Darjeeling Express :: Authentic Indian food by Asma Khan at Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho

The Setting: a classic English pub on the corner of Great Pulteney Street and Beak Street in Soho. You walk in, get jostled among the crowd at the bar and make your way to the back of the crowded room. There is a room at the rear, full of plush leather booths with emerald tiled walls. The warm lighting and lit candelabras create a cozy, inviting atmosphere. You say you have a reservation, get led to your table and gaze appreciatively at your menu.

The Location: The Darjeeling Express pop-up restaurant run by Asma Khan in the Sun and 13 Canton pub in Soho.

Not quite your typical restaurant, not quite a supper-club – this is a temporary takeover of Sun and 13 Canton kitchen’s by Asma, serving authentic Mughal cuisine with Bengali roots.

This is definitely not a curry house. Asma's essentially giving us peak into her kitchen – home-cooked Indian food based on family recipes. I read a review written by Rocket & Squash that mentioned how chefs at other well-known Indian restaurants were coming for her food because “because it reminded them of mamta

Mamta means ‘mother’s love’. It’s true, not just the food, but the the whole experience is tinged with mamta  right from the moment you sit down, when Asma comes up and personally explains the menu, answers all your questions, and then check’s in on you to see how you’re enjoying the food.

The Food: It’s tempting to order the whole menu when you see the descriptions of each dish and the very wallet friendly price. Starters are all around the £5 mark and the mains, around £10 to £15, come each with a pot of rice.

We started with some pimped-up Masala Fries spiced with chilli flakes and served with tangy tamarind sauce. I know it's just chips but they were so good we ordered another portion.

Then we had some Puchkas (wheat and semolina shells filled with spiced chickpeas, potatoes and tamarind water) and Papri Chat (spiced potato and chickpeas on crispy papri with sev and tamarind sauce). I loved the Papri chat – sweet, spicy, tangy, crunchy - all mixed in one delicious bite.

For mains, we ordered the Methi Chicken (cooked with fenugreek leaves), the Goat Kosha Mangsho (Bengali Goat curry) and the Venison Kofta (meatballs in light tomato saunce). I really like how varied each curry was. They definitely were not all made with the same ubiquitous orange sauce so popular in most curry houses.

I loved the Goat Kosha Mangsho – it was more a dry curry with tender spiced meat and the fragrant Methi Chicken was a winner too. The Venison kofta were lovely and the sauce had a milder flavour so if you want a less spicy option – then go for Venison Kofta and the Prawn Malaikari.

Each main came with basmati rice – long beautiful strands of perfectly cooked rice. It’s a bit odd over the top to say but I’ve never had such good Basmati rice elsewhere. (I love rice, can you tell?)

To balance the heat, we ordered the Beetroot Raita (grated beetroot in yoghurt). This simple dish was one of the highlights – the rose-pink yoghurt was the perfect cooling accompaniment to the meal.

I think perhaps the only weak spot of the meal was the Rogni Roti. They weren’t particularly memorable. But then again, I’m a rice fiend.

Asma recommends for four people to go with about 4 starters and 3 mains to share which is the right amount of food. All in all, with some beers, a glass of wine, copious amounts of Masala Chai and two desserts – the bill was about £25 per person which is a steal. It doesn’t really get much better than that.

So hurry, the Darjeeling Express residency at 13 and Sun Canton pub ends in March, book your reservation here: http://www.darjeeling-express.com/


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