by Nick Harman - Tuesday January 12, 2016 10:01 am
11 White's Row, London E1 7NF www.gunpowderlondon.com
Nick finds a spark of food genius is sputtering brightly in Shoreditch.
It’s a weird thing about London; you come across a large area of demolition where a massive building recently stood, and you cannot for the life of you remember what was there. Well at least I can’t, anyway.
I must have walked down White's Row a thousand times in the last twenty years but now one whole side has disappeared. A hint of what went is a small piece of facade that’s been retained, standing up like a lonely theatre flat, but that’s all. One has to hope that it was all 70s crap that went down and nothing nice.
Gunpowder, located on the side that’s left, must presumably worry what’s going to go up next; it will be a lot of noise and disruption that’s for sure. But then it’s such a small restaurant, serving such attractive food; it should have no problem filling tables even with the street filled with blokes in hard hats and not the usual ironic trilbies.
Calcutta-born Harneet Baweja and head chef Nirmal Save are serving small plate, home style food here and please don’t call it an ‘Indian tapas’ menu or I shall punch you. Prices for each dish on the compact menu are low; unnecessarily low really when you consider the average income of the local diners, but for the rest of us it’s a nice surprise.
As is so often the norm these days, once you have perched your middle-aged arse on a tiny stool designed for pre schoolers, you make a selection to share and wait to see what comes out first. There is none of that old-fashioned starter, main course, dessert nonsense for the young hip diner, you know.
We drink cocktails, Pani Puri Margaritas (Tamarind spiced water, tequila, Cointreau and a puchka spiced rim) and Dirty Rasam. The former is excellent - tart and sour and sweetish with a fiery kick. The latter I am not so sure about, the aroma is odd, the taste is metallic almost chemical. Presumably that’s the idea, though.
Food comes out well paced, no danger of the little table being overwhelmed. It shows good control of the kitchen and the first dish of Nagaland pork belly with tamarind kachumbar is a cracker. The pork is semi crispy and the flavours, rather Chinese in some ways, although Nagaland is close to Burma. It’s a punchy dish that benefits from the crunchy vegetables that traditionally make up kachumbar salad.
Who likes broccoli? Well I do, and I especially like the broccoli here, a whole head that has been marinated in spices and then given a taste of the grill to insert a smoky flavour. Yes smoking is all over London right now, but this was subtle and aromatic and spicy and not some fat Texan’s armpit.
Aloo chat is fairly standard stuff; Bombay potatoes, black chickpeas, onion, tomatoes,fried lotus root all dolloped with yoghurt that’s in turn anointed with sweet tamarind chutney. A bit too sweet for my taste, but that’s personal and I still ate it happily. As I did the Kashmiri lamb chops which for me were the star turn of the night being gnaw down to your own knuckles delicious.
Paturi Maach was ‘fish', what that fish exactly remained a mystery but nonetheless it was good white fish, disrobed from its banana leaf it was soft as butter, delicately mustard spiced with coconut downstage and bone-free. A poussin chargrilled in tandoori spices was perfect and clearly organic meat. The meat was on the dry side, which is how I like it.
The only dish not to light my fire was Chettinad pulled duck in an oothappam. Okay the word ‘pulled’ always puts my hackles up anyway, I don’t like meat that’s been pulled I find it too baby food in texture, but here it was the dish’s overall richness that defeated me. I suspect the food was absolutely fine; I was just simply too full by now to enjoy it.
Not that I didn’t have dessert, Old Monk rum pudding was a boozy bit of brilliance to end on and feeling my usual post Indian remorse, it really makes me feel heavy and sluggish, I levered myself off the tiny stool with small grunt and left otherwise happy.
Good prices, very good dishes, a pleasant atmosphere and willing cheerful staff, Gunpowder is bang on. See what I did there?
Images - Laurie Fletcher