The house specialty was broccoli, which was a shame. It’s always held a special spot in my personal rogue’s gallery of vegetables, worse than mushy peas but not quite as vile as beetroot. Ordinarily I’d have politely declined, but it’s hard to refuse when the waiter endorses it with such misty-eyed enthusiasm. It’s my own fault for asking for recommendations, I suppose.
That said, 20 minutes later I was experiencing my first ever Broccoli Epiphany, because whatever the guys at Gunpowder do to the stuff is nothing short of witchcraft. They’d gone full-on Princess Diaries on its ass, and refused to tell me exactly how, other than it had been marinated for a very long time in a potent blend of spices. Family secret, apparently. (Would it be wrong to sham-marry someone for their grandma’s recipes? I’d be the world’s first broccoli bride.)
The broccoli was just one in a series of small plates that arrived all in their own time, as is customary with tapas-style dining. It takes the heat off of the kitchen staff and makes every meal a whirlwind of swiftly-turning flavour. It also makes dining out much more sociable. (I always recommend sharing plate restaurants on first or second dates – if nerves dull your normally sparkling conversation skills and rapier wit, you can always talk about the food!)
The first thing we tried was the Gunpowder Aloo Chat (£5.50), a generous portion of spicy Bombay potatoes topped with sweet tamarind chutney and lashings of creamy yogurt that countered each mouthful of fragrant spud. Hot on its heels was the Spicy Venison and Vermicelli Doughnut (£3.50), which is about the size of one of those shit giant Scotch eggs you get in supermarkets but, Christ, so much better: a densely-packed orb of rich, warm venison ensconced in deep-fried vermicelli that packed a panko-like crunch. Forget what I said a minute ago about sharing plates – etiquette be damned! – this is the one dish you absolutely shouldn’t share. You need one to yourself. (Fortunately, it’s the price of a coffee. Doughnuts all round!)
The high continued well into the next wave – we especially loved the Chettinad Pulled Duck with Homemade Oothappam, which was essentially a boozy duck soft taco served with thin tapes of carrot that had enjoyed a similar makeover to the Broccoli of Dreams, marinated in coconut and more mysterious spices.
The Nagaland Pork Belly with Tamarind Kachumber (£7.90) – a fusion dish that combined Chinese sweet ‘n sour with spices from India – missed the mark for me, its texture a little too jerky-like, especially compared to the succulence of Maa’s Kashmiri Lamb Chops (£8.90) which were tender, juicy and infused with fragrant spices.
There’s seafood on the menu too, including Karwari Soft Shell Crab (£7.90) and the Paturi Maach (£7.00), which was mysteriously described simply as ‘fish’. We never got to the bottom of what it was exactly, except that it was sustainable and also delicious; soft, white and served with a nubbin of pickled cauliflower.
For drinks, there’s a short list of spice-centric cocktails, though my Kitty Party Bellini only filled half the glass. If cocktails aren’t your thing there’s wine from £19/bottle, or prosecco priced at £29.
Pudding isn’t usually my jam but Hannah, my dinner date for the evening, is a shameless chocoholic, so we tried the Molten Spice Chocolate Cake with Masala Chai Custard (£5.50). The latter came on the side as, apparently, it’s a bit too weird for some people, but we found that curry and custard make surprisingly sweet music together. The pudding itself is loaded with warming spices – hello, cinnamon! – and everything a chocolate dessert should be: dense, sticky, and at least 20% liquid.
We were so full we shared between two, and left feeling, as usual, that we’d had one small plate too many. (New Year’s resolution: I must learn my limits.)
Gunpowder reminds me in a lot of ways of Kricket, another tiny, awesome, Indian small-plate restaurant down in Brixton, but is run by actually Indian guys, so the food you get is more authentic. (Kricket comes from two Brits, so the menu is kinda fusion.) It only seats 28, but – hallelujah! – you can make a reservation! You can fill up on £25 a head and the staff are as nice as
broccoli pie, plus it’s about a 20-minute walk from the East End’s famously bargainous Genesis Cinema…all in all a very January-friendly night out.
Gunpowder, 11 White’s Row, London, E1 7NF
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.