Curiously named drinks at Permit Room in Edinburgh that are worth trying
The new Edinburgh outpost of Dishoom is homage to Parsi theatre and a Scot who loved Mumbai’s libraries
The first floor of Dishoom’s new Edinburgh space is inspired by Mumbai’s historical reading rooms and libraries. The green windows draw from the architecture of the David Sassoon Library in Kala Ghoda. Pics/Dishoom
If you are in Edinburgh next month, try the curiously named drinks at Permit Room, the basement bar housed in Dishoom’s latest branch. The Horniman’s Old Fashioned, for instance, is made of smoked oak barrel rum, pineapple syrup and bitters and we are warned that excessive consumption could lead to “lack of censorship, inflammatory statements and, ultimately, deportation”. Christened after the noted editor of the Bombay Chronicle, Benjamin Guy Horniman, the tipple is joined by the Pila House Sling, Marzban’s Fizz and Tehmul’s Tangle.
A vintage poster of a parody of Hamlet is part of the Permit Room menu. Pic/Meher marfatia/laughter in the house: 20th-Century Parsi Theatre
Since its first outlet in Covent Garden in 2010, Dishoom has seen three more outlets in London — Shoreditch, King’s Cross and Carnaby. With its modern twist on Indian dishes, Dishoom was co-founded by Shamil and Kavi Thakrar and Amar and Adarsh Radia. The new Edinburgh outpost — the first away from London — is concocted from Parsi theatre, Mumbai’s libraries and Irani cafés. These may seem like disjointed — and delicious — bits of aamchi Mumbai that have been teleported to the Scottish capital, but the story of Dishoom is the story of Sir Patrick Geddes and everything that he loved. “Geddes was a great chap — a Scottish botanist, sociologist, town planner and an all-round man of the people,” says co-founder Shamil Thakrar. Geddes —Dishoom’s Edinburgh mascot and connecting link across continents — spent many years in Mumbai in the early 1900s, making friends like Horniman and frequenting reading rooms, theatres and cafés.
Meet the hero
“We made Geddes the protagonist of our story, which finds him in the JN Petit Library and then follows him to Kyani and Co,” says Shamil. Geddes’ work improvised living conditions in Edinburgh’s Old Town led him to Bombay in 1915, produced plans for fifty of India’s cities and founded the department of Sociology and Civics at the Bombay University. The interiors of the restaurant are set to seduce diners with Geddes’ love for libraries.
Shamil and Kavi along with designers, Macaulay Sinclair, researched libraries and reading rooms in Mumbai, the kind of places that Geddes would have frequented, such as the David Sassoon Library, People’s Free Reading Room and the JN Petit Library. The David Sassoon Library’s signage and green glass windows are referenced in the restaurant’s counterparts. Other elements that create the feel of a reading room in Dishoom such as books, vintage maps from the 1920s and reading lights have been brought in. “We spent a lot of time at the National Library of Edinburgh and saw their collection of artefacts that had actually belonged to Geddes, which date from his time in Edinburgh and in India — including letters between him and Gandhi. [Author] Naresh Fernandes and [Mumbai chronicler] Simin Patel also helped with ferreting out news articles on Geddes from the early 20th century,” says Shamil.
Co-founders Shamil and KaviThakrar
Play in the menu
The sly joke housed in the Permit Room, distinct from the restaurant upstairs, is of course its very name inspired by the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949, which required tipplers to have a permit to consume alcohol. The legislation — laughably flouted often — still exists. Permit Room evokes the license but cheekily refutes it too.
At the heart of this bar is a well-researched tribute to Parsi theatre. “The tradition of Parsi theatre was a delightful connection to explore, given Edinburgh’s heritage in the performing arts [such as the Fringe] and Geddes’ love for theatre,” says Shamil. A couple of years ago, the co-founders bought a copy of Laughter in the House: 20th-Century Parsi Theatre, written by senior journalist and mid-day columnist Meher Marfatia.
Marfatia has helped curate artwork that decorates the Permit Room’s walls — characters and scenes from barmy performances, theatre posters and about 70 photographs from plays by Adi Marzban, Pheroze Antia and
The Permit Room menu sort of resembles a programme from a Parsi theatre production, complete with original adverts and hand-drawn illustrations. In these pages, Aflatoon — the hen-pecked Irani family retainer character — makes an appearance, which Marfatia says is a perfect fit for the Permit Room. “Aspandyar or Aflatoon is a hilarious character and has a great food connect; Afla is forever feeding the family. He is an important character in the capers and farces of Parsi theatre; the follies and secrets of the family are with him and he is mostly discreet but sometimes not,” says Marfatia, who has also played a role in the naming of the drinks.
In the bar, you might spot a Chinese fan, a sola topi, an accordion and other elements from Parsi theatre. “Geddes loved theatre and even staged his own performances, which involved the whole community. He wrote his Dramatisations of History in 1923, while he was living in India — I’m sure he was inspired by Parsi theatre,” says Shamil.
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