Dastaan has become a great favourite of mine ever since it opened, in the unlikely setting of a terrace of shops in Ewell. It is hard to believe the standard of food that emerges from the tiny kitchen of this unpromising premises, but the talented team here continue to develop and enhance their skills. Dastaan has a sister restaurant in the form of Black Salt in East Sheen, and are planning to open a branch in Leeds soon.
Mixed vegetable bhajias are particularly impressive here, as it hard to imagine how anyone could make a ball of fried vegetables taste quite as exciting as this. The texture is crisp on the outside, the filling packed with vibrant, distinct spices, accompanied by chutneys to avoid any hint of dryness. This dish was good to begin with and has been refined and improved – a delight (16/20). Malai chicken tikka had generous pieces of chicken that had been suffused with spices and tenderised with cream cheese, then plunged into the tandoor to impart a smoky hint of charcoal. I have eaten plenty of versions of this in India but the one here is right up there (16/20). Red pepper prawns have always been a favourite here. The prawns are very large and yet the cooking of them is precise, the shellfish standing up well to their spice marinade, the texture superb (17/20). Stone bass tikka was a special of the day and was also excellent, the fish having a firm texture that is ideal for the tandoor, and again the different spices of the marinade coming through well (15/20).
Lamb biryani had fragrant rice from the spices it was cooked with the grains distinct as they should be, the meat avoiding dryness (15/20). Pork vindaloo is a Goan dish that came from adapting a Portuguese dish involving cooking pork with vinegar. The Indian version adds spices and the version here tastes just like it does in Goa, with a complex set of spices and a dark sauce with a touch of sourness from the vinegar (16/20). Incidentally, the Goan version of vindaloo is not especially spicy, so has nothing really to do with the British high street curry adaptation that is loaded with chilli.
Methi chicken is made here with plenty of fresh fenugreek rather than powdered fenugreek, and its vivid, pungent flavour comes through well here, the fresh version subtler than the powdered version that most people are used to. The chicken was tender and the spices zinging (16/20). Wild mustard potatoes retained their texture very well, the gentle mustard flavour just elevating the dish (15/20). Kumbh palak is one of the very best dishes here, and one that you can try yourself at home if you get hold of the Dastaan cookbook. I have tried to reproduce it but cannot quite get the remarkable depth of spinach flavour that they manage here. It is one thing to take a luxury ingredient like a large langoustine and make it taste good, but it takes talent to elevate spinach to this level (17/20). Naan bread, both plain and garlic versions, had soft, pliable texture and arrived hot and fresh from the oven (15/20).
The bill came to £55 a head for vast amounts of food and copious beer. Service was friendly and the place was packed as always. Dastaan has really elevated the top level of Indian cooking in and around London in my view. At most one or two other (much fancier and pricier) restaurants in the capital are operating at roughly this level of skill. It is laughable that Dastaan does not have a Michelin star.