Carnaby just got even cooler. It's déjà vu all over again at Kingly Court with the very welcome return of Asma Khan's restaurant Darjeeling Express.
Back to the home of their first permanent restaurant, renowned restaurateur, philanthropist and activist Asma Khan is once again sharing her food and her stories on the top floor of Kingly Court. Darjeeling Express is unique in its clarity of vision and purpose; if there was a restaurant that embodied the entire ethos of hospitality, this would be it.
The space is significantly larger than their previous one here but retains the warm , welcoming and homely vibe that makes you feel you've been invited to a friend's house (albeit one who's a fabulous cook!) - something I realise had been slightly lost at the more formal Garrick Street site.
This is the real joy of Darjeeling Express's new home; an open kitchen showcasing the beating heart of the restaurant - their all-female kitchen team. Asma has led and encouraged these gifted home cooks from the very beginning, creating something very special. (It's also a real lesson in what happens when you treat your staff with respect, as individuals, rather than as shifts on a spreadsheet.)
There are some old favourites and some new tweaks on the lunchtime menu:
Chicken Momos: five plump, beautifully textured, steamed Darjeeling dumplings with chicken, onion & coriander, served with smoked chilli sesame chutney for dipping.
Puchkas: delicately thin and crispy wheat shells filled with a spiced chickpea and potato mixture, served with tangy tamarind water. These are basically a fresh, delicious culinary game of chicken; pour in the tamarind water and eat in one bite before they dissolve. One of my favourite dishes.
Tangra Prawns: Indo-Chinese prawns named after India's only Chinatown district, flavoured with dried red chillies and garlic. The description on the menu is nowhere close to doing them justice; these addictive, juicy, fiery prawns are absolute flavour bombs. If you try just one thing from the starter section of the menu, make it these.
Looking for perfect comfort food for a quick lunch on a wintry day? You need one of their Chilli Cheese toasties, with cheese, green chilli chutney, chopped onions & chillies; there’s also a Keema version and a vegetarian Aloo Kaju. Alternatively, try the Chicken Kati Calcutta Roll: a very generously-sized paratha and egg wrap with chicken kebab, onions and chopped green chillies.
Beetroot Chop: lovely Bengali spiced beetroot croquettes with the thinnest of crispy coatings and a balancing dip.
Beef Tamatar Gosht: slow-cooked beef in fragrant spices in a tomato base, this is deeply rich and satisfying. I loved the earlier lamb version and the beef did not disappoint. This is hearty, generous food, comforting and nurturing, a culinary hug cooked with love.
Congratulations and welcome home, Asma and the team; you are home, and now I am too.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Amanda David is a freelance food writer specialising in London’s restaurants, bars, exhibitions and events. She is the Events Editor for London Cheapo and a regular contributor to Palate Magazine.
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