Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Darbaar, Liverpool Street

There is, apparently, a long history of game cookery in India. I was told this at dinner at Gymkhana a few years back and was quite surprised at the time, but when you think about it I suppose it makes sense. Rich English colonialists swanning about as if they owned the place (well, they kind of did) needed something to fill the long hours between drinking tea and oppressing the natives, and introduced grouse and pheasant to shoot. Eventually these new flavours were incorporated into local cooking traditions and we end up with things like "grouse pepper fry" and "wild muntjac biryani".

Or so the story goes. To be honest, there's very little about this kind of thing on Google, but even if the history of British game in India is at least somewhat fancified or embellished, the fact is powerful flavours like grouse and pigeon do stand up incredibly well to Indian spicing, and a game menu at an Indian restaurant, as proven without a doubt by Gymkhana, makes perfect sense.

And so to Darbaar, fancy restaurant in the City of London where I enthusiastically accepted an invite to see their take on the subject. And fancy is the word, too - it's a large, impressive space, romantically-lit and staffed by more than enough capable staff, with large open kitchens where you can see almost everything that goes on in the preparation of your dinner.

The first bits to arrive were mini poppadums - a huge, generous amount in a large basket (other posh Indians take note; I shouldn't have to pester a member of staff to bring me 6 at a time), with some decent chutneys. No, they weren't quite as brilliant as the versions at Trishna or Jamavar - I could have done with at least one nice, hot mixed pickle - but still did the job.

First course proper was this - a skewer of "masala game fritters", breadcrumbed spheres of minced meat, on a beetroot chutney. They were lovely things indeed, the delicate, crisp crust giving way to dense grouse, pigeon and partridge offal, robustly spiced and full of flavour.

Next, "Hunter-style partridge with glazed pear" involved a deftly-grilled breast of partridge, coated in a good thick layer of wonderfully complex tandoori spices, with a kind of battered/confit effect done on the leg and finished with a slice of sweet poached pear. Another thoroughly satisfying dish, with a masterful command of spicing and texture, it made the most of this interesting game bird without drowning it in seasoning.

Between this and the main course arrived this mango sorbet. Nice - very nice in fact - but a slightly odd palate cleanser between two savoury dishes. I'd have preferred it as a pre-dessert, I think, but perhaps they know what they're doing as I was more than ready for some more protein after I'd knocked it back.

I can't remember when I've had a more rewarding venison dish in recent years than this "Rajasthani-spiced" version, beautifully tender and touched with just enough soola (fennel, cumin, coriander, cardamon, peppercorns, onion, garlic and ghee according to Google) spices to bring out the flavour of the wild animal. And if that wasn't enough, it arrived on a bed of charred green veg soaked in ghee and who knows what else, that were worth the price of admission alone.

With the main courses, a little matter of a bowl of bewilderingly lovely black daal, right up there with the best I've found in town, and some nice bubbly naans to soak it all up. Even a mediocre black daal can keep my attention; the best examples, such as those made at Trishna, and Gymkhana, and Jamavar, and this one at Darbaar, are seared into my memories forever. Dense, buttery, chocolatey, silky, there are hardly enough adjectives in the world to adequately convey the character of a truly exceptional black daal; they are the absolute pinnacle of Indian cooking and I love them with a passion.

But not just because of the black daal, although that would have been more than enough, I thoroughly enjoyed Darbaar. Even a slightly humdrum carrot cake dessert wasn't enough to spoil my evening, because when was the last time you really enjoyed a dessert in an Indian restaurant anyway? The savoury courses alone proved that this glamorous spot in the Square Mile deserves to be spoken about alongside the best Indian joints in town, and even after the game season dries up I'm absolutely confident it will still be worth the (not insubstantial, admittedly) contents of your wallet. Anyway, if you're worried about spending too much, just go in and order the black daal. You'll still leave happy.


I was invited to try the game menu at Darbaar.

1 comment:

Its me again said...

Looks/sounds very nice. Hmmm has me thinking about pheasant as its that time of the year, lots of them in Devon, great price.
Hoppers gave me two good desserts, Meera Sodha at Dock Kitchen also. But your right they are not always mind blowing.
Another cool one keep them coming.
P.S. had Dishoom dinner yesterday, nice but to expensive. Breakfast is the best bet in Dishoom me thinks.