I just ate the most wonderful lunch of comfort Indian food at Darjeeling Express. I made the reservation for the day I arrived in London. The only time available for a lunch for two was at 2:00, 2:15 or 2:30. That suited me because I was arriving at 10:30 at Heathrow and would need to drop my bags in Soho. Fortunately my hotel was just an 8 minute walk from the restaurant (plus a few minutes for finding Kingly Ct–Google maps got me there but the entrance to the courtyard feels positively secretive.) I selected 2:30 and subsequently learned that this is the last seating for lunch service. The reservation form didn’t give an option for solo diners so I hoped they’d forgive me for saying I was two people!
I came in out of the rain and shed my coat and umbrella at the door. The restaurant was still mostly full when I arrived. It is more casual dining and very comfortable. Within a few minutes the three tables for two closest to the kitchen were full and I was at the middle table. I sat facing the kitchen so I could watch the women preparing food. I have not eaten Indian food often and when I have it has been mostly at the type of place where there is a buffet or a more limited menu. The beverage was an easy decision as the Tamarind Spritz sounded so refreshing. As I studied the menu and the specials of the day I noticed that the young couple next to me were enjoying an easy banter and as they were Indian might have some helpful suggestions.
I asked them if they have eaten here before? Yes! Did they have any favorites? Yes! They were eating vegetarian but I was open to mixing it up. I accepted their suggestion for Bihari Phulki as a starter. A generous portion arrived with two sauces–I loved the tamarind sauce best, the other was a bit spicy for me and still delicious. They explained that this is the kind of food they would eat at home on a day like today. I wasn’t sure if they meant eat at home as in home-cooking or if they were from India. They did both grow up in New Delhi but met in London. They meant it was the kind of comforting food that ticks lots of boxes on a cold, blustery day.
While I waited for my main, they were served Puchkas. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. It looks like a circle of eggs shells broken at the top around a small ceramic pot of sauce. You pour the liquid into the shell of pastry and pop it into your mouth. The flavors crash in a series of delicious waves. I know because this lovely couple offered me the seventh one, assuring me that I would keep them from fighting over it.
For my main I chose the Calcutta Chicken Chaap that comes with bread or rice. My dining friends suggested the bread as it is the kind of bread your mother would make at home or you could get on the street in New Delhi, albeit the street version is greasier. It was amazing: light and fluffy and a great compliment to the chicken. So good that I broke my rule of taking a “doggy bag” when I am on the road. I wished I had taken the chicken too as I ended up giving it to a homeless man outside Hatchard’s bookstore. The number of homeless people in London on this visit surprised and saddened me.
I planned my trip to London around Harry Pottering with my friend UK Sarah at the end of November when I got a screaming deal on Air New Zealand. Then a few weeks ago season 6 of the Chef’s Table debuted on Netflix. I was intrigued by the episode featuring chef Asma Khan and her London restaurant Darjeeling Express. And thrilled when I discovered I could afford to eat there and a reservation was possible.
One of the other reasons to dine at Darjeeling Express is Chef Khan’s commitment to hiring mostly women and supporting charities that lift up women. On my table was an appeal to give to The Lotus Flower Cafe. And on the website there is information on Second Daughters Fund the charity also featured in Chef’s Table, Volume Six, Episode Three.