Radhika Mohendas is the co-founder of Dorshi, an East Asian restaurant in Bridport, Dorset. She and Jollyon Carter started Dorshi as a street food stall in 2011, selling sushi and dumplings that showcased local seafood and foraged herbs. The pair opened Dorshi as a bricks-and-mortar location in 2016, but still enjoy the street food hustle. They will be serving dumplings to festival-goers at this year’s End of the Road.
Dorshi won the Street Food category at the 2014 Young British Foodie Awards, an annual competition celebrating innovation in British food and drink. You can nominate someone—or enter yourself—for this year’s YBFs by visiting their website.
My only connection to Dorset is that after my husband and I got married, it was the time of the financial crash and we were both in advertising. We decided to come back to England and his parents had just moved down to Dorset. Jollyon [co-founder of Dorshi] is from Dorset and always sort of rejected it, but we quickly realised that it’s so varied—it’s so big and there’s a lot of creative types quietly doing their own thing.
Dorshi came out of wanting to make sushi and also play with local produce. It was a time when a lot of people around here were growing interesting vegetables, and we just thought, “This might be quite fun.” For us, it’s about being authentic to where we are—we’re literally in a little alleyway in Bridport in Dorset. What we do is authentic to right here, as opposed to trying to recreate something that you ate on the back streets of Vietnam or Kuala Lumpur—that’s an experience for there.
We work with a company called Southern Roots, who are based near us and do organic farming. We love their ingredients: amazing little squashes, a variety of ingredients that we wouldn't normally come across. Our organic flower lady does some really cool stuff like lovage, so we use a lot of different herbs and vegetables—more than we do with meat or cheese
It definitely wasn't easy to get people away from the suet dumplings
We didn't start the restaurant first, we started street food, but it was the same thing—we wanted to do something that was accessible to people. Sushi was just really hard, people didn’t really get it. The minute they have to think too much about too much, they’re like, “No.” With dumplings, it was easy. You didn’t have to think too much about it, it just tasted good.
I can’t tell you how we did our first street food stall, it was all a very drunken blur. Our friend was having an art opening and it was last minute. They had no food and she said, “Come on down.” We had some hessian and a market stall we’d borrowed, and someone quickly wrote a name for us (I’m still not sure about the name Dorshi). And then I don’t know what pushed us to think, “We tried this once, shall we keep trying?”
We phased out of sushi completely by 2013 and had gone hard on the dumplings. Not to be sacrilegious, but you know how easy pizza is? It’s something you can just eat—there is a bit of a weird winning formula there.
Dumplings are also something you find all over Asia and there are lots of different types—you could argue that an empanada is a dumpling, or ravioli or gyoza. There are so many and we just loved that we could put our own stamp on it.
The Asian influence also came from cravings. I’m from Malaysia and Jolly lived in New York for a long time and worked in Vietnamese restaurants while he was there. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world—I lived and worked around New Zealand and Australia as well—you always find easy access to pan-Asian food. We just didn’t have that in Bridport, so Dorshi was really born out of cravings and as a sort of homage to the amazing street food places that we go to again and again in Asia.
It was really hard going when we first started. We live in an area where the average age starts at about 60. People are very set in their ways, so it definitely wasn't easy to get people away from the suet dumplings.
We’ve had people look at the menu for ages and then come up and complain. We had someone once ask for a cheese and tomato dumpling
One of the first dumplings we did was pork and Dorset Blue Vinney cheese. Things like that really intrigue people, but it didn’t necessarily make people want to come and try. Honestly, the psychology of menu-writing is on another level—that’s been a really interesting foray. I think we found that the less pretentious we were, the better, but then we ran into people still not understanding. We’ve had people look at the menu for ages and then come up and complain. We had someone once ask for a cheese and tomato dumpling.
For me, I really like the one we do with pork and Lancashire black pudding. It’s just a gorgeous creamy black pudding—a really simple but delicious dumpling. The field mushroom with Dorset red Cheddar is also a real winner. It’s got a taste of bacon without having bacon in it, and it’s really smoky without being hot. It’s a really good one but I don’t eat it that often because I just know the calories in it.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.