Opening a restaurant on the heels of a global pandemic is certainly a bold and brave move, but that’s exactly what hot-ticket chef Asma Khan is doing with this second iteration of her Darjeeling Express concept, boasting both a new location and menu.
Khan originally launched Darjeeling Express back in 2017, then housed inside an intimate space in Soho’s Kingly Court, which is also home to Pizza Pilgrims and Senor Ceviche. After numerous glowing reviews and an appearance on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Khan and her all-female kitchen team felt they had outgrown the space.
The new location for Darjeeling Express is found in Covent Garden, taking the place of a branch of Italian high street chain Carluccio’s. Much bigger than its predecessor, the site can welcome up to 150 guests at one time, featuring a casual deli-style offering during the first half of the week and a more formal dinner service Wednesday through to Saturday.
The a la carte comprises casual dishes inspired by Khan’s childhood train journeys, alongside three eight-course tasting menus; a biryani menu, a ‘Calcutta to Darjeeling’ menu and a vegan option called the ‘Garden Tasting Menu’. The so-called Railway Menu features light bites such as samosas, roti and a spiced potato and cashew nut toastie, while the tasting menus offer a more sophisticated take on Khan’s particular brand of Indian comfort food. If dining from the Biryani tasting menu, expect chicken momos (steamed dumplings) followed by lamb dum biryani, while the vegan menu is no after-thought either, featuring the likes of aubergine in a rich nut gravy served with fried bread.
Khan is also continuing her commitment to championing women in the kitchen and has spoken about wanting to use her restaurant as a way for women who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic to get back into work. On the topic, Khan said: “I want to absorb a lot of people - women in hospitality - who have lost their jobs… we will use the next site as an incubator to rebuild the confidence of women, many who are walking into further insecurity.”