After backpacking around the country during my gap year and finding tiny slots in between work to enjoy some vacation time, India continues to be very much my favourite place in the world, particularly the northern areas like Punjabi and Gujarat.
This means that I would do anything to discover a new location capable of making me feel like I’ve been transported back to that beautiful part of the world, free to reminisce on the great things Mother Nature has provided us. The sight of regular neon-lit Indian restaurants do not please me in the slightest, instead reminding me more of junky weekend takeaways back in teenage-hood. These days it’s difficult to find restaurants that have established, meaningful identities, histories worth conversing about. Darjeeling Express is an example of what I had hoped would be a golden gem hidden in the hustle and bustle of Carnaby Street. Truth be told, I was very hyped by founder Asma Khan’s reputation for cultivating a renowned supper club as well as leading her kitchen pack with ladies of cooking skills that can only be absorbed through cultural immersion, as opposed to the strict regimens of a western kitchen. Therefore I felt a strong, almost magnetic force luring me inside in order to get a taste of the food behind the reputation.
Huffing and puffing through to the 3rd floor of Kingsley Court, I arrived at the doors of this restaurant with 2 guests. We found waiters running around, ladies in the kitchen peering at us but still, no one actually acknowledged us for about 5 minutes. It got to the point of one of my guests asking if our clothes were perhaps camouflaging us against their vintage decor to the extent they didn’t notice our presence. Eventually, a man of great build seated us – though he looked so confused I wasn’t sure if he knew why we were here! This initial delay was compensated for when a French waiter took over and enthusiastically explained the menu to us. I knew I had to try the slow cooked goat curry from reading about it elsewhere. First things first though: we ordered a bottle of Rosé of which they only had one on the menu. It turned out to be a labelless bottle that tasted of the sort of flavourless wine that could have been improved on by my local off license. The barman was kind enough to replace this with a pleasant bottle of white wine – Vater & Sohn Mueller Thurgau.
Tangra Prawns arrived glistening pearly white. It was the best seafood tapas creation I’ve had in a good while. Papri Chaat on the other hand simply sat there looking mysterious and giving no clue to how it would taste. All was revealed when the crumbly texture and divine sauce proved to be the ideal snack of the evening. As for the mains, Prawn Malaikari provided a gentle infusion of heat but lacked any real oomph, as was the case with Hyderabadi Baghara Baigan (Aubergine Curry). Paneer Korma came to the rescue by providing a distinct alternative flavour to the other mains. The expected grand prize of the evening arrived looking as beautiful as it would in the kitchen of Indian homes, the Goat Mangsho (curry) separating itself into biteable pieces with a thick sauce. This was incredibly satisfying, no surprise considering they had slow cooked the meat with their own blend of intriguing spices – the results of this process were showcased in the lovely chewiness of the meat. In all, I found that the curries, in a way, spoke for themselves and provided that true “OH MY GOD” feeling enough to make you want to try all their other curries. Although the mains were quite pricey, they do come with fragrant basmati rice.
Asma Khan, I love you and your work. Especially the fact you walk around speaking to customers about their dish! Your sincerity and passion for your food is a joy to see. It leads me to think that your PR team must’ve been very strong to be able to generate such anticipation around your brand. SERVICE NOT INCLUDED was scribbled on the receipt with a smiley face. It’s a shame as that was the highlight of the evening. Overall, I enjoyed nibbling on the starters, watching the ladies going about their work in the open kitchen, and laughing with the french waiter and barman.
Tagra Prawns £8
Papri Chaat £6
Paneer Korma £10
Goat Mangsho £16
Prawn Malaikari £16
Vater & Sohn Mueller Thurgau Bottle £35
Hyderabadi Baghare Baigan £10
Total £104.00 + No Service Charge = £104.00