Dastaan has become a favourite restaurant of mine, despite its slightly out of the way location in Ewell in Surrey. Two senior chefs from Gymkhana set up shop here and are cooking better food than any that I have ever eaten at Gymkhana, or indeed in any of the current Michelin-starred Indian restaurants in London. You do not get much clue as to the calibre of the food from the very basic premises in a parade of shops, with bare, closely packed tables.
At our latest meal here we started with crisp popadoms with home-made chutneys featuring vibrant spicing. One of the features of the cooking here is the spicing, which is not excessive in its use of chilli but also not watered down; you can taste individual spices rather than just a generic “curry powder” style flavour. Tandoori king prawns with chilli, garlic and tomato chutney sauce were as good as ever, the prawns precisely cooked and of higher quality than you usually see in Indian restaurants, the spicy sauce working well with them (16/20). Tandoori paneer had silky texture and was a cut above the paneer in most high street restaurants (14/20). Chicken “lollipops” were little pieces of fried chicken with distinctly lively spicing (14/20).
For the main course, butter chicken had a gloriously rich sauce, the chicken pieces tender (15/20). Chicken tikka biryani had fragrant rice, though no pastry seal for the pot in which it was cooked, the biryani being presumably prepared in a much larger pan. Personally, I prefer it when the biryani is delivered to the table with its pastry seal intact, as cutting it open then releases wonderful aromas. Still, this was a good biryani (14/20). On the side, peppered potatoes retained their texture well and were gently spiced (15/20). Particularly good was kumbh palak with spinach and mushrooms, having superb texture and the flavour gently lifted by ginger and other spices (16/20).
Breads, both naan and paratha, were excellent, the naan supple and hot (15/20). Pistachio kulfi was lovely (15/20), as was their take on gulab jamun, the little sweet balls of milk solids with syrup (14/20). Service was efficient and friendly, and the bill came to £33 a head for vast amounts of food and beer to drink. Dastaan is a terrific restaurant whose food quality belies its simple surroundings. Michelin merely grant it a bib gourmand, yet I prefer it to any of the current starred Indian restaurants in London. Dastaan is permanently packed and does multiple sittings even on weekdays.