5 February 2020: Gunpowder - Pure dynamite
Another year, another birthday, and another curry out with the parents to celebrate. After a highly successful visit to the fantastic Darjeeling Express last year, it would be hard to top it. A recent visit to Fulham's Pure Indian Cooking had also set a high benchmark for the year so far.
I'd been keen to try Gunpowder for a while, but would it light the touch paper for an explosive 2020 or would it be a February fizzle?
After my parents had visited the Cabinet War Rooms (they highly recommend), we met at the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road for a swift pint first. It was then time to head over to the restaurant to give it a shot.
Gunpowder Tower Bridge opened in 2018 as the second Gunpowder to the Spitalfields original. Slightly larger and with more covers, this offers a better chance of getting a table, with the added advantage of some river air and nearby views of London's iconic Tower Bridge. It is found in the stylish Duchess Walk, part of a relatively new development of flats, shops, bars and eateries around Potters Field Park, south of the river.
In tune with the surround, Gunpowder is a contemporary and stylish joint, with a glass and shrub-lined frontage. A simple back-lit box holds the fairly understated sign, whilst inside is relatively austere yet retro. Stark open ducting and concrete walls are warmed by wooden furniture and tiles of various shades of reddy-brown. Wall, table and spot lamps offer patches of light, but overall it's more mood-lit than well-lit. Our table was stand alone as opposed to a booth and slightly darker lit as a result, but the atmosphere was bright on account of a full house.
Starters and sides
Gunpowder Alloo Chat
Porzhi Okra Fries
Spicy Venison and Vermicelli Doughnut w/ Fennel & Chilli Chutney
Maa's Kashmiri Lamb Chops
Steamed Rice with Gunpowder Spice
The menu here is split into Plates and Desserts so nothing strictly labelled Starters, but some dishes lend themselves more to this end. Most obviously an introductory snack are, the now ubiquitous Indian small plate, the okra fries. Having sampled a fair few of these at the likes of Little Kolkata and Soho Wala, it's fair to say Gunpowder's are probably the ones to beat. Very thinly cut, not at all greasy and with a dusty veneer of spice these are a delectable, light bite.
Equally special was the venison and vermicelli dougnut. An intriguing spherical croquette filled with venison mince, this crunchy ball, mixed with the wickedly spicy fennel and chilli side is not to be missed - maybe the best dish we tried.
The alloo chat, on first view, seemed just as promising, with it's almost sundae-style swirls of yoghurt and tamarind. However, this attractive aesthetic belied a lack of expected crunch within. Appearing like Kricket's excellent bhel puri, I had imagined a textured onion, potato and sev bite, but this extra crunchiness was sadly missing. Even the wheel-shaped garnish on top was disappointingly chewy as opposed to the crisp it appeared to be.
Fortunately, the thick and juicy lamb chops were a return to form with a delicious rub and cool mint chilli sauce. Second probably only to Booma's top chops, images of these are what drew me to Gunpowder in the first place.
Finally, the rice was probably surplus to requirements, but didn't dampen an excellent spread of starters and sides. A lack of breads here might surprise some, but there are plenty of other good, standalone plates to make up for it.
Saag with Tandoori Paneer
Nagaland House Crispy Pork Ribs with Tamarind Kachumber
There aren't really more than one or two dishes you would call curry here, which again may seem surprising. A boiled egg and an artichoke and red pepper masala, along with the saag paneer we had, are probably the only three examples. Althouhg, the saag paneer was better than most. The soft but nicely cooked cheese sat in a lovely, flavoursome bed of puréed spinach.
Our other 'main' were the Nagaland (a northeastern province of India) pork ribs. This generous stack of ribs, reflected its namesake in both its mountainous form and eastern flavour. And whilst pork ribs may seem an usual addition to an Indian menu they are a welcome one here. Not the most tender, but still falling off the bone these were both tasty and great value.
Whilst very enjoyable, like the chops, both dishes did still fall slightly shy of similar offerings at Brixton's Booma. I was hoping for a something a little more memorable, but please don't take that as a complaint.
As a slightly more upmarket dining experience, the service was a step above that of the casual diners we typically frequent. Front of house was very welcoming and offered a cloakroom service and our waitress was very friendly and helpful. The food, as is typical of small plates restaurants, came out when ready, but swiftly nonetheless. With no complaints it's a 7 out of 10.
Value for money
Prices here vary from excellent value (£9 for pork ribs) to touching on punchy (£6.50 for the alloo chat). Some of the prices for the other mains go as high as £18, but this is to be expected of a slightly more premium dining experience. With a nice bottle of red (£28) and 12.5% service charge our bill came to around £95 between three. This was fair for an enjoyable meal that left us comfortably full.
Overall it's a solid score for Gunpowder, for an all round solid performance. The atmosphere was pleasant, the service too, but it's fair to say I expected a little more bang for our buck from some of the dishes. I may sound like a broken record, but the equivalent dishes of pork ribs, paneer and lamb chops at Booma, Brixton are a touch more impressive and come at a lower price. Like other small plate restaurants things here can be a little hit and miss, but the quality at Gunpowder is still higher than most elsewhere. It was an enjoyable birthday experience, if not the Gunpowder taste explosion I had hoped for. Nevertheless, I hope to be back or to take a visit to the Spitalfields branch to sample some of the other dishes soon - the softshell crab in particular grabbed my attention!
Please now check out our review for nearby Est.India
Address: 4 Duchess Walk, London SE1 2SD
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Contemporary and stylish Indian cuisine