Darjeeling Express

Indian·
££££
·
Silver Award
·

SquareMeal Review of Darjeeling Express

Silver Award

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.”

Good to know

Average Price
££££ - Under £30
Cuisines
Indian
Ambience
Cool, Lively
Other Awards
SquareMeal London Top 100
Food Occasions
Dinner, Lunch
Special Features
Vegan options, Vegetarian options
People
Birthdays, Celebrations, Dates

About Darjeeling Express

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

Location for Darjeeling Express

2a Garrick Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9BH

020 7287 2828

Website

Opening Times

Lunch
Mon 12:00-15:00
Tue 12:00-15:00
Wed Closed
Thu Closed
Fri Closed
Sat Closed
Sun Closed
Dinner
Mon Closed
Tue Closed
Wed 18:00-22:00
Thu 18:00-22:00
Fri 18:00-22:00
Sat 18:00-22:00
Sun Closed

Reviews of Darjeeling Express

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3 Reviews 
Food/Drink
Service
Atmosphere
Value

Lloyd S

Fabulous Thali Lunch
06 July 2021  

We were looking for somewhere quick for lunch before heading to see Hairspray the musical when low and behold we noticed that only five minutes walk away was Darjeeling Express run by Asma Khan. When we also noticed that they were doing a Thali lunch menu we booked our one hour time slot straight away. 

This led us to saturday when we headed through covent garden to the corner of garrick street to where the restaurant is located. On entering we received a lovely warm welcome before being escorted to our table. We ordered a drink while we looked at the menu. As I said this was a Thali Lunch menu only where you had the choice from five different Thali’s. There was a Methi Chicken , Tamatar Gosht (lamb) , Bengali Prawn , Badaami Baingan (aubergine) & Kala Chanda ( chickpeas). These all came with a selection of sides Lentil Fritters , Potato & Peas cooked with cumin , Channa Dal , Lemon Rice , Tamatar Chutney & Poppadoms. Each Thali is priced at £20 and is great value for money. There is also an option to add extra sides if you so wish. 

We ordered the Chicken & Lamb Thali’s plus a couple of extra sides. These were the Mirchi Ka Salaan (green chillies , onion gravy , curry leaves , peanuts , coconut & sesame seeds) & Parathas. I can can tell you now that everything was absolutely delicious. The flavours in every dish were amazing that left your palate dancing with delight.

We followed this by ordering the two desserts on the menu. The Gajar Ka Halwa ( carrots cooked slowly in milk with pistachios & cream) and the Khoobani Ka Meetha ( stewed apricots with pistachio & coconut cream. Together with these we finished with a Green Tea and Masala Chai.

This brought to an end an absolutely fabulous lunch and on the back of this when we got home I immediately booked us in to return for one of their Supper Clubs. I have to say I would highly recommend a visit here as the food and service was excellent.

Thank You Asma for a fabulous lunch and look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Food & Drink
Service
Atmosphere
Value

Alex G

On the way to homemade heaven
09 November 2018  
People love stories; and beyond the food, this is what you get at Darjeeling Express. It certainly has novelty: an all-female kitchen peopled by chefs with no formal experience. Perhaps this is the way it should be, cutting away from a lot of hype and pretention that surrounds many of the nearby venues in Carnaby Street. The founder originally began to cook dinners for homesick Indian guests in her house and such was the success of this venture, that in 2015, Darjeeling Express opened. Drawing on culinary influences from Calcutta to Hyderabad, the restaurant celebrates the diversity that the country has to offer and, arguably, provides a more authentic experience than many Indian wannabees in London. Our experience, on a recent weekday lunchtime visit, was a positive one. We were charmed by the light and airy venue at the top of Kingly Court, enhanced by lots of natural greenery. Service was friendly and staff did not hesitate to offer explanations or suggestions in terms of food and drink pairings. The menu was mercifully brief, with just six starters and eight mains from which to choose. My comrade and I opted to share across both the first and main courses. The vegetarian puchkas – mini wheat and semolina shells filled with spiced black chickpeas, potatoes and tamarind water – were a masterpiece creation, one which may not have been out of place in a much higher-end venue. The puchkas demonstrated impressive culinary dexterity, being both light yet flavoursome at the same time. Our tangra chilli garlic prawns, by contrast, were much more pedestrian and instantly forgettable. Mains did prove satisfying both my slow cooked goat curry and a wonderfully earthy minced beef dish, where the addition of black pepper and dried chillies really added texture. At £6-8 for starters and £12-15 for mains, this is a great value local option: informal and (mostly) good-quality Indian cooking.
Food & Drink
Service
Atmosphere
Value

Raj R

02 July 2018  
Really good food and dã©cor is simple and effective.
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Reservations are not required at Darjeeling Express.

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