reclaimed wood and steel piping. I then partnered with artists to dress the place in colourful depictions of growing up Indian, quotes and illustrations. The result – it is fun, bold, and colourful, but with earthy elements which make it feel warm and like home.
We’re in Dum Biryani House, what should we order?
Obviously the biryani, and I would go for the Lamb Shank as it is still the star and my favourite. You also need to try our snacks – the Dahi Kebab, Andhra Prawn Fry, Lollipop Chicken Wings and the Pattar Kebab. On a hot day I would choose the Curry Leaf Chicken – light, herbal and packed full of flavour – which works especially good being mopped up with a paratha! To drink you have to go for a Haramzaade – a Hyderabadi take on a Mai Tai with Old Monk Rum and Fresh Ginger.
What is your favourite place to eat out besides your own restaurant?
If I had a go-to, it would be La Fromagerie, in Marylebone. Fresh, honest and simple food with the best produce that London has to offer, and a cheese room at hand – what can go wrong?
You have a diploma in French cuisine and patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu. How does this impact your Indian cooking?
At Le Cordon Bleu, we were lucky to have access to the best ingredients from around the world to cook with on a daily basis. French techniques are designed to maximise the flavour of every ingredient before needing to add any additional seasoning. This made a huge knock-on effect on the way I cook Indian food because produce is rarely given the same level of attention as spices in our cuisine. By applying the knowledge that I gained at LCB, I managed to bring more dimensions to the flavour and texture of dishes that I had always been cooking and it also helped to elevate what we do in the restaurant. For example, my patisserie training helped us to develop a puff pastry lid for the classic DUM Biryani, which compared to its normal dough substitute, keeps steam in the biryani for longer and adds a beautiful, golden crisp topping to the dish.
You also teach cooking classes. What is the biggest student cooking fail you have witnessed? And what is the biggest success story?
Teaching my own course at [email protected] has been an incredibly enriching experience so far, and it really allows me to share food that is closest to my heart. In my classes so far, one of the biggest fails I’ve seen was a guy who wanted to rush through the recipe as quickly as possible so cranked up the heat on his stove meaning that everything inevitably got burnt, or just didn’t cook, which, in the end, made for a very interesting concoction.
One of my proudest moments so far was at my first class that I ever taught. There was a woman next to me who told me early on that she hated beetroot, never knew how to cook it, and hadn’t eaten it in over six years. I took her through my Beetroot and Potato Tikki with a Honey, Turmeric and Curry Leaf Raita. At the end of the class she approached me and said that it was one of the best things she’d ever tasted, and will happily be cooking the same beetroot dish at home every Sunday, for her partner and her family because they had been deprived of that vegetable for so long.
Aside from Indian, what is your favourite food to cook?
Italian food. I love the simplicity of the cuisine, and how a few, good quality ingredients can go a long way in making a wholesome dinner.
Having lived in many different places, what is your favourite city in the world?
For me, its London. Always feels like home, I miss it when I travel, and it has something for everyone – a quality very few cities have in my opinion.
What would we find in your fridge?
My fridge is full of fresh vegetables – there’s a great market near my house in Islington where I go for all my seasonal top-ups weekly. You’ll find plenty of Greek yoghurt, hummus, eggs (LOVE some eggs) and a few bottles of Cocio Chocolate Milk (because everybody deserves a treat!).
We’re stepping away from takeaways and trying to cook Indian food from scratch, what tips can you give us?
70% of curries all across India are made from a combination of the following: Mustard seeds, cumin seeds, tomatoes, onions, coriander powder, red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Combine all the ingredients together, try out different ratios and start experimenting. Home Indian food is easy, quick and light on your pocket, so start by emptying your store cupboard ingredients or whatever veg or meat you have in your fridge. The best way to become confident with spices and what they do is to use them sparingly, tasting often and cooking as much as possible.
Who would be at your dream dinner party?
For me, dinner parties are all about fun, great conversation, and are full of laughter. I’d pick people I would have a great time with – Aziz Ansari, Dawn O’ Porter, Jimmy Fallon, Tracee Ellis Ross, and a bunch of my closest friends.