by AMIT ROY
IF THIS is a war going on against a deadly, unseen enemy, Shamil Thakrar, founder of the Dishoom group of Indian restaurants, has decided the least he can do to make sure NHS workers on the frontline are supplied with essential ammunition.
Chicken biryani, to be precise. With a bit of raita on the side.
To be sure, there are vegetarian options as well – jackfruit biryani, a dish so rare it has probably not yet been discovered back in India, or black daal and rice.
Organising delivery of the attractively packed food packets from four chefs working overtime at the Dishoom kitchens in Kensington – all other seven branches have had to close – to NHS staff at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington has been planned like a military operation.
Thakrar, 48, tells Eastern Eye that his father, Rashmi Thakrar, who passed away in 2016, would have approved of his son’s attempt to help the NHS. He had come from Uganda at the time of the Asian expulsions in 1972, and established the Tilda brand with its focus on Basmati rice.
“I am sure he is glad we are doing it. It’s certainly true in my family there is a tradition of service. And we like to continue with that work at Dishoom,” Thakrar, who incidentally believes in reincarnation, said.
When the actors Helen McCrory and Damian Lewis launched their ‘FeedNHS campaign’, Dishoom was one of the restaurant groups that answered the call to arms.
“We wanted to do something anyway – we wanted to help out,” explains Thakrar.
“Our restaurants are shut. It’s a national effort – it’s a hard time for everyone. How could we help? And we knew there was a group of people coming together to help the NHS so we decided to get involved in that.
“We thought it was a great idea and we heard Damian Lewis and Helen McRory talk about it. There are other restaurants involved as well. We think it’s a really important thing to do for restaurants to be
pulling together at this time.”
Having started last Friday (10), Dishoom had delivered 2,500 meals by Tuesday (14).
Thakrar intends sending 800 meals a day and adding other hospitals as well.
He is also delighted that many customers in lockdown are experimenting with recipes from his cookbook, Dishoom: From Bombay with Love – especially the slow-cooked black daal and the kejriwal, which is “an Indian twist on cheese on toast”.
Meanwhile, his marketing director, Sara Stark, is making sure the meals are loaded properly onto Deliveroo corporate vans, and equipped with “special thermal bags”, for the 15-minute journey to St Mary’s.
“We only started on Friday (10) but already we’ve had an amazing response,” she says.
“The hospital wants each meal to be ready to hand out. Each meal is individually packed. They are cooked, boxed up nicely, labelled and then they get collected and whizzed over to the hospital very quickly.
“We want the food to be delicious and piping hot when it arrives. The staff eat them immediately,” she went on.
“We are thinking of changing over and maybe doing some curry.”
Stark has secured the hospital’s permission to release some of their despatches from the front.
There was a picture, for example, of the “Hepatology team taking a break after hard work on the #Covid19 wards at #StMarys”.Surgical Juniors reported: “The weekend stash has arrived.. Thank you… for keeping us fed and happy over the bank holiday!”
There was further intelligence: “Action shot of today’s lunch arrival! A mixed team of professionals from HR, PA and nursing backgrounds.. thank you thank you thank you….. it was delicious.”