Gunpowder is the result of an innovative idea from Indian cult success Harneet Baweja, together with his family and friends. It was (and still is) a small cosy place tucked away in Liverpool Street, in which I have not yet had the pleasure of dining. But I have heard only good things about this gem in the heart of East London. Then came talk of a fictional character that shimmers over the Himalayan mountains, having Indian, Chinese, Nepalese and Bhutanese influences on her origins. Her mysterious silhouette dazzles from the very peak of Mount Everest and she goes by the name Madame D. No, you won’t meet her when you dine here, nor will you be told stories about her by the fireside. What you will get instead is the essence of her: an embodiment of her story that will catapult you into the cool springs sprinkled throughout that region of Asia, and it is there where this story is to be continued.
You can’t book ahead, so I arrive on Wednesday at 7pm. I first walked past Gunpowder (by accident) and a few steps further on I reach my destination. Being so close together the restaurants can practically say “Hi” to each other. I am greeted by a friendly staff member that acknowledges both the current full capacity of the restaurant and our desire to grab a table for 2. He enters our details onto his tablet in order for us to receive a text when they have space available. Less than 10 minutes strolling around Old Spitalfields Market and Madame D was ready for us to wander into her hinterland.
We sat upstairs in a cosy dimly lit room, which helped to emphasise the tableware of ruby red chopstick sleeves and pearl white candles. The menu consisted of about 15 choices and I had no idea how any of them would taste. The waiters didn’t volunteer anything about their recommended specialties either, so I simply went for a spontaneous choice. Every dish arrived in beautiful plates of porcelain and vibrant-coloured plastics, all pleasing to the eyes. Himalayan Fried Chicken came in medium slices and looking gentle in colour. The meat itself was okay, but was uplifted with an accompanying sour sauce that was much needed. Duck leg was delivered stabbed with a dagger as if Madame D had freshly returned from the hunting grounds. A bit of difficulty in cutting the meat, but an absolute saviour in terms of taste. Kathmandu curry was beautifully green, enriched with sweet potatoes and paneer – whilst aesthetically great, it was the only dish that lacked real oomph. All dishes were well-accompanied with steamed basmati rice.
Our waiter was very pleasant, constantly asking if we needed anything else. Surprisingly, as we were eating, Harneet himself popped into the room. He didn’t greet tables or ask customers about his food, instead just provided hospitality to a group of customers that he knew. However, he did look around to see that all was under control and okay. Everything was definitely okay! I told my friend he is the founder, which prompted a reply of “he’s so young”. And indeed he is, these days we no longer have to wait until we’re old to bring life to intriguing businesses such as this.
The table on our right was greeted with “Have you been here or Gunpowder before?” as they were paying for their meal, replying “Yes, we tried to go Gunpowder (regular), but it was full so we came here”. “Which one do you like better? Because the executive chef is the same person”. “We like Gunpowder”. Two other customer sat down to replace them with the opening “we recommend 5 dishes to share between 2 and our signatures are…”. We didn’t receive any of those quizzes, but were happily full after sharing just 3 plates. Having not received questions, I asked the waiter how Gul & Sepoy was coming along. “Yeah its great, we are going to combine a menu for the poor and a menu for the rich, which will also be demonstrated through the layout of the seating”. Indeed, everything is about to get much more interesting.”
This could definitely be a place for a first date. It gives the impression of being cramped and narrow, but once you sit down these assumptions are replaced by a feeling of comfort and serendipity despite the surrounding bustle of Liverpool Street. The price point is reasonable enough to come back without feeling guilty. From the outset, it is clear they have taken care to establish and foster a good team – everyone seems coordinated and very well trained. This is important because sometimes you get 3 waiters asking you the same questions. Come and try this place, you have nothing to lose.
Duck Leg £12
Himalayan Fried Chicken £10
Kathmandu Curry £9
Rice (x 2) £6
Savanna Dry Cider £4
Service Charge £5.13