Darbaar has got to be one of the best Indian restaurants in London. Even Gary would agree.
Let me tell you, my boyfriend is a little picky when it comes to food. And when I say a little, I actually mean a lot. When we first met, to my great disappointment, he refused to taste anything new. Slowly, however, I have been introducing him to the flavours of the world, starting with a good old Indian Korma. Since then he has graduated to more flavoursome and spicy meals and Indian food has become one of his favourites.
You can thus imagine how pleased we were to be invited to review the newly opened Darbaar, a restaurant inspired by the royal courts, which serves modern high-end Indian cuisine and is based on Snowden Street near Liverpool Street station.
Darbaar is an Indian restaurant that won the best newcomer at the British curry awards in 2016. The restaurant is one of the newest additions to London’s vibrant dining scene and is the creation of award-winning chef Adbdul Yaseen. With 15 years in the kitchen already under his belt, Darbaar is Yaseen’s first solo project. Once the head chef at Cinnamon Kitchen, Yaseen has got impressive accolades. Indeed he won the British BBQ Championship and Canapé Cup for three years running and is well-known in Britain for being a dynamic and innovative Indian chef At Darbaar, chef Adbdul Yaseen has decided to combine traditional royal Indian recipes with local and seasonal produce. Most of Yaseen’s flavoursome dishes take inspiration from the many diverse regions of India and are cooked either in the traditional clay oven or on the charcoal Robata grills of the open-plan kitchen.
LOCATION OF DARBAAR
Darbaar is tucked away on the ground floor of Broadgate Quarter, on Snowden Street. Whilst this is still a relatively quiet part of the City, especially on weekends, the area is gradually getting livelier with the addition of the nearby Broadgate Circus development. Located within five minutes from both Shoreditch and Liverpool Street Stations, Darbaar is not only easy to access but also the perfect spot for a business lunch or a late-night romantic date.
INTERIOR AND ATMOSPHERE AT DARBAAR
Upon entering the restaurant we were immediately impressed not only by its sheer scale but also by the breath-taking décor. Housed in premises previously occupied by the Japanese restaurant Chrysan, Darbaar is truly spacious. The restaurant seats 200 covers and takes inspiration from the banquets of the Indian Royal Courts. On arrival you are greeted by a contemporary reception, adorned with decorative elephants and a gold plated sign with two pathways: the first, beyond a purple velvet curtain, leads to the bar. The second ends up at the long and spacious restaurant, with an interactive grill seating area and a chefs table. To one side, floor-to-ceiling windows look out over corporate East London and to the other sits the semi-open kitchen with a tandoor clay oven, where Abdul Yaseen signature “nanzas” are made. There’s also a private dining room available for those who need it. This is an exquisitely presented space, with an interior that is clearly a modern interpretation of ancient India. Hues of midnight blue, blush gold and fine copper have been used dramatically throughout the space and paired with dusky mahogany furniture and panelling on the walls, impressive chandeliers, ornate mirrors, exquisite drapes, and plenty of elephants, that all add to the restaurants luxurious theme. I particularly loved the lights in the main dining space, which resembled big, gold tea flowers, and hang prominently down the middle of the room. Interestingly, the toilets at Darbaar are also a hangover from the previous ownership – with deluxe Toto warmed seats that offer massages at the same time.
ATMOSPHERE AND SERVICE AT DARBAAR
As we entered, a friendly female greeted us at the reception desk and took our jackets to the cloakroom whilst we were shown to the cocktail bar. At the start of the evening, Darbaar was pretty much empty. In fact, I believe we were the first to arrive. But soon the restaurant started to fill up with groups of people. The diners didn’t really stick to one demographic either, with couples hiding away on a date night, after-work drinkers pouring in from the offices surrounding it, and even a family enjoying a delicious meal together. Throughout our meal, the staff at Darbaar could not have been more attentive, regularly topping up our drinks and checking everything was to our liking. Head chef Abdul even came out to greet us and mingled with the others diners throughout the night, which was such a nice personal touch.
COCKTAILS AT DARBAAR
Since Gary and I had arrived a little early, we started our meal with cocktails in the modern bar area, to the right of the reception. The bar gives off a more intimate, drinking den vibe, and offers an impressive list of cocktails, with loads of tropical twists on classics. I ordered the slightly scary looking Moglis temple cocktail, which was cold and deliciously refreshing, as well as spicy and very alcoholic. Gary, on the other hand, chose the non-alcoholic Red Lotus Cocktail. Sweet, with hints of spices, berries, mint and a taste of lychee, this was a cocktail exactly to his liking.
A TASTING MENU AT DARBAAR
Darbaar’s menu is unique and draws inspiration from all around India, featuring both classics and unusual dishes, as well as a couple of re-visited British ones (such as a hunters jungle spiced chilli beef burger and a Goan spiced haddock with mushy peas and chips). In keeping with recent trends, more forward looking ingredients such as guinea fowl, quail and rabbit have also been included on the menu, which changes seasonally. The food is cooked in traditional clay ovens in the open kitchen before being sent out hot and fast to be considered, evaluated and then devoured. One of the specialities of the house are “nanzas’, a hybrid of nan breads and pizzas, which we didn’t get to try this time around but will definitely be ordering next time as they looked amazing . The food at Darbaar is designed to be shared and the menu is thus generally made up of small bites. Dishes range from £4.50 for appetizers to £20 for the more expensive mains, and designed to suit everyone’s taste and budget. Whilst we were invited to browse the menu, our waiter highly recommended the Daawat tasting menu, which includes three ‘light’ dishes, followed by three ‘mains’ with sides, and a pudding. The menu is designed to be shared and costs £35per person.
POPPADUMS WITH MANGO CHUTNEY
As should be the case in any good Indian restaurant we started our meal off with crisp poppadums to wet our appetite. These were broken up into manageable pieces and served with a homemade pepper dip, chickpea mix and mango chutney – which were all enjoyable. The mango chutney was very sticky as a first impression but tasted absolutely lovely.
HARIYALI DATE AND SAMOSA CHAAT
Next we were presented with one of the house specialties ‘hariyali’ date and samosa chaat – a delicious dish of flaky pastry samosas with a fruity filling, covered in a rich white cream sauce, with spices and a coriander dressing drizzled throughout Greedily we munched through the thick fried layer of pastry that cap the vegetable samosas bulging with stuffing, These samosas had been broken up into small pieces to make them more manageable to share. This was probably one of my favourite dishes of the night. I loved the freshness of the ingredients and how the flavour of the mint mixed with the sweetness of the dates. Each bite brought a new taste experience the texture of the samosa, the pomegranate and the aniseed.
TANDOORI SALMON AND SUFIYANO LAMB SEEKH KEBAB
The chaat was followed by a sizzling hot plate of the flakiest tandoori style salmon tikka and sufiyano lamb seekh kebab. As he brought it out the waiter told us it would be one the best salmon dishes we had over tasted ….a big promise, but one the dish certainly lived up to! The seekh kebab was juicy full of flavour and quite punchy in spice levels, although not overpoweringly so. It was perfectly complemented with the mildly spicy dipping sauce on the side. The tandoori oven cooked salmon with dill and served with kokum berries was a lovely combination of flavours. And the fish itself was cooked to perfection, perfectly flaky without being slimy. Both were incredibly juicy and tasty, and I loved the sauce on the salmon. Be warned though that portions at Darbaar are on the large side, so go slowly and share to make sure you have room for everything!
Having already feasted a fair amount on three separate starters, we were already starting to feel a little full. Nonetheless we still had the mains to come. As the two delicious curries were brought to our table with all the trimmings, the overwhelming amount of food made us wonder where we going to put it all…. but when they were so delicious, we seemed to have no trouble finding a space!
KERALA SPICED SHRIMP
The first curry that was served was a spicy Kerala shrimp. I love seafood, so was looking forward to this dish, although slightly worried about its spice level. In hindsight, this dish could have gone down either way … though luckily it went down the right one. The spiced shrimp was juicy and nicely done and the kadhai sauce a pleasure. To be honest, though it would have been too hot for my taste, had the spices not been counteracted by the creamy coconut milk in the Butter Chicken. This refreshed my palette enough so that I could fully enjoy the freshly cooked shrimps.
KATSURI BUTTER CHICKEN
Darbaar has gained a reputation for its scrumptious Katsuri Butter Chicken, and I am glad to report that it is one of the curry’s that form part of the tasting menu. I can also confirm the reputation that precedes this dish is accurate. Indeed the Katsuri Butter Chicken was incredibly tasty and creamy, with a subtle hint of coconut – though not something of which a cardiologist would approve. Our expectations were high and they were met with force. The chicken is tandoori oven baked to retain as many juices as possible. But whilst the chicken itself was delicious and tender, it was the tender unctuous sauce with gentle spices that truly set this dish apart. Luckily there was plenty of it for spooning onto the pilau rice and stack on naan breads we had at the table. In fact hadn’t we been so full already, we would probably have ordered a second round of naan just to devour some more of that sauce.
SIDES – KAHAI SPICED PANEER, POTATOE CURRY AND NAAN BREAD
The two curries were served with a couple of side dishes. One of these were cumin potatoes, which I particularly enjoyed. The potatoes had retained their texture and had nicely absorbed the spices. We were also served a Kadhai Spiced Paneer – chunks of fresh deliciously firm cheese, coated in hot spicy sauce with coriander and fresh pepper chunks. The paneer was firm and spiced beautifully, The breads at Darbaar are particularly good. The naans were pillowy soft, with a pleasing hint of charcoal from the tandoor and incredibly garlicky (but in the good way).
DESSERT AT DARBAAR – SPICED CARROT CAKE AND ROYAL INDIAN CHAI TEA
Finally, to finish, we were treated to dessert. Now, I must admit, had desert not been part of the tasting menu, we would probably have skipped this round. Not only were we already pleasantly full at this part, but my previous experiences of Indian deserts had also convinced me that they do not necessarily suit our western palettes. Nonetheless, I’m happy to report that my poor generalisation, based on a couple of unfortunate experiences, was very wrong. Indeed the delicious Hulwa, a Spiced Carrot Cake, served with Cardamon Shirikhand and Lemon figs, restored my faith in the Indian desert menus!!! The carrot cake had a soft and spongy base and perfectly balanced sweetness with subtle spice. The figs added moisture to the cake as well as being a pretty sight. There was just enough of it to satisfy but not too much to overwhelm after a meal. The icing on the cake was the royal Indian chai tea served in shot glasses. The perfect end to a perfect meal!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON DARBAAR
There aren’t many places in London where you’ll get a curry quite as good as here. Darbaar is classy and elegant, and serves great food at reasonable prices which are less than you’d imagine for such an opulent looking restaurant. This restaurant is great for a date (if you don’t mind eating curry on a date), a working lunch, or to take your family to. Aside from the lovely food, the service was second to none. No ask was too much. We couldn’t quite finish our dinner so our waiter kindly packed it up to take back home All in all, we had a fantastic evening and look forward to coming back and trying some of the other choices on the menu. So make sure to check out Darbaar, another top notch, fine dining Indian that’s worth a visit. You can experience all the dishes we tried by ordering their set menu, for only £35 per person. Alternatively, if you wish to choose yourself from the impressive a la carte menu, you’d be looking at around £25 per head…. depending on how many dishes tempt you, that is!