A few weeks ago I had dinner at an Indian restaurant that recently opened in Kingly Court, London. It wasn’t really a new restaurant to me though, for it was Darjeeling Express by Asma Khan. Asma has been serving her Indian home-style dishes to Londoners for a few years now and I’ve had the pleasure to taste them many times before.
Asma Khan founded her supperclub Darjeeling Express in 2012. Since then, she has been hosting dinners at her home in Kensington as well as pop ups at restaurants around London.
Her menu features recipes inspired by the cuisines of Calcutta and Hyderabad. These dishes have been cooked at Asma’s home for generations.
I love Indian food and Asma’s dishes never fail to impress me, whether it’s crispy samosas or flavourful biryanis, creamy curries or melt-in-your-mouth parathas.
I was first introduced to Asma 4 years ago by a common friend. When I met her in person, I was won over by her infectious smile, her kindness and jovial personality. I worked as Front of House at her pop-ups at Cinnamon Club in London. I remember standing in the kitchen with Asma and her amazing team of cooks, tasting myself the delicious food. I loved being part of a team of passionate and talented people.
So naturally, when it was announced that Asma was about to open her first restaurant, Darjeeling Express, in Kingly Court, I was very excited.
The restaurant is located on the top floor of Kingly Court in Carnaby London. The dining room is decorated with dark wood chairs, metal tables and golden light pendants. On the walls there are black and white photos from Asma’s family. Plants adorn the windowsills and also hang from the ceiling.
In the open kitchen there is an all-female staff: a deliberate choice made by Asma and something she is very proud of (rightly so).
Darjeeling Express offers a short menu of 7 starters, 7 mains, 6 sides and 3 desserts. These will change every 8 weeks to incorporate seasonal vegetables from Asma’s organic British suppliers.
My husband and I managed to find a table at the last minute on a Saturday evening. I highly recommend booking well in advance, especially for Sunday lunch (if you want to taste the biryani).
We started our meal with a few drinks: a Bengali Sling (Beefeater Gin, Pineapple Puree, Brandy, Soda) and a Calcutta Cup (Rum, Mango & Spice Infusion, Lemonade).
One Papri Chaat to share between two of us was enough for us as we wanted to stay hungry for the main course. Next time I will make sure to try the Tangra Chilli Garlic Prawns.
The chaat is a dish of spiced potato and black chickpeas on crisp crackers, topped with tamarind chutney, sev and chopped coriander. It’s one of my favourite Indian dishes, full of flavours and textures.
As main course we ordered a few dishes to share. The Hyderabadi Baghare Baigan was our absolute favourite! The aubergines are cooked in a spicy (…but not too spicy) and tangy sauce with ground coconut and sesame seeds. I loved this dish with paratha flatbread.
The Methi Chicken is a dish of boneless chicken thighs cooked in tomato sauce with dried fenugreek leaves. It was tender and delicious.
My husband always orders dal when we eat out at Indian restaurants. At Darjeeling Express, the lentils are cooked in a Hyderabadi style with tamarind, dried red chillies and curry leaves.
It’s a spicy dish so I let Sandy eat it all with the fragrant basmati rice, while I ordered some Beetroot Raita (yogurt with raw grated British beetroot) to tone down the spiciness.
Another favourite was the Hyderabadi Mirchi ka Saalan, a vegetarian side dish of green chilli and onion gravy with ground peanuts, sesame and coconut.
We ate our meal with joy: everything was delicious and satisfying. By the end of our main course we were too full to try the desserts. Next time I will make sure to taste the Gajjar ka Halwa (carrot halwa, garnished with pistachios and cream).
Years of running supperclubs and events proved that Asma and her team have the talent, experience and passion to run a restaurant and turn it into a huge success. Darjeeling Express is here to stay and a must-try restaurant for anybody living in or visiting London.