The husband and wife founders of home-style Indian restaurant Gunpowder, also in East London, opened Madame D’s this month, just around the corner on Commercial Street. This time Harneet and Devina Baweja are focusing on the “darker, oriental flavours” of Himalayan food.
The 25-cover restaurant is located on the first floor of number 76, above Spirit of 76, a pub and cocktail bar owned by Charles King Harman, serving cocktails, fine wines and local beers.
Madame D’s head chef, Nirmal Save, draws on the flavours of Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan and Chinese cooking, using local ingredients for a short menu of sharing dishes (£3-£15 each) such as gold coin naga beef puffs, pan-fried Tibetan duck momo, Himalayan fried chicken, and hakka chilli paneer.Harneet says: “I first discovered Himalayan food when visiting family in North East India where I spent my summers growing up. The memory of the constant heat from the spices… it was food unlike anything I’d eaten before and on a recent trip back to the region, Nirmal and I realised we couldn’t return to London and face daily life without those intoxicating flavours.”
When Globetrender visited, the cosy little candlelit restaurant had the menu written in chalk on a black board, and one single cocktail available – this was called Dragon’s Breath and was made with absinthe and bourbon.
Dishes came thick and fast, in no particular order. The people at the tightly packed table next to us began with a sealed, clear plastic bag of prawn crackers for dipping into homemade Szechuan pepper and salt, followed by a whole sea bass with ginger and soya. Spoons are provided but you are expected to eat with chopsticks.
We ordered up the paneer (pictured at the top of this page), which came as sticky cubes coated in red chilli and ginger; a plate of tenderstem broccoli in a pool of soy sauce; a generous quantity of yielding, succulent aubergine slices dripping in some kind of umami juiciness; and the outstanding crispy potato and noodle bell (a wonderful combination of carby goodness, brought to life with little chunks of pineapple). Every dish was packed with flavour and artfully presented on blue and white hand-painted china.If you like the sound of Himalayan food (which you should), be aware that, like Gunpowder, there are no reservations for Madame D’s.
Why is it called Madame D’s? Harneet told the Evening Standard: “Madame D draws influence from the resilient women of the 19th century who travelled across the Himalayas, selling opium and collecting recipes, customs and traditions as they went.”
He added: “Our Madame D ended up settling in East London above a rickety old pub, dealing in flavours, spices and food whilst leaving the opium in the Himalayas.”