Editor's note: In June 2020 it was announced that Darjeeling Express would not reopen on its current site, but would move to a larger location at 2a Garrick Street in Covent Garden. This opened on 5th December 2020, with a tasting menu format, and a more casual restaurant next door.
This was my second visit to Darjeeling Express, the first restaurant of former lawyer Asma Khan. Darjeeling Express is on the second floor of the Kingly Court complex, accessible via a lift just along from Pizza Pilgrims. Tables are jammed together and the kitchen is open, the place heaving with customers this evening. The menu features the food of Bengal and is very much showing off traditional home cooking. This is literally the case since the entire kitchen staff are female home cooks rather than people who have been through traditional chef training.
The wine list was a basic affair, with a dozen bottles of still wine plus a trio of sparkling wines, ranging in price from £22 to £52. Indaba Chenin Blanc 2016 was £23 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £9, Petri Pinot Noir 2015 from Pfalz was £31 compared to its retail price of £11, and the excellent Chateau Musar 2006 was £52 for a wine that will set you back £29 in a shop.
Aloo papri chaat was here served on little crisp papri discs, each topped with sev, black chickpeas, potatoes and tamarind chutney, garnished with coriander. As you pop each disc in your mouth it bursts with flavour, the tamarind providing pleasing sweetness (14/20). The only slight misstep of the meal was an onion bhaji that should have been crisper. It was still perfectly pleasant but was not to the same standard as the other dishes (12/20).
Tangra chilli garlic prawns draws influence from Kolkata’s Chinatown, and has prawns cooked with plenty of garlic and chilli; this is a simple dish but the prawns were accurately cooked and the spicing was punchy (14/20). Methi chicken had tender meat suffused with fenugreek and spices (14/20). Cauliflower, carrot and potatoes were cooked with tomato, green chillies and a touch of ginger and retained the texture of the vegetables really well (14/20). Aubergine cooked with sesame, ground peanuts and coconut was a surprise, the aubergine avoiding sliminess and the peanut flavour coming strongly through (14/20). Hyderabadi tamarind dhal was made with yellow lentils, curry leaves and red chilli, and had good texture (14/20).
Both carrot halwa and stewed apricots were as good as I remember them from my last visit (13/20). Service was slightly harried but friendly, and the owner was much in evidence in the dining room. The bill came to £61 a head, albeit with a bottle of Chateau Musar. Darjeeling Express is very different from most Indian restaurants in London. It delivers the kind of food that you may eat in an Indian home, and shuns the high street cliché dishes. It is clearly prospering, with tables being turned all around us on this weekday evening.
Further reviews: 18th Jul 2017