Darjeeling Express commenced life as as a 12-cover supper club before they become permanent and it’s well deserved for the majestic food. Owner, and self-taught chef, Asma Khan once shared residencies cooking at the likes of The Sun and 13 Cantons, the same place where I reviewed Sarap who are doing great things with Filipino food right now, Darjeeling express are doing great things with Indian food right now in their permanent home, within the bustling Kingly Court since the spring of 2017. The open kitchen spins out dishes inspired by Asma’s Bengali and North Indian roots, all cooked exclusively by women, in fact the whole restaurant is run by women, with the aim to cook-up home-style-belly-tickling-goodness. It rubs shoulders with the likes of Le Bab and a whole host of other establishments that will happily nourish you.
The tangra chilli prawns £8 are so called as the recipe is inspired by the region of Tangra within Calcutta where there is a throng of Chinese inhabitants – it’s the only Chinatown in India too. Per an order we get five little prawns, but what they lack in size, they make up for in flavour and some. They are heavy on the kick of Indo Chinese flavours, that means a smoky pan sear and a rough slap of heat on the tongue. They are the very definition of pleasure pain and I love them, in fact we all did.
We then get papri chaat £6, a row of spiced potatoes, chickpeas covered in bright yellow coloured crispy papri. It resembles a caterpillar, but this one doesn’t blossom into a butterfly, but rampant heat that hits the tongue, only the moreish sweetness of taramind chutney provides temporary relief. They’re addictive and clever.
Shikampuri kebab £5 were two crisp shelled snacks filled with spiced mutton and a svelte layer of hung yoghurt giving a lactic balance to the spice. A spiced tomato chutney was available too for fruitiness and guaranteed ring sting for the next day.
We pour sour tamarind water into crispy puckhas £5.50, one bite wonders of hollowed wheat and semolina shells, filled spiced hearty chickpeas and potatoes.
Another corker were the Bihari dahl phulki with £5, a pile crisp fitters filled with lentils, coriander, red onion and green chillis – the flavours hit you with a rude awakening, a spicy one at that. Sides of green and tamarind chutney provide a foil of keeping things moist.
Hyderabadi tamarind dal £6 was a bowl of memorable sunset yellow comfort that let’s you know about the spice it has the next day. We stay dutiful and scoop the contents with paratha’s using our oily fingers covered and smelling of aromatic roasted spices.
Methi chicken £14 are the thigh meat of the bird slow cooked in fenugreek until its sauce is thick and tastes of furious intensity.
Degh gosht £15 is a dish of beef in a thickly reduced gravy with broad-shouldered heat from the smoked chillis that wants you to remember it by. Delicate its not!
Goat kosha mangsho £16 was slow cooked Bengali style goat, with a viscous brown sauce that looked like the unspeakable, but had compelling depth and more layers of spice. It was advertised as having the occasional potato, that we got and it was a sponge for the flavour.
Hyderabadi baghare baigan £10 were aubergines cooked in more murky depths of roasted spices, but this time ground coconut, sesame seeds and peanuts featured, which I thought were a great idea to accompany the sometimes mulchy texture of the vegetable.
We’re good boys so a side of vegetables were ordered in the form of gobi, gajjar, aloo £10. That would be spiced cauliflower, carrots and potatoes to you and I. But it’s really about things that once had blood running through its veins here. Or is it?
Roti £3 had nice home made qualities to them and were great for both scooping and numbing down the heat.
It turns out that they do great things with things that once came from the soil. Their beetroot chops £4 were lacy pieces of the vegetable with a punch of chilli, cocooned in a crisp croquette. Despite feeling full at this point, their goodness does encourage you to go back for more.
Hyderabadi mirchi ka saalan £4.5 was a melting stew of onions and peanuts, more sesame and coconut. What you get with it are a fist-clenching heat from the green chilli to stop them from cloying. We found ourselves dredging to roti into it.
When did I go? Oct 2017
The damage: Expect to pay £40 per head with booze
The good: What they do good here is broad chested, intensely rich Indian cookery with spice that repeats on you for days. They aren’t shy about putting sweat on your brow and treating your palate to pleasure-pain antics – these are all good things. Some dishes I’d come back for are the tangra chilli prawns, papri chat, Bihari dahl phulki fritters and goat kosha. It made the 6am pigeon toe dash to Starbucks toilet worth it. Yeah that did happen, an aborted commute to work the next day was inevitable. Gritted teeth and white knuckle antics ensued in search of the nearest toilet mid-commute. Any second longer then then my trousers would have seen the through-the-eye-of-the-needle.
The bad: It’s a shame that a lot of the dishes were dinky by comparison to the mid-teen pricing for many of the meat dishes, with the vegetable plates hitting double digits, which mean an aftertaste of balance sheet. **Note** that Darjeeling is currently closed and moving to bigger premises – stay tuned I guess, I’ll be heading there again.
Would I go again? Yeah why not
Address: Kingly Court, Carnaby St, London W1B 5PW