Comfort and Warmth at Darjeeling Express:
I first met Asma Khan at a Supper Club showcase event at The School of Wok. A bubbly, charming lady, he’d brought along a whole series of Indian street food dishes for us to try. I can remember taking note and meaning to find my way to her supper club as soon as possible. It wasn’t until a few years later though, when I met her at another event, that I got to eat a main course from her kitchen. And, when I heard that she was opening a proper restaurant, Darjeeling Express, I was determined to get there sooner rather than later.
Life never works out the way I intend and in this case, I particularly wanted to take my God Daughter who loves Indian food and is a passionate feminist. I knew she’d like the concept of the all-women team in the kitchen and she’d appreciate the support the restaurant gives to the Second Daughter charity. I wasn’t aware that in India sometimes births of a second girl are mourned. Asma’s fund, based in Kurseong in Darjeeling, is to support those girls and make them feel special and valued – sending celebration packages at birth and helping to support the girls through their education.
Of course, turning up during the week before Christmas isn’t perfect timing and I was just a little concerned I wouldn’t be able to give Darjeeling Express a fair chance. But, Asma was charming, welcoming and totally in control. We got our requested table tucked away in a quiet corner and we also got a little complimentary plate of Tangra Chilli Garlic Prawns – an Asian fusion dish that comes from Calcutta, the only city in India which has Chinatown.
Then we ordered more starters – Channa Chaat and Puchkas with tamarind water. Both delicious, the tamarind water had a good punch and the Channa Chaat was beautifully garnished with sev, coriander and a tamarind sauce.
My god-daughter picked Kala Channa, a black chickpea dish cooked with ginger and chilli. I had a taste and it was beautifully rich and comforting.Meanwhile, I enjoyed a large bowl of tender venison koftas, carefully spiced and served with a creamy tomato and green chilli gravy.
We ordered sides of saffron puleo and hydrabadi tamarind dal. And, because I wanted some vegetables, a portion of baigan aloo (aubergine, potatoes, tomatoes and green chilli garnished with roasted crushed cumin). It was a little more than we could eat – but utterly delicious and definitely all worth trying.
Then, just because, a portion of halwa – which my god-daughter initially didn’t want to try, but once she did became converted to the idea of a carrot-based dessert.
All washed down with a cup of chai.
I hadn’t intended to write a review so I’m short on notes, though long on memories. And, I know this is somewhere I’ll go back to again and again. It’s not fancy – and it’s not overly expensive. But, it’s all cooked with care and served with warmth and charm. And that for me says it all.
Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby,
London W1B 5PW