Empowering women is a mission close to my heart and the amazing female designers featured on emma & louise are a testimony to this pursuit. There are many areas where women are making their mark and being recognised for their talent and skills. Professional kitchens are one of those areas. The London restaurant scene has been buzzing for many years and female chefs such as Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of the “River Cafe” paved the way for future stars. Recently, a few new female pioneers have made their voices heard and it has been one of my objectives to dine at their restaurants.
Darjeeling Express – Asma Khan
Asma Khan has a life story that could be turned into a movie. Asma was born the second daughter of a royal Indian family and made her way to Cambridge in her early adult years where she married and started a family. Although Asma loved food, she had left her home and her country without ever learning to cook. Separated from home and unable to recreate the dishes she loved and missed, she felt isolated and alone. She decided to return to India and busy herself in the kitchens of her home, where she learnt to craft the royal Mughlai dishes with the help of the household cooks, her mother and her mother-in-law.
The next part of her culinary journey started in her own home, where she would invite friends – nannies and housewives she had met at her children’s school who were also immigrants and who would one day work with her in her restaurant – to come and eat with her. These dinner parties soon turned into supper clubs and word of mouth continued to spread week after week. After being invited to open her kitchen at the Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho, Asma finally opened her own restaurant, the Darjeeling Express, on the top floor of Kingly Court in Soho. The rest is history.
I have had the fortune to dine at the Darjeeling Express twice; quite a feat as the restaurant is booked months in advance following its feature on the popular “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. The items on the menu are so exquisite and mouth-watering that it is often hard to make a choice…The Keema samosa (Chicken Samosa served with spicy sesame and red chillies chutney and tamarind chutney), Khatte Baingan Aubergine (aubergines cooked in tamarind, coconut, almond and peanut base) and Prawn Malaikari (Bengali speciality of delicately spiced tiger prawns cooked in coconut milk) are personal favourites.
Darjeeling Express is located on the top floor of Kingly Court, which houses a buzzing and fun collection of restaurants and bars. Darjeeling Express is a relatively small restaurant but that adds to its charm: tables are close together inviting conversation between hosts, the kitchen is open to watch the cooks creating their magic and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch Asma in the house. This means that she will gladly serve her patrons, sharing her stories and explaining the history of each dish. A delight! I love Darjeeling Express for its ambiance, its unpretentious atmosphere and gorgeous aromas coming from the kitchen.
Asma Khan is a creative and passionate chef. She surrounds herself with an all-women team of housewives in her kitchen, most of which have been there from day one. What you will taste is home-style food, cooked with the aim to nourish your body and soul. Who doesn’t need a bit of soul warming from time to time?
All pics (pic @ Darjeeling Express)