27 February 2018: King of the bread, bar naan. Canai have some more, please.
Having enjoyed a lovely birthday meal at Gunpowder Tower Bridge just prior to the first lockdown I was pleased to hear a new branch was opening up a few roads over from my workplace in Soho. I had booked well in advance for four, but poor organisation and low popularity meant I ended up alone with little old Joe Luetchie of previous blog outings. A loyal supporter, if not reader, of the blog, Joe can be relied upon for opinions on seafood and alcohol which fortunately were order of the day after a couple of jars at the Coach and Horses.
Following a highly successful recent trip to Soho's Kolamba, how would Gunpowder's latest offering fare?
This is the third Gunpowder branch after the original Shoreditch restaurant and a second at Tower Bridge, and arguably it's the most prominently located at the heart of London's Soho. Found on Greek Street, it's exterior is distinctive for its black and gold sign and historic pulley winch arm to the right of the door, presumably a remnant of the location's warehouse past. A step inside equally feels like a step into the past, with mirrored walls, black and white checkboard flooring and marble table tops giving off an altogether art deco feel. A velvety red curtained area at the back hides more private dining covers, whilst the bar half way down the narrow but not cramped restaurant completes the sophisticated 1930s vibe. This is a smart and stylish little joint, perfect for an intimate meal or special occasion, as much as a casual dinner.
Starters and sides
Ox Cheek Musallam Puff x 2
To begin we each had an ox cheek musallam puff each. These were almost pasty-like in form and texture with a light shortcrust pastry coating a spicy mincemeat ball. A topping of fennel and other seeds added a crunch and fragrant twang. A nice opener, if a little small in size.
Second up was the prawn toast. This dish comprised of three toasted sandwiches - squares of fried bread, filled with a generous mush of prawn and topped with seaweed - and an accompanying soy sauce dip. The salt and umami of the soy soaked beautifully into the crunchy wedges for a delectable union. Perhaps an unusual item for an Indian themed menu, but nevertheless welcomed by us.
Finally was the Karwari softshell crab, a rather limp creature that didn't quite live up to it's more picturesque predecessors on Instagram but which made up for it's lack of backbone with a flavourful and surprsingly meaty bite. The slight crunch of the softshell, dense chilli garnish and sweet hit of lime made for a perfect mouthful and topped off three excellent starters.
Slightly taking the edge off is a lack of breads here on the menu and the pilau rice we ordered felt slightly plain and inadequate against the other dishes, but it's still a strong 8 out of 10 for some high quality Sides and Starters.
Kerala Beef Fry
Goan Style Grilled Prawns
For mains it was just one curry in the form of the Kerala beef fry and some Goan style grilled prawns.
The beef fry was consisted of well done, but tender, strips of meat in a southern Indian-style, cumin-y rub. It had rich spice flavours, a hint of fennel and cardamom. It was enjoyable and of good quality but didn't justify the £17 price tag.
The prawns were equally expensive, but more on that later. These were incredible; probably the best I've ever had. The four incredibly smoked king prawns lay in a oily, tomato and chilli jus. A further citrus-y edge combined with the other flavours for an indescribably good, bittersweet and smoky hit. Amazing.
Service was friendly and efficient if not hugely notable. The restaurant was busy and the staff were accordingly occupied, but no long waits or complaints from us.
Value for money
I don't know if it's a Soho tourist premium, the global economy's supply chain issues, or the insanity of Brexit, but the prices here are pretty toppy. A glance back at a menu from my Tower Bridge visit confirmed my suspicions that prices had risen considerably post-pandemic. Two years ago the softshell crab was £9 and is now £18, likewise the Kerala beef fry was £11 and is now a staggering £17. As for the mouthwatering prawns, the price of £24 is pretty eyewatering. Yes, all enjoyable dishes, but the price hikes seem unjustified and a little unpalatable. It's therefore only a 5 for value, despite the quality and taste of the plates.
Overall, it's always nice to welcome another Indian restaurant opening, but Gunpowder's investment in a new location seems to have come at a slight price for the customer. Yes, the restaurant industry deserves a bit of a break due to Covid closures, but I wouldn't be hurrying back here on account of the prices. I would, however, thoroughly recommend the food that continues to be of a very high quality with the prawns are probably worth the visit alone.
Address: 40 Doric Way, London NW1 1LH
Cuisine: Malaysian with Keralan influence
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: Incredible roti and curry dishes at low low prices. It's popular so be prepared to queue; but it's well worth it!