What: A contemporary all-day Indian bar restaurant in Brighton’s The Lanes area. Located in a former Kath Kidston shop, Permit Room is a spin-off from highly-successful national Indian restaurant group Dishoom. With around 150 internal covers, the site is far from small, but it is more compact than most Dishooms, which typically have at least 200 covers. Though it offers many of the same products as the group’s core brand, it is being pitched as something that is less restaurant-y and more drinks-led. While the link with Dishoom has been made clear within the comms around the launch, the Dishoom branding in the venue itself is subtle to the extent that some guests may not make the link. To tie in with its positioning as a neighbourhood place, Permit Room also has a strong local angle, sourcing a proportion of its ingredients, drinks and art from in and around the south coast city.
Who: Dishoom was founded by Shamil and Kavi Thakrar in Covent Garden in 2010. It now operates a further five sites in London (a sixth will soon launch in Battersea) alongside regional sites in Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham and a dozen or so delivery kitchens. The Permit Room project has been led by Dishoom managing director Brian Trollip.
The vibe: Somewhat tucked away between East Street and the bottom section of The Lanes, Permit Room is spread across various different rooms and levels. There is a café-like area to the front that leads to the main bar area, which is flanked by a set of DJ decks. Off this section is a larger space that has more of a restaurant feel. Beautifully finished to evoke 1970s Bombay, the space shares some design DNA with Dishoom - including dark wood panelling and Formica tables - but not to the extent that Permit Room doesn’t feel distinct from the wider group. Design details include pot plants, India-sourced memorabilia including film posters and album covers, and expensive-looking wooden speakers that are in some cases built into the walls. The playlist is described as 'Bombay to New York via funk, punk, hip-hop, disco and soul'. Alongside this, the venue has opened with a live music residency created in partnership with Going South, a platform for British South Asian talent spearheaded by DJ and presenter Bobby Friction.
The food: As with the design, Permit Room has struck a balance between the new and the familiar. The menu is smaller than that offered at Dishoom restaurants and more geared toward drinking food, although there are a handful of more substantial options. New dishes include masala whitebait; crispy spinach chaat; charred sweet potato with chilli-lime masala; and ragda pattice, a hot tangy curry of dried white peas, tamarind, tomato served with two fried lentil and potato patties. More than 50% of the dishes on Permit Room’s main menu (and all the side dishes) are vegetarian or vegan, and there is no red meat. There’s also a breakfast menu that’s focused on Dishoom’s famed naan rolls (the venue opens at 8am on weekdays and at 9am on weekends).
To drink: Permit Room offers a large and ambitious cocktail menu that’s split into sections including Highballs, Twisted Classics, On The Rocks, Short & Boozy, Teetotal and Morning Glories. A lot of effort has gone into the 20 or so drinks available, with the bar team showcasing many different techniques. Options include Blushing Dawn Paloma (kumquat juice, chilli-infused tequila, spices, pink salt, lime-oil, sugar and mezcal); Mangosteen Daiquiri (white rum, mangosteen, fruit syrup and chamomile); and the Thums Up Sazerac (rye whiskey, Cognac and absinthe sweetened with a reduction of Indian cola Thums Up). Wine and beer are presented on hand-written blackboards, with the selection changing regularly.
And another thing: Permit Room is not a new brand per se - a number of Dishoom’s locations have sub-branded The Permit Room bars - but feels fresh nonetheless. While Dishoom does not take a cookie-cutter approach to its restaurant design, its model and menu is largely standardised. The team has clearly relished the chance to create something new that is, one suspects, not necessarily intended to be scaled. Permit Room also addresses the fact that Brighton is probably not big or busy enough to sustain a conventional Dishoom restaurant (it takes a lot of chefs and kitchen infrastructure to deliver the brand's regular menu). It had been rumoured that the group was considering some sort of stripped back offer - a Dishoom lite, if you will. It could be argued that, in practical terms, that is what Permit Room is, but it has sufficient personality to not come across as such.
32 East Street, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1HL