Touted by The Cinnamon Club supremo Vivek Singh (no less) as one of London’s top Indian female chefs, Asma Khan is now fronting her own gaff – a relaxed, comforting venue in Soho’s Kingly Court that provides a showcase for her blend of north Indian and Bengali cooking.
Walking into Darjeeling Express feels like popping over to a friend’s house for a (very well-cooked) dinner, with warm, casually dressed staff and a kitchen team made up of women who learnt their craft from their mothers. The results on the plate are excellent: crumbly minced mutton cakes come stuffed with hung yoghurt and chopped mint leaves, while the must-order Tangra chilli and garlic prawns are zapped with a tongue-popping five-spice blend.
To follow, you might find slow-cooked Bengali goat curry, but we’re sold on the spice-laden venison meatballs bobbing in a creamy tomato and green-chilli gravy. Sides include fiery beetroot croquettes, although we’d recommend keeping things simple with the delicious red onion and chilli-flecked roti.
Getting a table at this buzzy restaurant can be tricky, as it gets booked up months in advance and there are always queues outside, so we recommend making the most while you’re there by ordering dessert. Sweet endings include the likes of stewed hunza apricots served with cream, and Bhapa Doi (a Bengali steamed yogurt dessert), though you could always opt for a sweet masala chai if you’ve filled up on biriyani.
It’s not only the palpably friendly atmosphere and delicious food that makes Darjeeling Express a jewel in Kingly Court’s crown though; it’s Asma Khan’s commitment to championing women’s causes too. Knowing that a percentage of all proceeds from the restaurant fund a charity called ‘Second Daughters’, which pays for celebration packages and education for second-born daughters in Indian, are apt to leave you with a feeling as warm as the food you’ve just enjoyed.