Restaurant review: Dastaan, near Ewell
PUBLISHED: 12:24 02 March 2018
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Championed by acclaimed chef, Angela Harnett, and run by two chefs who met at Mayfair’s Gymkhana, Dastaan has unexpectedly brought a national foodie spotlight to an unassuming parade of shops just off the A240 near Ewell. Matthew Williams visits to see if it lives up to the billing
Over the years, Surrey Life has visited restaurants and supper clubs in all sorts of weird and wonderful locations. Located on the A240, a road that almost sways under the weight of traffic between Ewell and Tolworth, Dastaan has shot to national prominence since opening its doors towards the end of 2016. Most noticeably, the wave started when acclaimed chef, Angela Hartnett, who owns the Michelin-starred restaurant Murano in Mayfair, threw her patronage behind the place.
What at first came as a surprise, turned out to be a logical development as Dastaan’s Sanjay Gour had worked with Hartnett in Dubai before moving to London to work as a pastry chef in her flagship restaurant. Like co-owner Nand Kishor, he happens to have previously been head chef at Gymkhana, so there’s serious pedigree at play.
That could have been that, but there was a steadily growing positive chatter that persuaded national restaurant reviewers, such as Marina O’Loughlin (“It’s an age since I’ve tasted Indian food of such immediacy, such vibrancy and freshness, such zip and zing…”) and Andy Hayler (“In India I have scored just three places a point higher over my 20 visits to that country…”) to venture into this, let’s be honest, less than glamourous spot.
Then came a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide, an award that understatedly denotes “good cooking at moderate prices”. To put it in perspective, the ONLY other restaurant to hold the honour in Surrey currently is Steve Drake’s The Anchor, in Ripley. Dastaan also has two AA rosettes in its trophy cabinet.
Our county has a rich history when it comes to restaurants celebrating South Asian cuisine. The British Curry Awards were even founded by Enam Ali, the restaurateur behind La Raj, which is found just 10 minutes’ drive down the road, in Epsom.
An unexpected adventure
Having swung off the A240, we find ourselves parked alongside a bent over sign post and a car that appears to have long lost its hubcaps. It’s not an auspicious start but once we’re through the door and sat at our table, the adventure really begins.
It’s not the décor that wows you. It’s a cosy and homely place without straying anywhere near flashy or intimidating. Suffice to say, it’s the food that is the beating heart of Dastaan.
The menu is not hugely extensive, which always bodes well for it not being the pre-cooked pick ‘n’ mix offering that some curry houses still push (like it ever was going to be with its heavyweight foodie champions behind it!)
It takes us a while to decide and, aided by the delicious snap of poppadum and spoonfuls of the various chutneys and relishes, we end up largely shutting our eyes and pointing. Everything sounds so good, it feels like we’re letting the side down by not going for everything.
To start, the tiger prawns are magnificent – both in scale (they’re not the kind of crustacean you’d like to meet down a dark ravine) and their spicing, depth of flavour and pinpoint cooking. Ordered on a whim that’s urged on by intrigue rather than previous experience, the partridge proves to be a delight. I could eat bowlfuls of the stuff, which is packed full of subtle punches of Tellicherry peppery goodness. I’d happily have it as a main if we ever cross paths again.
I’m sorely tempted by the pork vindaloo as the levels rise but lose my bravado at the last moment, and curveball over to an indulgent lamb rogan josh. It’s a vivid little dish that tenderly caresses the melt-in-the-mouth chunks of meat without overpowering.
From across the table, Sylviane’s saag gosht looks like the kind of thing that Popeye would demolish out of a can before tackling Bluto. Once you dip into it, however, there’s an unexpected subtlety that plays tricks with what your eyes have seen. It’s deeply delicious.
With a base of wild mustard potatoes, steamed rice, roti and garlic naan, our table barely manages to take the strain but by the end we’re almost licking the bowls clean.
Addicted to travel
While in hindsight it’s probably a huge disservice not to have tried a dessert at a restaurant owned by a former pastry chef to Angela Hartnett, sometimes you have to hold your hands up, savour the adventure you’ve had and admit that some things are better saved until next time. Something to look forward to and a good reason to make a return visit in the not-to-distant future.
In fact, looking back on some of the dishes we missed on our first visit, I can easily imagine ourselves travelling to that unusual little junction off the A240 on an increasingly frequent basis. Whether we’ll have to is another question, as one suspects Dastaan has hit on a formula that will travel well to other surrounding towns and villages. They’ve already got the fanbase to support the adventure.
Need to know
447 Kingston Road, near Ewell KT19 0DB
Tel: 0208 7868999
What we ate
Poppadum basket with pickle tray, £5
Red pepper tiger prawns with chilli garlic and tomato chutney, £12.25
Partridge with tellicherry pepper, spring onions and cherry tomatoes, £6.95
Lamb rogan josh with diced lamb, Kashmiri chilli and garam masala, £11.75
Saag gosht with diced lamb, spinach, onion, tomato, masala, £11.75
Wild mustard potatoes with curry leaves and garlic, £3.95
Steamed rice for two, £3.95
Garlic naan, £2.25
Beyond the River, Shiraz, Australia, £6.90 for a large glass
Freedom Cross, Chenin Blanc, South Africa, £6.90 for a large glass