Asma Khan on closing Darjeeling Express after 6 years

The  Staff Canteen

Asma Khan has closed her Convent Garden restaurant Darjeeling Express after 6 years due to being unable to find a new location to move the restaurant to.

The news of the famous and well-loved restaurant closing its doors comes after Asma discussed the need for the restaurant to move back in March

The reason for the closing she explained, in an interview with The Staff Canteen, was not because of any of the issues surrounding the pandemic and the staffing crisis, she said:  "It was not an economic thing. We were really successful - making a lot of money - completely full. We had the Hollywood and Bollywood greats coming to the restaurant and you couldn't get a seat in my place for lunch or dinner. We were completely packed.

"It was completely the landlord's decision to basically, evict me. They served a four-month notice on me. Not the nicest thing to have done but fair enough they want the building back they can have it back, good luck to them."

Asma also explained how the four-month notice was something that she'd agreed on during the pandemic to protect herself in case the pandemic turned out to be worse than expected and that the Landlord was fully within their rights to do it even if she didn't understand the exact reason for choosing to serve the team the notice now.

"It's not even as if they have someone ready to take over the building. It's just completely illogical. It's an egotrip of someone in there to get me out." 

She added: "I'll move because honestly, I don't have the patience to deal with people who don't respect their tenants, who paid throughout the pandemic and have made a place very successful. Where there is no honour we don't stay."

Asma also mentioned why she had decided to speak up on this in the first place, as it wasn't in an attempt to get offers for places. Instead, she said: "This goes beyond hospitality this happens in every profession. Females find themself sidelined because men trust men more. This is a brutal fact and I want to say it.

"We are always seen as weaker, as less reliable for whatever reason. When the actual statistics are that women are less likely to go bankrupt and less likely to default on loans because they are much more pragmatic and careful. If this is happening to me, can you imagine what is happening to other women who don't have the media platform I have or the recognition?"

no place to go

On Monday, the day of the very last service for Darjeeling Express, Asma posted on Instagram and said: "We are getting ready for our final dinner service at Covent Garden - so touched that people are flying across the oceans to attend our biryani supper club tonight."

Explaining why Darjeeling Express had nowhere to go despite having been given four months to find a new location, Asma said: "The difficulty and the reason why I am in this position, where I don't have a place to go to, is because I've actually been unsuccessful in finding a place with an open kitchen and with gas."

Along with that, she explained: "Those places that are appropriate I've been losing out to very aggressive restaurateurs. 

"It's not even that I have a number of covers in mind, I'm just happy if I can find a place which would allow my team to be visible on the same level as the diners."

Asma has for a long time run Darjeeling Express with a female-led kitchen and has been a fervent advocate for gender equality in restaurant culture. Because of this, it is only natural that the location should fit that ethos and have a layout that puts the kitchen on show.

"This is the whole story it's about the women, it's not about me. I just want the women to be seen. The sad thing is when something like this happens you realise that the city should have a big enough heart for someone like me and my team. That we can also find a space on the stage.

"But it looks like we are excluded very easily and there are many powerful forces which keep us out of it."

Gone for now, not forever

It is clear that Asma and the team are planning to bring Darjeeling Express back as soon as they can, in a whole new venue that will show off the kitchen team better.

Asma said: "It's just a pause but it's a pause enforced on me. I was absolutely not ready to leave Garrick Street we were just getting all our act together. We were packed, we were busy, it was buzzing and this is actually when we were making a lot of money again."

She added: "I would love to be in the West End but I think the West End doesn't want me because at every site I go to I'm losing out to big money and men. I'm so tired of that, I just think I might just move somewhere else. It's a destination restaurant it can go anywhere."

It is clear that everyone involved loved the restaurant and we are sad to see it go. But, Asma said: "None of us could imagine we'd been in this position. It's hit us very hard, but it's fine we're just going to have to pick ourselves up and move forward." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th July 2022

Asma Khan on closing Darjeeling Express after 6 years