"I am a warrior," Asma Khan told me when we got together to shoot a video for Food52. "My parents were disappointed because I wasn't a boy, so I have been fighting to prove myself my whole life."
I found Asma's courage and confidence to be absolutely infectious, and it's no surprise that her restaurant Darjeeling Express—serving Indian food in Soho's trendy Kingly Court area—has been received with enthusiastic applause. It's also evident why the producers of Netflix's Chef's Table chose her to feature in the upcoming season; she will be the first British person to be featured, never mind that she's also a woman of color who runs a restaurant staffed entirely by women. She represents the best of London, in all its diversity and inclusivity.
I asked Asma about her favorite things to do, see, eat, and where to stay while in London.
KQ: Where would you put up friends visiting from out of town?
AK: I would put them up around Bloomsbury because you don’t want to waste your time in London traveling. That area is close to the museums, there’s a lot of little places to eat around there; it’s a pretty part of town, it’s a safe part of town.
Katie Quinn: Where do you head for a casual meal when you’re not working?
Asma Khan: I get Chinese food at Oriental Canteen in South Kensington. It's similar to the Chinese food you can get in India: lots of red sauce! It’s familiar to foods I love.
KQ: What about a celebratory dinner out?
KQ: Where do you go for a proper cup of coffee (or tea)?
AK: I love Soho Grind, which is just outside Kingly Court. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if I want something warm then I go out and get coffee. I do not drink tea outside because I’m very particular. The reason I’m opening a tea shop pop-up downstairs [in Kingly Court] is exactly for that reason! I’m solving my own problem! I haven’t been to a place that does decent Masala Chai—which is not the Starbucks take!
KQ: What’s the spot in town with the best late-night eats?
AK: Edgware Road is full of a crazy range of kebabs, Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Lebanese places. You can get Turkish coffee, beautiful Iraqi tea, mint tea, baklavas, kebabs, shawarmas, and all the sides. That’s open really late—I love going there.
KQ: What’s the dish everyone should try when visiting London?
AK: Try Indian food! This is the thing we do really well—and not because I own an Indian restaurant. I think the reaction of especially Americans who come here….it’s so different from the kind of [Indian food] selection you have in America.
KQ: Yes! I’m American—moved here to London with my husband. When we lived in N.Y.C., he didn’t like Indian food. Now, he loves it! Can’t get enough of it.
AK: We have an incredible depth, variety. It’s closer to what it is in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. In London we have so many South Asians, so London does South Asian food really well.
KQ: Is there a museum or cultural activity you really love in the area?
AK: I think definitely a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum—it’s beautiful and it’s free! It’s a museum that won’t exhaust you; it’s just the right size. They have these lovely courtyards and places you can get coffee and tea.
KQ: What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday or Sunday in town?
AK: I love the parks! I love the park in every season; even in the deepest, desolate part of winter. I love the starkness. The space and the air. Maybe because I grew up in a congested city (Calcutta), that you appreciate green grass and the open areas where you can see trees. Now that my kids are grown up, I love hearing the young children playing and laughing. I love watching the ducks on the ponds! It’s where I switch off and reboot myself. And London has incredible spaces!! Hampstead Heath, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park.
KQ: What’s the best souvenir you can get in London?
AK: Maybe I’m biased, but I think Paddington Bear. This is coming back to politics. Paddington Bear was from the deepest, darkest part of Peru and came here. He’s my ultimate refugee bear! I like the spirit of the bear, and that he settled in and made the best of it. Very much like Paddington Bear, one of the things I love here is jam and marmalade, which I discovered in this country when I came here.
KQ: What’s your favorite shop in the area?
AK: Fortnum & Mason, for sure. I can’t afford to buy much there, but I always get something. It’s beautiful. I get something and eat it before I even get home!!
KQ: That’s how you know it’s good. What’s the best view in town?
AK: For me, it’s any of the bridges that are near Westminster. London has an interesting skyline and if you go over any of the bridges you’ll see that...but my favorite is Albert Bridge. It’s a bridge that you walk over and feel a great sense of peace, timeless charm. It’s like a fairytale bridge. I feel like a princess going over that bridge! It looks like something you see when you read a book as a child.
KQ: What’s the thing people shouldn’t leave your city without trying?
AK: Obviously, try as much of the food, but I also think you should spend time talking to people. A lot of people don’t understand how interesting English people are, and they all have stories. What you take away in conversations is amazing. The most beautiful thing in London are the people, and that’s something you should not miss out on. More than anything else, you will remember conversations. So try talking to people; London has incredible people.
What are your favorite London spots? Tell us in the comments below!