AWARD-WINNING restaurateur Asma Khan says that despite becoming a household name, finding a bigger space for her restaurant was a task as she was a woman, Asian – and did not have a male business partner to back her up.
Despite these odds, when Darjeeling Express officially opened its doors to its new 90-seating Covent Garden restaurant in December 2020, the day marked one end of a journey that had begun with a simple Supper Club in 2012.
Khan had begun just catering for friends and acquaintances and it was from that she has emerged as one of the most sought after and highly regarded contemporary Indian chefs in Britain. Around the same time when Khan had begun her Supper Club, she happened to befriend a group of five Indian girls who were nannies and used to visit a school nearby. As the popularity of her Supper Club grew, so did her bond with these girls, and she soon rented a small place in Soho and founded Darjeeling Express in 2017.
The struggle of starting a restaurant was immense and racism and narrow mindedness made it a tougher task. However, people started dropping in and soon the footfall increased and there was no looking back.
Khan became the first British chef to feature on the popular Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table. She also published her first cookbook, Asma’s Indian Kitchen, in 2018 which has become a top seller. When the Netflix series dropped, the girls had no time to breathe. As they served dish after dish, the queues became longer and a table at Darjeeling Express became almost unattainable. This was when she decided to move to a bigger location.
Today, Darjeeling Express is run by an all-female staff (now 12). It donates a portion of its profits to Second