Here is a man to follow and a restaurant to watch. This new venture, Darbaar with Abdul Yaseen at the helm, has pedigree and polish and it’s no surprise!
Located in the heart of London’s City square mile, Darbaar is rather conveniently situated. Not far from the travel hub of Liverpool Street Station and with ample parking just yards away this restaurant has a huge catchment area. It’s already popular for lunch with local office workers and with those who want a bite after work, but I am expecting that trend will have the evening tables filled by discerning diners who will soon mark Darbaar as a destination Indian restaurant.
But what of this aforementioned pedigree? Abdul is already an award-winning chef who moved from Jaipur to London fifteen years ago and was part of the launch team of celebrated Cinnamon Club, which has now morphed into a small and well-respected chain. He became Head Chef at Cinnamon Kitchen and Anise, enhancing the Cinnamon brand.
Abdul Yaseen now has his own establishment and, although very new, it is already a credit to him. The food at Darbaar is inspired by the banquets of the Indian Royal Courts. One might therefore expect a restaurant decorated with sofas, waiters in Rajasthani costume and a chap in the corner playing a sitar. Nothing like that here. There are small design vignettes giving a nod to the Sub-continent. There are only a few carved elephants here and there, and some sabres also appear on the crockery, but the food is totally Indian and very thoughtfully chosen.
A grill-side seating area
Darbaar is an impressive 5,500 square feet in area and offers a 220-cover restaurant, and a cosy bar which also tempts with small plates for those strapped for time. The whole of Darbaar is a vision of dark wood and burnished metal with natural earth colours and mirror accents. Soft furnishings are in muted orange and each table sports a carved candle holder creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
The restaurant includes a grill-side seating area, open kitchen vista, tables for couples or groups and some banquettes. There is an attractive 20-cover private dining room with a striking wall of wine bottles. There is also a chef’s table for up to 12 people with a view to the open kitchen, with chefs serving dishes directly from the glass hatch. Service throughout is friendly, efficient and appropriate.
I could have safely predicted that the food here would be good but it was in fact superb. We started with King Scallops and Red Cabbage Porial served with Herb Moilee. Each sweet nugget was perfect with its associated relish. Royal Bengal-style Wild Madagascar Prawns arrived looking beautifully curled – a luxurious treat and well worth ordering, as is the Tandoori Salmon Tikka with Kokum Berries and Chilli, still glistening with its juices.
A signature starter at Darbaar must surely be the Nanza which is an Indian pizza made in the wood-fired clay oven for maximum flavour. This Chilli, Chicken, Caramelised Onion and Cheddar cheese preparation is so good that I think it’s probably the best pizza I have ever had. That statement might leave my Italian friends blanching with shock but I would counsel trying this before you profess your nationalistic doubts.
Baked Leg of Rabbit
Perhaps the star of the evening, beating stiff competition from those other dishes, was the Baked Leg of Rabbit which was cooked and served on the bone and with a Rajasthani Chilli and Corn Sauce. It’s a shame so many people have such reservations about eating bunny. It’s a delicious and mild meat with good texture and flavour and so versatile. This corn sauce is so good that I think it could be a dish in its own right. It had a rich texture and was moreish. Order some extra bread for dipping as you won’t want to leave any of this.
Whistling Duck Merlot was our wine for the evening and it can even be had by the glass. It’s at the top of the Red Wine List so won’t break the bank. It’s an Australian classic with hints of ripe plums and blackberries. It pairs particularly well with the delicately spiced foods at Darbaar, neither party competing with the other.
Yes, dear reader, I am impressed by Chef Yaseen, whom I already knew, and Darbaar, which I didn’t. This is Indian fine dining at its best. Granted, there are no crisp white tablecloths but here it’s all about the food and the guests who are sharing it. Bring friends and eat together. Talk in animated fashion and relax in an ambiance that can be enjoyed by working folks as well as maharajas. Darbaar is a winner of a restaurant which I fully expect to achieve culinary decorations in the near future.
1 Snowden Street
Phone: 020 7422 4100
Monday to Friday – Lunch – 12noon to 2:45pm
Monday to Saturday – Dinner – 6pm to 10:45pm
Bar – 11.30am to 12 midnight (serving nibbles and small plates)
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018