There’s no place like home.
After all, that’s exactly where the now-legendary self-taught chef Asma Khan started Darjeeling Express as a supperclub – in her home. Over the course of half a decade she honed her skills, garnering some strikingly good reviews before going on to open her first bricks-and-mortar spot in Carnaby’s Kingly Court. After appearing on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, her fame reached stratospheric levels, leading to daily queues outside the restaurant and visitors from across the globe booking months in advance for a table. So, they naturally went looking for larger premises. And, after a long hunt (and a brief stint in Covent Garden) they finally found the perfect place. Back where they began, in Kingly Court.
They’ve taken the original restaurant that started it all and they’ve given it a total rehaul, adding more space, fancier furnishings, and a nice open kitchen so that people can see the all-female cooking team as they hustle away over ludicrously fragrant cooking pots.
Now, it’s all awash with turmeric yellows, burnt oranges, sandalwood browns, and forest greens. There’s even a little cocktail bar, too. And if you get one of the roll-benched booth seats next to the window, you can gaze down with mercy at the poor, curry-starved punters meandering three stories below in Kingly Court itself.
You, however, get to feast. If you’re there for lunch, you’ll find a menu that flits from region to region within the Indian subcontinent – it’s inspired by the long-distance train journeys Asma made with her family in the ’70s and ’80s, during which different hawkers would hop aboard at each stop to proffer the area’s specialities. Thus you can eat your way through West Indian spicy potato buns from Mumbai, all the way to East Indian Kati rolls stuffed with chicken & green chilli from Kolkata.
For dinner it’s set menu only, taking the form of a ‘Royal Thali’: a 14-dish feast inspired by traditional wedding and celebratory banquets. Served on a beautiful copper platter, it’s loaded with slow-cooked tamarind dal; spicy Bengali aloo dam; puffed puri breads; British beetroot raita; and half a dozen more delightful little treats. And they’re just the supporting acts for the main dishes, which stretch from ginger & black chickpea stews, to fiery goat curry, to prawns in a rich coconut milk sauce.
With so much flavour in the dishes, Darjeeling Express’s drinks menu is comparatively pared-back but thoughtfully chosen: an Alphonso mango lassi here, a classic Thums Up cola there, and beers from White Rhino (India’s first craft brewery). And of course there that cocktail bar, where you can secure yourself a saffron-infused old fashioned or an espresso martini made with cardamom & tonka beans.
All told, we expressly recommend it.
NOTE: Darjeeling Express is open now, Monday to Saturday. You can find out more, and make a booking at their website right here.
Darjeeling Express | Kingly Court, Carnaby, W1B 5PW
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