Dastaan serves some of the very best Indian food within the M25. It is situated in Ewell in Surrey, a rather unlikely spot for two of the senior chefs of Michelin-starred Gymkhana to settle when they (Sanjay Gour and Nand Kishor) struck out on their own in late 2016. Despite the somewhat out of the way location, Dastaan’s reputation has grown rapidly, and it is packed at every service. As well as classics like butter chicken, you will find more exotic dishes like pork vindaloo and monkfish sonfiya, which you are unlikely to find in your local tandoori restaurant. Starters on the latest were mostly around £6 and main course curries mainly priced around £13 or so. Although there was a short wine list, I usually drink beer there, with Kingfisher at £6.25 for a large 660 ml bottle, while good lassi was £2.75. Dastaan uses to seat around fifty covers at one time, but in these pandemic days it now does thirty covers, with plastic sheeting separating the tables; the staff wear masks.
Pani puri was actually better than I recall, with thin, crisp hollow spheres containing a filling of moong sprout. You pour jaljeera, a cumin flavoured water, into the opening at the top of the sphere then pop the whole thing into your mouth. The spices burst on to your tongue as the delicate puri explodes as you bite into it. Dahi puri was particularly good. It has potato, chickpeas, sev, tamarind chutney and sweet yoghurt. The balance of spices with the sweetness of the tamarind was particularly effective (14/20 for the puris).
Tandoori lamb chop came with mooli (a type of radish) flavoured with kasundi mustard (a Bengali mustard). This was seriously impressive, the lamb remarkably tender and suffused with spices, the result of a two-phase marinade process. The radish and its mustard dressing accompaniment nicely balanced the richness of the meat (16/20).
Monkfish “sonfiya” was topped with crispy kale and accompanied by mint chutney and pine nuts. Monkfish is a tricky fish to work with and can easily be overcooked, but here it was marinated with spices and as tender as you could wish. The fried pieces of crisp kale were extremely delicate and went well with the fish, the pine nuts adding an interesting extra texture (15/20). I have written previously about the tandoori red pepper tiger prawn with chilli, garlic and tomato chutney. Tonight it was as fabulous as ever, the prawn very tender and with a gloriously well balanced spicy kick (16/20).
Mixed vegetable bhajia had fried potato, onion and spinach with mint and tamarind chutney. This bore no relationship to the onion bhajia that we are familiar with from high street Indian restaurants. The technique in the frying here was really impressive, the bhajia having not even a hint of greasiness, the batter very light. The flavours blended beautifully and the frying showed real skill; it was reminiscent of tempura in Japan (16/20).
Paneer makhani had cottage cheese with a sauce involving tomato sauce and cashew nuts, and was good (14/20).Kumbh palak i.e. spinach and mushrooms, sounds unassuming but is one of the star dishes of the restaurant. I am not sure how the kitchen conjures such superb flavour out of the humble spinach but the result is a real delight (16/20).Parisienne potatoes flavoured with wild mustard is another top-notch vegetarian dish here, the potatoes retaining excellent texture and just enough bite from the mustard to enliven them (15/20).
A main course methi murgh had pieces of tender chicken in a rich, deeply flavoured sauce with plenty of fenugreek flavour, a real joy to eat (easily 15/20). Pork cheek vindaloo is a dish I first encountered in Goa. This dish uses quite a lot of vinegar, its sharpness cutting through the richness of the meat. The dish has its origins in the Portuguese colonial days, with the name derived from “vin” for vinegar and “ahlo”, meaning garlic in Portuguese. The chillies and ginger along with peppers and cloves result in a rich sauce, and the pork cheek was cooked slowly and was as tender as you could wish (15/20). Naan bread is really good here too, soft and supple and straight from the oven; so many naan breads in UK restaurants are left too long before serving, cool and end up too hard, but not these (15/20).
Service was excellent. The bill came to £48 each for more food that we could finish and copious beer. If you ordered more sensibly then a typical cost per person with drinks might come to about £35. The food at Dastaan is better than any of the starred Indian restaurants in London, and even on my 22 visits to India I have only found a limited number of restaurants cooking at this level of quality. Incidentally, to give you a sense of just how popular Dastaan is, for the following Tuesday (18th August) in this 30-seat restaurant, there was a waiting list of 148 people. Not bad for a recession.