1 Snowden Street, London, EC2A 2DQ, United Kingdom

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Darbaar (the name means a formal gathering place) opened in late 2015 in Snowden Street, on the site of the short-lived Chrysan. The restaurant seats 120 and there is a separate bar and a private dining room. The executive chef is Abdul Yaseen, originally from Calcutta, who was part of the founding team at Cinnamon Club and was made head chef of Cinnamon Kitchen in 2008 after being senior sous chef at Cinnamon Club for over seven years. He was very much in evidence on the night of our visit, working away in the open kitchen.

The room is spacious, smartly decorated with well-spaced tables and comfortable chairs. The menu mixes in the familiar with some genuinely unusual and original touches. For example there is a “nanza” section, an Indian take on pizza, with naan bread cooked in a wood-fired oven. Similarly, Goan spiced haddock with mushy peas and chips is not something you see often in the high street. The wine list started at £25 and had labels such as Victor Berard Chablis 2013 at £39 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for around £12, Sancerre Rose Durand 2014 at £44 compared to a shop price of about £13, and Veuve Cliquot NV at £87 for a champagne that retails at £41. For City boys wanting to impress, Louis Roederer Cristal was an excessive £330 for a wine that currently costs £140 in a shop.

Popadoms are charged for here but were very good, with chutneys made from scratch in the kitchen – the tomato chutney in particular was deeply flavoured. We sampled a “nanza”, a naan cooked in the wood-fired oven and flavoured with paneer, chilli and oven-dried tomato. This sounds odd but was lovely, with pillowy texture and a good chilli bite (14/20). My starter of masala quail was served on the bone on a bed of chickpea salad and was carefully cooked, with lightly spiced meat and a hint of smokiness from the charcoal grill (14/20). Keralan shrimp cocktail with coconut was a clever take on the clichéd English dish of prawn cocktail, with the gently spiced prawns tender and a coconut-based sauce carefully balanced and complementing the shellfish (14/20).

Kid goat biryani was cooked the traditional way in a sealed pot, the rice particularly aromatic, the meat avoiding dryness (14/20). Butter chicken was genuinely superb, the meat tender, the sauce rich, intensely flavoured and carefully spiced. This is not a dish that will feature on your calorie-controlled diet sheet but as a vehicle for indulgence it is hard to beat (16/20).

Another excellent dish was black dhal, thick and with a hint of smokiness, laden with the aroma of cloves (15/20). Less impressive was okra, which although by no means slimy was still on the soggy side of ideal, though the sauce with it was nice enough (13/20). A selection of different breads was top notch. So often in London, Indian breads appear hard, heavy or too doughy. The naan here was very light and fluffy, the paratha supple and pleasing, the hint of charcoal adding an extra flavour note; this was some of the best Indian bread I have eaten in London (15/20).

We sampled a trio of desserts. Best was gulab jaman topped with shrikand, sweet and rich (14/20). A version of halwa was good though not the very best I have tried (13/20) and a citrus dessert needed much more sharpness (12/20). The coffee was Lavazza and was, frankly, poor. I find that both this brand and Musetti, both very popular in the trade, are infuriatingly variable when served in restaurants. They can be quite serviceable but all too often, as tonight, can be disappointing. However this is a detail that can easily be fixed.

Service was good, attentive and efficient. The bill came to £55 a head with beer to drink. Of course this is more than you may pay in your local high street but the standard of the food at Darbaar is very high indeed. This site is a tricky one, down a pedestrianised alley in a quiet part of The City, and I hope that it does better than its predecessor here and gets the attention that its excellent cooking deserves. The best dishes here are at the pinnacle of what London can currently offer for high-class Indian food.

Further reviews: 25th Dec 2017 | 28th Oct 2017 | 13th Feb 2016

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