“ Address: 24 London Road, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1AY „
In the past fortnight I've had a bit of a curry binge and eaten in five different restaurants. I was visiting the south of England with some colleagues and I wanted to introduce a new member of my team to someone he'll need to work closely with and what could be better than a chat over chaat or a natter over a naan?
Three of us drove down to Horsham to stay in a local hotel and the person we went to meet picked us up and took us into the town. Despite never having been to Horsham and therefore never to this restaurant, I chose Darchini on the basis that it was the highest rated Indian restaurant in Horsham on the Tripadvisor website. I don't always believe Tripadvisor ratings but this did seem to be a pretty special place. I checked the menu and found a more interesting list of dishes than normal. My colleague, Louise, rang and booked a table for 7.30pm.
Booking turned out to be a bit unnecessary since for the first half hour we were the only people in the restaurant. Mind you, I would guess they were probably pleased to know that SOMEONE was going to turn up that evening. I spotted only one other table being used plus someone turning up to collect a takeaway. I should add that it was a Monday and I was quite surprised the place was open at all but it did seem a great shame that they didn't have more business.
We took a round table next to the beautiful old fireplace. If your idea of an Indian restaurant relies on poor lighting and lots of flock wallpaper, then you'll be disappointed to hear that there's none of either at Darchini. I've also recently been in a couple of Indian restaurants which were trying much too hard to be too modern and Darchini's not like that either. What you'll find instead is a place that's much more like a Medieval chop house - all black beams and white walls, lots of exposed old wood and a semi-open mezzanine level. It's Old England mixed with New Indian - a great combination.
The menus arrived and we could see it was going to take a while to choose especially as two of the group are not so familiar with Indian food. We ordered drinks and they brought poppadoms and chutneys - a fairly standard selection - whilst we continued deliberating over what to have. It took nearly 15 minutes to pick the main courses (ending in me saying "lets have the three fishy ones and share them") so it was a relief when my colleague spotted a mixed starter dish and suggested we go for that rather than spend another 10 minutes going through the starter list.
Our main waiter - we had several, well there was nobody else for them to serve - was a lovely man who I'd guess was probably Nepali in origin. He took our order for two of the mixed starters, three different seafood or fish curries, and a chicken dish for the fourth diner. I ordered three portions of rice and two garlic naans to go with them. The waiter nodded and smiled and muttered "Great choices, really good choices" before wandering off. Now that might sound a bit of a 'suck up' kind of comment to make but compared to a restaurant we were in last week where the waiter spent all his time trying to persuade one diner to have something completely different and another restaurant where the attempted 'up selling' went beyond a joke. A simple nod and the reassurance that the waiter doesn't think you should change your mind and have something completely different made a nice change. It might of course be something to do with the fish dishes being some of the most expensive on the menu.
The starter mix was excellent. We were brought triangular plates with a salad garnish on each and then two hot plates of food arrived. I hate it when hot food gets garnished directly with rapidly wilting salad. Each portion was the perfect size for two with a sort of duck pancake (I didn't try that obviously), some aloo chaat (spicy fried potato chunks), king prawn suka (a sort of grilled spiced prawn), paneer tikka (spicy cottage cheese cubes) and some kind of chicken dish which I also avoided. The paneer and prawns were particularly good and at £6.95 per platter, I thought the value was also very good. I wouldn't normally order something like this if it were just me and my husband eating because I don't eat meat, but I was glad we gave it a go.
After the plates had been cleared, one of the waiters came back a few minutes later to tell us that the main courses were ready and to ask if we'd like them straight away or if we wanted to wait. Again, I was impressed that they asked as so often the food does arrive in a bit of a rush. However, since we'd not overdone the starters we opted to go straight to the main courses.
Two metal hot plates were brought to the table, followed by scorching hot dinner plates. I do like a properly warmed plate and these had been thoroughly frazzled so there was no risk of the food going prematurely cool.
I didn't pay too much attention to the chicken dish that my German colleague had ordered, but the other three of us shared a Goan fish curry, monkfish masala and a seafood mixed korai. Each was served differently. The Goan fish curry was described as monkfish cooked in rich coconut milk but was not as creamy as I'd expected (or feared). It was also darker in colour and stronger in flavour than I'd expected based on far too many supermarket interpretations of Goan fish curry. The monkfish masala was served in a lidded metal pan with a burner underneath to keep the food hot. The monkfish in both cases was more tender and less rubbery that I would have expected which again was a nice surprise. The masala sauce was a little one dimensional and very red in colour but tasted more subtle than the colour suggested. The only disappointment was the seafood korai which was served sizzling in a hot karahi dish. I found this one rather too reliant on the cheaper seafood elements - for example a lot of rubbery squid and quite a lot of mussels. The menu had described it as 'An infusion of king scallops, squid, cuttle fish, tiger fish in a blend of herbs and spices' but I didn't spot any scallops and I'm pretty sure there were some little prawns in there too. The two fish curry portions were so big that not overdoing the seafood meant I still had plenty to eat. The rice was cooked to perfection and the naans were light, fluffy and slightly garlicky (though not so much as to interfere with the flavour of the food.
The waiter wanted to know if everything had been alright and we confirmed it certainly had been. He nodded wisely and said "That's because you made such good choices" - oh how I love being told I've got great taste.
With the main courses cleared away, the nice waiter - well the particularly nice one, they were all lovely - brought the hot towels and opened the sachets for us. Then he did something remarkable that I've never seen before. He spotted my stunning talent for redecorating a table cloth like a Jackson Pollock paining and brought a napkin and neatly spread it over the fall out zone of curry splatters. He did this very quietly and discreetly and without a murmur - though of course we all sat and stared in astonishment at this lovely act.
~No no, not the Plastic Penguin~
We were so full that the ice-cream menu barely got a look - you know the one with the 'Punky the penguin' and the coconut shell filled with coconut ice-cream. Coffees were also turned down and I asked for the bill which came to just under £100. Drinks had been less than £20 and I thought that this was pretty good value for the quality and quantity we'd had. My local colleague said she'd definitely be back and took away the take-away menu after learning that they do home deliveries to her area. If I were in Horsham again, I'd certainly plan on going back.
Finally for those who - like me - always like to ask such questions, the name Darchini means 'cinnamon' in Hindi.
24 London Road, Horsham ,
TEL : 01403-257007 or 256767