Gunpowder, an upscale modern Indian eatery in Spitalfields, emphatically does not take reservations, and even at 6.30 pm on a Wednesday, the small restaurant has a queue forming outside.
Thankfully, we miss the rush, and the real challenge now is making space for our glasses and plates, elbow-to-elbow with City folk fresh from work, tearing into lamb chops they’re eating with their shirtsleeves rolled up.
Given its proximity to Whitechapel, famed for authentic curries and home to the legendary Tayyabs and Needoo, I would normally opt for the neighbourhood joints over expensive, trendy small plates at a self-described ‘home style Indian Kitchen’.
Only, Gunpowder’s food is inventive, funny, and mostly excellent, and beats its peers like Dishoom when it comes to serving up posh Indian street food.
We start with the Rasam ke bomb, an amuse-bouche meant to resemble a deconstructed masala dosa – a sphere of fried dough resting atop a shot glass of classic dosa dipping sauce. In other hands, this would seem gimmicky and twee, but here it is a delight. Following that, we devour the outstanding okra fries. Dusted in a tangy powder, they are a crispy triumph, bereft of the characteristic sliminess of bhindi.
Unfortunately the chutney grilled cheese sandwich that follows doesn’t meet the standard set by its predecessors: it’s wan, on floppy white bread, and the cheese inhabits an unhappy limbo between melted and solid.
Thankfully the dishes that follow perk us up again: I have a spicy venison and vermicelli donut, an indulgent mess of carbs and meat, then flavourful whole grilled prawns in a spicy sauce.
Appetite fully sated, I struggle with my Kashmiri lamb chop, which is good but does not rival those of the aforementioned curry houses.
My vegetarian companion praises the saag with tandoori paneer and grilled mustard broccoli. We finish with a molten chocolate cake and masala chai custard, dense in chocolate but not in sugar, striking the perfect note on which to end our rich meal.
In retrospect, much of this meal is eaten with our hands – from the fries, donut and chop to the prawns, that come heads and shells on and that I have to pull apart myself, a messy and ungenteel undertaking but viscerally satisfying.
This feels intrinsic to the mood at Gunpowder – it may be upscale, but it’s fun and unpretentious, and the menu is an open invitation for diners to get thoroughly involved. Recommended.
11 White’s Row