The sheer quantity of interesting places to eat – and all the puff and pomp that go with them – means that most food-loving Londoners have a bucket list so long it would take a large windfall and unlimited annual leave to check everything off. As such, few restaurants get a second visit, even the really good ones, because it’s hard to justify going back to eat something you’ve already tried when there are so many other places to go.
One restaurant I have been to many times is Gunpowder. I bloody love it, and all the people who’ve been cajoled into coming with me have loved it too. Since its launch two years ago, the owners have expanded into neighbouring streets to create a trifecta of restaurants within literal shouting distance of each other. It’s actually quite a canny move; while waiting to be seated at Gunpowder last month, our party of eight was directed over the road to the bar of Himalayan sister restaurant Madame D. Twenty minutes later, we were all carrying our half-finished pints back to our table.
Gul and Sepoy is the third restaurant in the group. It’s probably the fanciest of the three, though priced only a notch higher than the others, with rich interiors and a moody, atmospheric ambience. Like Gunpowder, it serves Indian food, but its ‘double menu’ is split into two. The side labeled ‘Gul’, named after a famous courtesan, focuses on the posh nosh of the North; the side named for ‘Sepoy’ – soldiers – is inspired by the rustic fare of the South.
The soldiers definitely got the better deal, if Gul and Sepoy’s menu is anything to by. The Potted Pig Head With Blood Masala Onions (£11.00) in particular was an absolute triumph, dark, primal and brooding in flavour, and filled with that kind of luscious, luxurious fattiness that would make someone like Jay Rayner absolutely shit his tits.
My favourites were all Sepoy plates, particularly the Ambedi Stone Bass in a spectacular ‘corgi’ sauce (£12.50) that neither me nor Google had heard of, but turned out to be a creamy, coconutty acid-green sauce made with spinach. Hot on its heels was the Yam and Paneer Kofta Chaat (£7.50), a more complex – and utterly fabulous – take on the Indian classic that Gunpowder does so well.
There were other similarities between the restaurants too – the Burnt Achari Cauliflower (£6.00) smacked of the same genius as Gunpowder’s marinaded broccoli dish, but its punch was diluted by the inclusion of some potatoes, which just brought the dish down. From the Gul section, the Three Birds Awadhi Korma (£9.00), a terrine of chicken, pheasant and pigeon served in a rich korma-style sauce, was fine but forgettable.
I have to give an honourable mention to the Rum Soaked Dough Pillow (£9.00), which is the first pudding I’ve polished off all to myself in forever. It looked roughly like a stack of pancakes, but the dough ‘pillows’ exhibited the kind of special moistness you only get from a really exceptional Victoria sponge. There was a bit of spiciness but the dish could be even better if they’d just pump up the volume a tad – and the same goes for Dark Chocolate Ganache Rasmalai with Cardamon Poached Kumquat £8.00), which for all its purported exoticism was just a very, very, very good chocolate ganache, dense as a brick but lacking the advertised kick.
Overall, Gul and Sepoy has an interesting concept that doesn’t quite go far enough to get out of gimmick territory, especially as all the fireworks are on the Sepoy side. The Gul Wild Prawn Kalimirch (£14.00), for instance, fell short of what I consider the gold standard of Indian-style prawns (Dishoom’s Masala Prawns if you’re interested), in terms of both flavour, value, and faff. Plus, I am reasonably sure than any self-respecting courtesan would demand a finger bowl if she had to peel her own prawns.
The million-dollar question, then: would I go back again? Certainly, but only if Gunpowder was full.
Gul and Sepoy, 65 Commercial St, London, E1 6BD
Photo credits: Gul and Sepoy – the light in there isn’t worth a damn.
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 Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.