Gunpowder | Bengali cuisine in Spitalfields

spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut

The one London Indian restaurant you should actually queue for: Gunpowder.

Some say I’m a dead ringer for my dad.

Up until my senior year of university I probably was. But more so because we shared similar food sentiments. I wasn’t up for food that didn’t involve burgers. No way was Indian my thing. Bleh.

But London has a way of changing you. And no, Dishoom didn’t convert me. Stop gasping. I said it. While I think the food there is good, really it’s just one of those safe bets for when guests are in town.  

Gunpowder. Now that’s where it’s at.

Back in December when no one had uncovered the cosy new restaurant in Spitalfields, Chris from TikiChris, invited me to join him for dinner. We found ourselves almost alone, surrounded by exposed brick walls the colour of the Southern Indian spice ‘gunpowder,’ and admiring the refurbishments from its fast-food predecessor. The old wooden stools had been redesigned into a sleek black bar while the tin cans were overhead in the form of lamps. We quickly took a liking to the house Malbec that Founder Harneet Baweja poured for us as he began explaining the menu.  

The food is a mesh of handed-down family recipes and chef Nirmal Save’s natural imaginative creations. Much of it incorporates pickling (music to my German ears), but also a modern or Western twist on authentic dishes. Harneet pleads with us to start with the rasam ke bomb, the South Indian tomato-based soup topped with a puri, or deep-fried crunchy hollow crisp. Downed as a throat burning shot, we move on to try the spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut whose crispy outer shell gives way to tender spicy shredded meat. The dishes pour onto the table one by one: chutney cheese sandwich (a take on the classic grilled cheese), nagaland house pork belly with tamarind kachumber (delicious with pickled vegetables), lamb chops that rival and surpass those of Tayyabs, and chettinad pulled duck served with homemade oothappam. The duck remains a firm favourite in my books, the dosa soaking up the juices, but it was the kolapuri lamb shank with mash that had us on the floor in tears. The meat just fell off the bone.

We do dabble with the grilled mustard broccoli to keep some greens in the mix, and while it’s nice, I can’t help but continue to tuck into the aloo chaat. The tamarind, pickling and crispy textures alongside the soft chickpea just cannot be removed from memory.

By now we agree it’s time for dessert. We’ve practically made our way through the menu and not a single dish has let me down. Their old monk rum bread pudding is a delight: fluffy and light it soaks up the embargoed rum like a sponge. But the molten spice chocolate cake with masala chai custard could use more of that gooey-chocolate factor. Personal preference, really.

The whole evening we’ve been entertained and completely wined and dined by Harneet. He’s makes you feel as though you’re sitting around the family table, not in an imposing way, but in that his knowledge and infectious personality have you telling him to pull up a chair.

Since that first meal, I’ve been back plenty of times to try the wild rabbit pulao, which when not a tad dry, is the most delicious rice dish I’ve eaten. The paneer served atop a rich sauce has a wonderful consistency and flavour. The pork belly has now been swapped out for crispy pork ribs with tamarind kachumber, which are a definite must. And the okra fries, just tell me to stop right now because I could go on and on and on and on.

The menu, whose original intent was to change often, has proven so popular that only a few dishes have changed. As for the restaurant which was so empty when we first sat there, it now has a two-hour long queue. Surely a result of Harneet’s elephant memory and gracious staff. Oh, and the excellent food. You must go.

*Chris from TikiChris was invited to review Gunpowder and I accompanied him for a complimentary meal. I have since recommended and returned with friends and family to try more of the menu at my own expense. I was never asked to review the restaurant*