One of the benefits of living in our nation’s capital is not just the diversity of the food on offer, but that all of that diversity tastes so good. Indian food is no different, so when I got the opportunity to visit Darbaar (winner of Best Newcomer at the British Curry Awards 2016), I knew I was in for a treat.
The Venue and Atmosphere
The first thing that’ll strike you at Darbaar is how deceptively big it is. You’ll enter into 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 220 cover restaurant. There’s also a private dining room available for those who need it.
While the bar gives off a more intimate, drinking den vibe, the restaurant is long and spacious without feeling hallow. Wooden furnishings and panelling on the walls keep the venue looking fresh, and the hanging, golden chandeliers adds to its luxurious theme. To one side, floor-to-ceiling windows look out over corporate East London and to the other sits the semi-open kitchen, giving the atmosphere a constant hubbub. In my visit, the crowd didn't really stick to one demographic, with couples hiding away on date night, after-work drinkers pouring in from the offices surrounding it, and even a family enjoying a delicious meal together.
Food and Drink
Darbaar is run by an award-winning chef, so my mental picture of this man is a super-serious, always business kind of guy running the kitchen with an iron fist – like a combination of Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. However, within minutes of sitting down, Abdul Yaseen himself greeted us and he happened to be one of the happiest, friendliest people this side of London. With that unexpectedly fun greeting out the way, my expectations rose even more.
To whet our appetite we ordered to appetisers to share, starting with assorted papad crisps with chutneys (£4), which was faultless and the chutney was wonderfully sweet, and Amritsari spiced calamari fritters (£6.50) that was cooked perfectly – the squid was soft without being rubbery, the batter crisp and holding together once dunked into sauce.
After a very satisfying first round, we quickly sought after the main event: the award-winning curry. I picked the Kadhai style fresh water king prawns with red onions curry (£23), whereas my friend opted for Katsuri free range butter chicken curry (£18), with a naan bread each (£3) and a pilua rice to share (£3). To wash it down, we opted for a bottle of white wine, choosing Pinot Grigio Fabiano 2014 (£30), which ended up being an amazing accompaniment to the meal.
Now, on a scale of wuss to vindaloo, I normally hover around the wuss end, and have at one time in my life found tikka masala spicy. While I’ve levelled up my taste by now, I am still apprehensive that my tongue is too much of a baby for Indian dishes. This apprehension, however, was unjustified: every element of the curry was delicious, and while I could feel the spice light up my taste buds, it remained in that sweet spot of delightful heat. After stealing a bite of my friend’s chicken curry, I can confirm it, too, was incredibly tasty and creamy, with a hint of coconut, though a little less hot. Our expectations were high and they were met with a force.
There aren’t many places in London that you’ll get a curry as good as Darbaar. The interiors are stylish and the sheer size of the venue makes it ideal for bigger parties. Next time you find yourself in East London, don’t settle for anything less than here.