6 February 2019: Darjeeling Express - All aboard!
On the 32nd anniversary of my birth I treated my parents to a birthday meal that they had the privilege of travelling up to London and paying for. Wanting to offer them a more contemporary take on Indian food, I chose Darjeeling Express, having heard and read good things. After a nice drink at the Compton Cross, we made our way across Soho towards Carnaby Street to see what it had to offer.
Here's what we thought...
Darjeeling Express can be found in Soho's Kingly Court, a culinary oasis in the heart of Soho. Situated on the third floor, the restaurant's elevated position benefits from relative calm, above and away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford and Regent Street nearby.
It is in this peaceful setting that the Darjeeling Express has pulled in to station, having started as a supper club hosted by founder Asma Khan and a team of housewives, and since evolved from a pub pop-up into a critically acclaimed Indian restaurant.
The interior doesn't shy away from its home-cooking origins, placing the kitchen and female chefs in full view of diners at the heart of the cosy restaurant. Black and white photos on the walls, house plants and patterned floor tiles add further homely touches and all contribute to a tasteful, contemporary dining setting.
The story of the restaurant and its all-female staff's food journey is beautifully documented in the most recent season of Netflix's Chef's Table which is well worth a watch. The result is an extremely pleasant, central London, dining experience.
Starters and sides
Chicken Keema Samosa
The menu here is relatively streamlined but offers a great range of dishes with influences drawn from across India.
For starters we chose chicken keema samosa and puchkas. The samosa were a more conservative choice that failed to capture the imagination in spite of an accompanying tamarind chutney. The puchkas, on the other hand, were quite literally, awash with flavour. These pani puri-style, street food favourites are hollow wheat and semolina shells that burst into life when consumed whole, revealing a cooling splash of tamarind water, potato and chickpea - delicious.
Equally packed with texture and tastes was the kachumbar salad we had as a side to our mains. Not a particularly complex dish, but a colourful combination nevertheless. But it's not for the faint hearted as raw chilli can be found hidden amongst the crunchy mix of cucumber, tomato, red onion and pomegranate seeds.
Bread-wise, we had the fried puris which proved good value at four for £5, but perhaps the menu could do with an additional bread offering.
It's a solid 7/10 for starters as sides: excellent quality, but perhaps better choices by us would have been more exciting.
Murgh Ka Saalan
Goat Kosha Mangsho
Lamb Shahi Kofta
Hyderabadi Tamarind Dal
For mains we orderd four dishes: a dal and three curries. Like the salad, none shied away from packing a spicy punch, and all were excellently constructed.
The most unusual of the three was the lamb shahi kofta, similar (but better) than the palak paneer ke kofta we recently sampled at Salaam Namaste. As with this previous offering, it's hard to deny the Italian vibes this tomato and meatball dish gives off, but it's equally hard to resist its rich sauce, this time with cashew and raisins adding to a delicious smokiness.
Similarly impressive was the murgh ka saalan, a tomato and dill curry with beautifully cooked, boneless chicken thigh segments. Being hyper critical, it was not the most original or adventurous in flavour, with a sauce reminiscent to that of a rogan josh, but there's no denying the execution that elevates this dish to a much higher level than your standard curry house fare.
The most outstanding dish of all though was the goat kosha mangsho, a sumptuously tender, slow-cooked lamb and potato number with deep flavours including cardomon and cumin. An exquisite curry that I can't recommend highly enough. Wonderful.
Finally, the Hyderabadi tamarind dal had strong, corny lentil notes, again setting it apart from often rather bland equivalents. Personally, I would've preferred it a little more viscous, but it was still of a good quality, with added flavour infused from the curry leaf and dried chilli within.
All told an excellent showing and (a perhaps slightly harsh) 8/10.
As with the whole atmosphere here, the staff are friendly and relaxed. Unfortunately, on this occasion we didn't meet Asma herself, who I understand loves to chat with customers, but we were nevertheless made very welcome and the food all came at once and in good time.
Value for money
Relative to some of our other visits, Darjeeling Express is not the cheapest, with the mains averaging around £15, but this doesn't detract from the overall value on offer here. The quality of the food and surround is excellent and portion sizes more than filling.
Our whole bill between three came to £119.25 between three, including service and with a couple of drinks each. This was a birthday treat, but £40 per head is more than reasonable for the experience on offer.
Darjeeling Express deserves the success that has seen it grow from a supper club to super restaurant. If Kingly Court wasn't nice enough already, it now has a delicious Indian offering that sits as a jewel atop its third floor crown. Well worth a visit and worth its place towards the top of our leader board with a score of 40/50, we highly recommend a trip aboard the Darjeeling Express.
Now please check out our next review in Soho: Soho Wala
Address: Kingly Court, Carnaby St, Soho, London W1B 5PW
Status: Moved location
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Stylish Indian eatery in Soho's culinary oasis, Kingly Court. Serves quality food cooked by an all-women team of housewives