Home Cooked Food infused with love and nostalgia
Asma Khan has captured hearts and tastebuds in London with her down to earth but passionate delivery of home cooked food that stirs up nostalgic memories of grandmother’s kitchens from Calcutta to Hyderabad. In the few months since Darjeeling Express took up permenant residency in Soho’s Kingly Court she has been awarded Celebrity Chef of the Year by the English Curry Awards and Restaurant of the Year by the UKBCCI awards. We went behind the scenes with Asma Khan to learn about her journey to success.
1 – How did you start your journey in the culinary world?
I always knew I wanted to cook and in 1993, I went back to India to master the recipes that had been in my family for generations. I came back and began with supper clubs from home from my own kitchen. That grew organically and I started doing pop-ups in other restaurant spaces and then last year we were offered a spot in Carnaby Place which gave then solidfied our move to being a permanent spot.
2 – Who do you look up to?
I look up to my mum. She has had a food business in Calcutta and combined with a royal family background, I learnt a lot from her on not only the recipes in our royal ancestry but also how to manage teams.
Vivek Singh of Cinnamon Club has also been a fantastic supporter. He helped me by allowing me to do a pop up at Cinnamon Club and I really appreciated his help of giving me a platform to showcase my food. It is admirable to be in a position of power and help others out – I remember what its like to be a no one starting out and Vivek helped me.
3 – Tell us about your all women crew
None of the cooks in my kitchen are professionally trained but they make excellent home cooked food. We are a real team here and am proud to have a place where women are supported (Editors note: Darjeeling Express also supports Second Daughter’s Charity dedicated to celebrating the birth of second daughters in traditional India).
Having an all female crew requires some flexibiity and sensitivity to women’s needs. The hours in a restuarant can be long and gruelling so it is the understanding that small adustments need to be made to allow some of the crew to leave earlier if they have a long distance to travel back home late at night.
4 – What do you think about the halal dining scene in London?
I think it is about time!! There are lots of affluent young people in London with money to spend. The halal pound is significant now and you cannot ignore this. I think it is important for restuarants to be inclusive. If you can cater for vegans then you can cater for halal too.
5 – Favourite dish on the menu
The Tangra Chilli Garlic Prawns starter we serve is a childhood dish. It is an Indochinese dish that recognises the immigration impact on cultures and how people connect through food.
6 – What are your favourite places to dine out in the UK?
I love going for Dosa in East Ham to a place called Chennai Dosa. I like eating at Oka which serves interesting, fresh, clean Japanese food and Orjowan in Earl’s Court make a lovely Manakeesh.
For more details on Darjeeling Express, or to book a table, click here.