Hot Indian Curry House Leaves London's Brick Lane in the Dust
Gunpowder is just a block away from London's famous Brick Lane curry-houses, yet this new Indian café is a world away in quality.
It's the creation of a young entrepreneur from Kolkata, Harneet Baweja, and of chef Nirmal Save, formerly of the Oberoi in his hometown of Mumbai, and of Zaika and Tamarind Collection in London.
It's a tiny place near Spitalfields Market that seats just 28. The menu is short, a total of 20 items (including starters, mains, sides and desserts) chalked on a blackboard on the exposed-brick wall. The décor is minimal: The bar is constructed from old chairs, and the light shades are upcycled stainless-steel serving bowls.
The menu starts with one of the finest creations - rasa ke bomb - a deconstructed masala dosa, where the potato-filled crepe is reduced to a bite-sized crisp atop a shot glass of a hot-and-sour broth. It's £2.50.
You might expect the chutney cheese sandwich (£4.50) to be similarly innovative but it is pleasantly retro - an Indian croque monsieur spiced with onions, capsicum and seeded chilis, topped with a mint and coriander chutney. It is tangy and sharp and meltingly delicious.
The Kashmiri lamb chops (£5 apiece) are among my favorites on the pan-Indian menu. They have a crispy char and pink middle, and the spicing accentuates the flavor of the meat rather than felling it with a chili kick. These are chops to match those of Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House, two East London giants of the food of the Indian Subcontinent.
Delicately flavored mustard fish steamed in banana leaf (£7) and saag with tandoori paneer (cheese and spinach) at £11 are two good options free of red meat, as are the Porzhi okra fries. There are plenty of vegetarian options. But my other must-go dish is Aunty Sulu's wild-rabbit pulao, based on a recipe from Save's mother, from the countryside outside Mumbai.
The meat is cooked on the bone and served with basmati rice spiced with clove and cardamom, and served with cranberries for sweetness and color. It's smoky, soft and rich. Desserts include an Indian imagining of bread-and-butter pudding, served with Old Monk rum, and molten spice chocolate cake.
Baweja's first job was in the kitchen at a hotel in Kolkata, while his family's business enterprises gave him the chance to travel around India. He studied at the Asian Institute of Management, in Manila, before working in finance.
Gunpowder joins other small restaurants in London such as Roti Chai and Kricket, serving modern Indian dishes that are lighter than the traditional recipes that inspired them and yet big on flavor and spicing.
I'm visiting India next month. I only hope the food will be this inventive.
Article by Richard Vines, chief food critic at Bloomberg.