Abdul Yaseen is an award-winning chef, and I have award-winning, hollow legs; naturally our paths were going to cross. Interested to see how his flight from Cinnamon Club to Darbaar has fared, we prepared for a night of surprise dishes and fragrant Indian flavours from one of London's most noted chefs.
While many might find it easier to discover the Holy Grail than Darbaar, this cosmopolitan restaurant fitted in with the jutted shapes of Liverpool Street's city buildings just right. Split between a reception, bar area, private dining space and booming restaurant, Darbaar is deceptively bigger than it looks, and attractive at that. Sophisticated with nods to Indian culture, Darbaar keeps its interiors classic, with a warming touch thanks to rich, dark furniture, low lighting and trinkets strewn across all tables. The effort to mix minimalism with culture is clear, and while the main dining space is a huge, Abdul Yaseen has clearly paid due care and attention to its style.
If you're having a drink, make sure you head to the bathroom. Not only is this healthy for your general downstairs mechanics, but the toilets boast those newfangled Japanese toilets that could take your cat for a walk, do the ironing, put the kids to bed and flush all at once. I took photos, and I didn't touch a single button, I was worried I might start a new Cold War.
The Food and Drink
Darbaar do menus, I'm pretty sure they do, but our night was set to be a treat thanks to Abdul himself curating both a meat and vegetarian selection of dishes for our meal. We may have been hands off during the picking process, but we were forks down once the plates arrived.
Both of us started with a stunning platter of meat, with my boyfriend taking the vegetarian option (after their selection of light, papad crisps and home-made chutneys of course, £3.90). My plate was a medley of assorted grills and kebabs (£26.90 each), with Tandoori salmon tikka, 'Shahi' paneer, lamb seekh kebab and nawabi chicken. This pick 'n' mix alone was fragrant, tender and showcased the restaurants ability to take any dish to hand, whatever the herbs, spices or rubs. Wasting no time tucking into the mains, our meal was set to the tone of a butter chicken curry (£14.90), masala okra (£4.90), home-made garlic naan, and fluffy rice. Rich, melt-in-the-mouth, succulent, tender, aromatic and awesome, i'll use all of the describing words I can to explain how delicate, and dishy the butter chicken was. There's clearly a reason why this is often considered the newly opened venue's showcase dish, it's a worthy venture in Indian dining.
Set alongside hand selected red and white wines from our host, it seems as though Abdul has transferred all of his previous Cinnamon Club energy into something truly special where the dishes are clearly thoughtful and the flavours pack a warming punch. 'Keep it classic, keep it true to royal Indian dining banquets and keep it delicious' is clearly a mantra that Abdul must be repeating to himself.
The venue itself felt like hard work to fill, and while brimming with characters from amorous, hand-cuddling couples, chaps on the curry pull and families boasting a sophisticated birthday meal out, Darbaar's space felt like it was somewhat suffering a Saturday slump, with half the tables appearing empty. That said, if your waiting staff and dishy dining partner can make up for anything it's the above. Our hosts were charming, and the music lent a subtle and sensory buzz, so all was not lost on the lack of other diners. If you've ever eaten at Flat Iron, you know how to appreciate being able to quickly snag a seat.
Abdul Yaseen's reputation doesn't just proceed him, it really does stand in good stead as our plates clearly proved. And while I would have loved to have seen a few more diners in the restaurant (it was the weekend before lovers gushed over Valentine's Day meals after all), Darbaar really showed us how Indian dining can be artistic, recognisable and delicious all at the same time.