As Dishoom prepares to open its first drinks-led venue in Brighton, managing director Brian Trollip tells MCA that the venue is a passion project for him and CEO Shamil Thakrar.

The Permit Room – slated to open in The Lanes this November – will be the restaurant group’s first foray into an entirely drinks-led space, offering natural wines and a newly curated cocktail list that will take centre stage.

“Food’s always been centre stage at Dishoom, while our bars have always served as a restaurant waiting space,” Trollip says. “Shamil and I have always wanted to open a bar…we’re as nervous as we are excited about it.

“We don’t know how it will fully form, but it will be led by how the guests use the space.”

Dishoom restaurants are a curated experience from beginning to end, Trollip says, and the new bar will be similarly guest-led.

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The group recently issued accounts for 2022, reporting turnover nearing £100m and that it expected to return to pre-pandemic profitability in 2023.

“Coming into 2023, we feel like we’ve been through hell but we’re a lot more prepared,” Trollip adds. “Despite everything there’s a lot more stability.

“Trading is steady and it’s been a good summer for tourism…the cities were buzzing.”

While headwinds continue to sweep the sector, Dishoom has put in place measures to ensure it remains on the front foot.

Pre-pandemic, for instance, the brand said it would never do delivery – but Covid pushed it to create a delivery business “it’s really proud of.”

Meanwhile, the recruitment team has quadrupled in size, and Dishoom is spending considerably more on retention than before.

Erratic trading patterns post-pandemic have stabilised somewhat, with trading fairly consistent across day parts and sales that were previously condensed into Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays beginning to even out.

“The impact of the strikes has been significant, and not just on strike days,” Trollip says. “It feels like people are starting to change their behaviour now that transport feels less reliable.

“We’re concerned about Christmas reservations and losing thousands and thousands of bookings like last year.”

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Despite industrial action, Dishoom is unlikely to consider making the move to suburbs. City centres will remain the priority.

“Part of the reason we can make the menu affordable is because we’re so busy in city centres.

“We’re not keen to do something more expensive [in suburbs] because we’d rely on evening trade.”

The pace of growth will remain consistent as well, at about one site per year – or less.

“Pre-pandemic, we were thinking about what comes next…then we had a cold bucket of water dumped over our heads,” Trollip says. “We’re a different business out of the pandemic and we still have mountains to climb.

“We’re still regrouping to get back to that consistency and quality.”

Dishoom will continue experimenting with its chef specials, but the core offer will remain the same.

“We don’t tend to chase trends. We’re often doing simple dishes but in the best possible way we can do them.”

The group has, however, noticed a shift towards low- and no-alcohol beverages, which could be both health-led or related to the cost of living crisis – albeit there has been no shift in average spend.

“People are more selective now…I think they’re looking for places that eliminate risk.

“We’re trying to keep Dishoom democratic.”