Chef’s Table star Asma Khan has confirmed that her celebrated Indian restaurant Darjeeling Express will reopen at a much bigger premises in Covent Garden in October. She announced that the restaurant would not return to its Kingly Court address, having closed in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in June.
Bloomberg’s Richard Vines tweeted news of the relocation on Friday, saying that the new iteration of Darjeeling Express would feature a deli as well as restaurant at the former Carluccio’s site at 2A Garrick Street in Covent Garden. Opening, Vines said, was scheduled for mid-October. Plans for the deli include a daily menu based on childhood train journeys, while the restaurant will open for dinner only, Wednesday to Saturday, offering three eight-course tasting menus — the details of which Khan shared with Eater London.
“The large kitchen at Garrick street has given us an opportunity to introduce a biryani tasting menu [£95], a Calcutta to Darjeeling menu [£55], and a vegan tasting menu [£55],” she explained. “All the courses on all three menus will be served with roti/rice as is the tradition. We are not trying to mimic a french style menu. There is nothing progressive or modern in our menu. It’s heritage traditional recipes-served in small quantities so the diner can be taken on a spice odyssey — a journey of spice.”
Khan added that she felt “for too long ethnic cuisines [have been] seen as cheap and cheerful — too many times sauce reductions and micro herbs seem to present food in a way I do not recognise even if the flavours are correct.” Her new restaurant will not subscribe to those techniques so often associated with fine dining.
The site, which formerly served as the Carluccio’s headquarters, has capacity for 120 covers, almost three times the size of the Kingly Court location — her debut restaurant, which became hugely popular soon after its opening in 2017.
In June, Khan told Eater that she and her all-female kitchen staff had outgrown the space.
“It was getting too difficult, doing 200 covers in a 55-seat restaurant. When I designed the restaurant, I never visualised we’d do these numbers. We found a way to do it through sheer grit and working so hard,” she said. “It was a ridiculous situation — there’s only so much you can do with enthusiasm and passion and as much as I loved it, I had to leave.”
Now, Khan says, she and her team will have plenty of space. “I am happy I can finally cook on 16 flames in the kitchen as opposed to four — the walk-in fridge in Covent Garden is the size of our entire Kingly Court kitchen,” she revealed. “Capco, the landlords, showed great courage in not picking one of the ‘usual suspects’ for their flagship site. I hope more landlords will show the same vision — open their portfolio to more diverse restaurateurs.”
Khan had been waiting to receive confirmation on the new site before revealing its location. She had also wanted to wait for a little more certainty in the industry before making the commitment; when she announced the closure of Kingly Court, restaurants were still prohibited from welcoming guests into their dining rooms.
But the critical acclaim and popularity of Darjeeling Express meant that its return was never really in doubt. Part of its reputation came from Khan’s commitment to nurturing talent within her kitchen, something she wants to build on — with an incubator programme — at the new location.
Hoping to give more women the opportunity to take on senior roles, Khan said in June: “I want to absorb a lot of people — women in hospitality — who have lost their jobs,” adding that “we will use the next site as an incubator to rebuild the confidence of women, many who are walking into further insecurity.”