It’s hard to imagine whether the British Royal Family ever go for an Indian but I imagine that if they do get the urge for a curry, they order in. And while it’s probably best if the ordering is left to someone other than Prince Philip, it wouldn’t hurt for the Buckingham Palace crew to throw a little of their Royal weight around to ensure that they get the right regal treatment. At Darbaar, an exciting new-ish East London restaurant from Abdul Yaseen, the talented chef who was at the helm of Cinnamon Kitchen for over a decade, even lowly serfs such as me are treated to a feast of magisterial proportions, both figuratively (it tastes delicious) and literally (the menu is based on the banquets held in the Indian Royal Court). I can only imagine what stops are pulled out when Prince Harry pops in for a late-night bite.
After being anointed with the Best Newcomer Award at the British Curry Awards 2016, this expansive venue has continued to ply their trade to a growing customer base, be it cool kids from Shoreditch media houses or city boys from the nearby Liverpool Street offices. On entering the dimly lit interior, we check our coats with the friendly hostess and take an immediate right-hand turn to enjoy a chilled glass of Chardonnay in the bar area. Whistles sufficiently wet, we move through to the large dining area, complete with chandeliers, table candles and an electro dance soundtrack that plays softly above our heads.
A cheekily charming waiter talks us through the menu, all smiles and polite innuendos, and we follow his recommendations regarding the menu that features such delicacies as guinea fowl and calamari, normally unheard of in regular Indian fare. The sommelier recommends a bottle of Patriarche Pinot Noir 2013, a medium-bodied red that has the legs to stand up to the meat dishes but is gentle enough not to drown out the subtleties in the vegetarian sides.
A basket of lighter-than-air pappadums is placed beside a trio of intriguing chutneys, a spicy ginger flavour being the stand-out pot and we wolf them down along with the calamari fritters. The hoops of octopus are crusted in amritsari, a thin crisp of urad dal flour and spices and are suitably decadent. A quartet of seared king scallops is coated in wild mushroom achar and a generous flash of cauliflower purée; my only complaint is that there aren’t four more…and then four more…and then…
The main course of Punjabi-spiced Kentish lamb chops is the jewel in the crown; the meat is tough enough to really tear into yet not at all overcooked and the piquant sauce that covers the chops gets mopped up with the accompanying crisped quarters of naan. A Kaali daal is equally impressive, the beauty of the dish lying in its simplicity, the black lentils retaining just enough crunch to prevent it from becoming a thick sauce.
With an open kitchen and friendly staff, the atmosphere is lively enough to be entertaining but also intimate, making the restaurant a decent choice for a romantic date (tip: wear loose-fitting clothes as you’ll want to order A LOT). We chat to Abdul after the meal and learn about his ethos for sourcing the freshest produce, innovative cooking techniques and passion for the tradition of Indian gastronomy. I doubt we’ll see Queen Liz on Brick Lane any time soon, however, if HRH is ever in the mood to sample what her royal counterparts on the subcontinent used to enjoy, she should set her carriages on a course for Darbaar.
Darbaar, 1 Snowden Street, Broadgate Quarter, London, EC2A 2DQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7422 4100
The restaurant is situated in the new complex near Worship Street, a five-minute walk from Liverpool Street Station, close to Shoreditch. It is open Monday to Friday for lunch from midday to 2:45pm and dinner from 6:00pm to 10:45pm on Monday to Saturday and the bar is open from 11:30am to midnight. They are closed on Sundays.
Type of Restaurant: Royal Inspired Modern Indian Fine Dining Restaurant
“With a friendly atmosphere, pleasant staff and adventurous dishes, Darbaar is one for the culinarily inquisitive and lovers of Indian fine dining.”
Price Band: Expensive
Reviewer’s rating: 7/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Darbaar