Weddings and South Asians. On their own, these are the two most difficult things to organise in the known universe. Put the two together, and you end up with a chaotic pantomime that could make a grown man (me) want to blend his own head. This is effectively how wedding planning is going for Steak and myself, and as the ceremony to mark our mutual life sentence draws ever closer, part of me has already started to contemplate faking my own death. For the most part, this is simply a fight-or-flight response to shopping – a task that I loathe on any normal day for any normal occasion.
Unfortunately for me, Steak is all too aware of my retail-allergy, and knows that the only way to lure me out into the open is with the promise of a good meal. Tucked away in the midst of London’s retail arena, Darjeeling Express serves as one of many perfectly-laid traps. Conceptualised by Asma Khan – a highly-acclaimed chef of royal Mughal ancestry, Darjeeling Express began as a humble supperclub that showcased the finest flavours of West Bengal. Now a cosy eatery on the top floor of Kingly Court, it has grown into an accessible and highly-praised part of London’s restaurant scene. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the two of us to itch to pay them a visit.
The seasonal menu features a range of fine Mughlai dishes and rustic Kolkata street food, and brings them together in an almost seamless manner. To begin, Steak and I helped ourselves to a portion of Tangra chilli garlic prawns, which were exceptionally well cooked. The succulent prawns were delightfully delicate, and as they melted away in the mouth, they released a subtle heat that was nothing short of sensational.
Tangra Chilli & Garlic Prawns (£8) *Must-Eat*
We also gleefully ordered a plate of puchkas (pani puris), which texturally, were crisp and sound. The chickpea and potato filling however, carried only a very subtle, savoury touch, and the two of us were left wanting a more significant punch from both the chaat masala, and the accompanying imli paani (tamarind water).
With our shopping-induced appetites satiated, we moved on to our first main dish of the evening – the venison kofta. Here, we were greeted by the dense, yet soft and crumbly texture of the ground venison, and its mature flavour integrated wonderfully with the rich and vibrant tomato-based curry.
Venison Kofta (£14) *Recommended*
The same could not be said however of the Degh Gosht (beef stew). To our disappointment, the cuts of beef had ended up being somewhat tough and firm – despite having undergone a low and slow cooking process. The curry meanwhile, lacked seasoning, body and richness, and despite the reasonable amount of heat that it had to offer, this resulted in a fairly flat delivery.
Degh Gosht (Beef stew) (£15)
Sadly, the tamarind dhal very much followed suit, with a rather muted set of flavours, and a thin consistency that failed to leave a lasting impression.
Hyderabadi Tamarind Dhal (£5)
Faults could not be found with our accompaniments however, as the aromatic brown rice and the perfectly hot and puffy puris were moreish in every way.
Value For Money: 3/5
Overall, our bill amounted to approximately £60 for two. Across the menu, you will find that starters range from £5 to £8, mains cost around £15, and desserts and accompaniments cost around £3 to £5. Whilst this is certainly in line with expectations, both Steak and I felt that overall, there was significant room for improvement in many of the dishes, and to this end, one questions whether our meal was truly worthwhile.
Undoubtedly, the core principles of Darjeeling’s story are those of familiarity and hospitality, which the team at Darjeeling very much embrace with their cordial and welcoming nature. Service too is surprisingly prompt, which, unfortunately for me, meant that I had to stall as best I could to ensure that there was insufficient time for Steak to continue shopping.
Decor / Ambience: 3/5
The restaurant itself also embodies this sense of welcome and cosiness, with a simple decor that is both contemporary and homely. Certain aspects however, can become a little too cosy for comfort – in particular, the lack of space between some of the tables, which unfortunately, does not allow for a sense of privacy between adjacent diners. Whilst this is certainly prized in a supperclub setting, in a restaurant, it can at times feel as awkward as being within breathing distance of a stranger on the tube. Darjeeling Express can be found on the top floor of Kingly Court – (near Oxford Circus station), and public transport is advised.
Despite all the heritage and history that lies within the Darjeeling Express story, and all the acclaim and positivity that has surrounded their new home in Kingly Court, Steak and I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Perhaps it was that very acclaim and positivity that inflated our expectations, or the unfortunate result of an “off-day” in the Darjeeling kitchen, but, for the most part, our experience at Darjeeling seemed somewhat monotone and lacklustre. It’s certainly not because of the very simple and homely nature of the food, given that simplicity is actually something that we rather adore. But, for some reason or another, we simply could not adore the food at Darjeeling quite as much as we wanted to, and this is perhaps almost as tragic as the impending hair loss and weight gain that awaits me in married life.
Halal status: All the meat served here is halal. Alcohol is served on the premises.
Address: Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, Soho, London W1B 5PW
Telephone: 020 7287 2828