After building up a loyal following at her superior supperclubs, and a successful residency at Soho’s Sun & 13 Cantons that garnered high praise from Fay Maschler & co., Asma Khan has finally found a permanent place for Darjeeling Express to call home at the top of Kingly Court. Far away from the ground floor crowds, her bright and airy restaurant might as well be her Kensington flat as she wanders around the room, handing out terracotta pots of chai, stealing chairs and knocking over glassware. You’ll probably talk to her within 10 seconds of walking in, and have booked to return for one of her Sunday biryani feasts before you’ve even sat down.
An all-women team of housewives with no professional training runs the kitchen, turning out an enticing range of Indian dishes that take inspiration from Calcutta, Rajput and Hyderabad (or so I’m told), and of course, Asma’s mother. We started with small plates and street food snacks like the DIY puchkas – wheat & semolina shells filled with spiced black chickpeas, and potatoes that you fill yourself with tamarind water. Don’t skip the tangra chilli garlic prawns inspired by Calcutta’s Chinatown, or the delicately spiced mutton shikampuri kabab that’s hiding a layer of yoghurt and chopped mint, if they’re still on the menu that is.
Turning up with four mates was ideal for sharing most of the mains on offer, and it’s too hard to call a winner. Venison meatballs, paneer korma, methi chicken, Hyderabadi aubergine and a Bengali goat curry all impressed, mopped up with plenty of basmati pulao and wholemeal roti. Bring a load of friends and order everything. And be sure to save space for the Bhapa doi, a Bengali steamed yoghurt dessert topped with rose petals that’s not unlike the outstanding Rabdi pudding at Dum Biryani a few streets away. If you’re feeling boozy, the Darjeeling Old Fashioned and their Curry Leaf Martini will keep you happy. But most importantly, you need to have a cup of Asma’s slow cooked masala chai. Scratch that, ten cups. It’s the perfect remedy for London’s pathetic weather, and an ideal accompaniment to the punchy spices that you’ll encounter in the food. Though be warned – once you’ve had it, there’s no turning back. You will forever more be a masala chai snob, and you’ll make daily excuses to swing by Carnaby Street. See you there.
Darjeeling Express – www.darjeeling-express.com
Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby, W1B 5PW