Dastaan opened in late 2016 in an unpromising terrace of shops in Ewell, far from the fashionable restaurant hubs of central London. Its founders, chefs Sanjay Gour and Nand Kishor, were formerly at the much swankier Gymkhana in Mayfair. However people now travel here from far and wide to eat here, with reservations being quite hard to obtain despite the out of the way location. This latest meal started with some popadoms and a trio of home-made chutneys. As well as the familiar mango and mint chutneys there was a new one, an excellent tangy tomato chutney.
Aloo chaat had the traditional chickpeas, sweet yoghurt and mint chutney, and interestingly featured La Ratte potatoes. This breed of French potatoes has a buttery texture and nutty flavour, and are the potatoes that Joel Robuchon selected to make his legendary mash. It was intriguing to see them in a chaat, and shows the attention to detail that Dastaan pay to their dishes. The chaat itself had tender chickpeas and benefitted from the potatoes, though for me the overall effect was just a touch too sweet (14/20). I preferred Amritsar fish, made with tilapia and based on a Punjabi street food dish. The fish was marinated with spices including, ginger and chilli. It is then fried and had a very light and crisp batter, while the yoghurt with ginger and dill on the side was a very good pairing for the fish. This is a dish that has been refined here over the years and has really developed (easily 15/20).
Bhajiyas had their recipe tweaked since I had them here last, now featuring kale, spinach, potato, tamarind and mint chutney. These were excellent, and the new ingredient, the kale, worked very well deep fried, and the spices were carefully judged (15/20). We also tried a new dish, vegetable shikampuri, a take on a Hyderabadi lamb dish. This version involved banana shallots, peppers, fresh vegetables and yoghurt, and had vibrant flavour (15/20). Fish tikka featured carefully cooked monkfish, laced with spiced and tender, served with mint and onion chutney (14/20).
Methi chicken was a joy, the meat suffused with fenugreek and other spices, the poultry tender and the sauce rich and glorious (15/20). Pork vindaloo is a Goan dish, far from the high street curry house staple of the same name. The dish was adapted in Goa from a Portuguese marinated pork dish from Madeira, “vinha de alhos”, and unlike its UK curry house counterpart is not especially spicy; the key ingredient is the vinegar rather than chilli. Here at Dastaan, the pork was so tender that it practically fell away from the fork, sitting in a rich, dark, brooding sauce of coconut vinegar and spices. This had terrific depth of flavour, right up there with the versions that I have eaten in India (15/20).
One of the best dishes at this restaurant is kumbh palak, with mushroom and spinach along with onion and garlic. This is a common enough dish, but the depth of spinach flavour that the kitchen conjures up from this humble ingredient is decidedly uncommon, and this may be one of the most exciting spinach dishes that anyone has created (16/20). Aloo gobi was lovely, the texture of the cauliflower superb, the onion tomato masala having really well balanced spices (15/20). Also good was channa masala with tender chickpeas with a base of onions, tomatoes and spices (14/20). Naan bread is always top notch here, light and fluffy (15/20).
Service was very good, with a charming Czech waitress (Andrea) looking after us well. The bill came to £43 per head for masses of food and ample Kingfisher beer. There are a lot of factors that contribute to why the food is so good here. For one thing, spices are ground and roasted in the kitchen just as needed, rather than being prepared in bulk at the start of the week, or even being bought in pre-prepared catering packs, as happens in some restaurants. A lot of fresh ginger and coriander stems are used, and such steps mean more preparation time for the kitchen, but the result is more flavour in the dishes. Overall, this was another superb meal, and confirms to me that Dastaan is currently serving the best Indian food in and around London. Michelin’s inability to grasp this, and to give it merely a bub gourmand and not a star, presumably due to lack of a Mayfair location and absence of a grand piano in the corner of the dining room, is a travesty. I don’t know how many times that the UK Michelin inspectors have actually visited India in order to benchmark the food at top restaurants there compared to here, but I suggest that they spend some more time eating there so that they can see just how superb the food at Dastaan really is.