This month’s hottest Indian food happenings and objects of desire.
THE RESTAURANT Gunpowder
When Harneet Bhaweja and Nirmal Save got their heads together to create a small plate place, the result was explosive. Gunpowder’s Indian flavours are undiluted and there’s heart in every dish; from the sigri-grilled whole head of broccoli whose je ne sais quois comes from a sauce Harneet’s mum used as a secret weapon to make him eat his veggies as a child to ‘Maa’s Kashmiri lamb chops’, served with a tangle of kalonji-spiked pickled veggies – one of the tiny flourishes that makes the huge difference between this venue and near peers.
The ‘smashed potato’ aloo chaat is a keen contender for the title of ‘Best in Town’, and dishes like Nagaland pork belly and Chettinad pulled duck simultaneously tap into trends and showcase regional fare. It’s clever stuff, with one of those menus where it’s less a question of ‘what do we want to eat?’ than ‘what can we bear to go without?’ The answer should be nothing – with pocket-friendly prices and a concise, coherent collection of dishes, there’s no reason at all not to order it all.
Don’t miss drinks and desserts – from the cocktail list, whisky-lovers will fall for the fiery Dirty Rasam, served chilli- and temperature-hot; whilst the Pani Puri Margarita captures all the flavours of that street snack; sweet-savoury, spicy, salty and tangy. And there are few lovelier endings than the Old Monk Rum Pudding – a fat slab of pillowy bread and butter pud blanketed in sweet, rich custard with a devilish dousing of the eponymous liquor.
It’s small, it’s spirited, and it’s soon to become London’s worst kept secret. Get there before it does.
Gunpowder, 11 Whites Row, London E1 7NF gunpowderlondon.com
THE RESIDENCY Darjeeling Express at The Sun & 13 Cantons
On his blog Cheese & Biscuits, Chris Pople recently awarded Asma Khan his ‘Will Someone Please Give Her A Restaurant’ title. The accolade may have been tongue in cheek, but he was deadly serious about the quality of Khan’s cuisine. There’s not long left to hop on the Express at Soho pub The Sun & 13 Cantons – so march along before March and try as much of her unique Calcutta cuisine as you can, from the city’s street eats to fourth-generation family recipes from the royal courts of India’s north.
Papri Chaat Spiced potato and black chickpeas on a bed of crisp papri dressed with tangy tamarind sauce and garnished with sev
Puchkas Calcutta’s own pani puri – wheat & semolina shells filled with spiced chickpeas, potatoes and tamarind water
Goat Khosha Mangsho Bengali goat curry with potatoes
Prawn Malaikari Bengali specialty of delicately spiced tiger prawns in coconut milk
Khoobani ka Meetha Stewed Hunza apricots served with clotted cream
Kheer Traditional rice and milk spiced dessert garnished with nuts
The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, London W1F 9NG darjeeling-express.com
THE SUPPER(WELL, ACTUALLY LUNCH) CLUB The Epicurean Indian
There’s a growing trend for dynamic, Michelin-trained Indian chefs to branch out as freewheeling, innovative talents in their own right – ‘That Hungry Chef’ Pratap Chahal, Snigdha Nigam, and now Sameer Taneja, former Exec Chef at Benares, is commanding the kitchens for one-off lunch at Soho’s The Sun & 13 Cantons on 23 January.
‘Classics with a Twist’ is the apt name for an event from a chef whose cuisine is a canny combination of contemporary and classic techniques and ingredients from European and India alike. Sameer’s pop-up project comes ahead of a restaurant ‘proppa’; showcasing the signature style he’ll eventually exemplify at his own permanent venue.
The multi-dish menu starts with smartened-up street snacks; think pau bhaji ‘fondue’ with blue cheese and figs & quince pakora poppadoms. Hand-dived Scottish scallops are served with mustard & curry leaf vermicelli, San Marzano tomato chutney, and beetroot chips, and tandoori chicken goes gourmet, stuffed with squab pigeon, dished up with organic egg biryani and 24-hour buttered black lentils. Dessert is as eclectic, decidedly-Desi rasmalai offered alongside a sleek European Valrhona chocolate torte.
The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, London W1F 9NG edibleexperiences.com
THE PRODUCT: Cheeky Food Co.’s Sprinkles
Low in fat, high in flavour, and just perfect for this time of year. Cheeky Food Co. founder Swati Biswal had the entrepreneurial and long overdue idea of bringing India’s ‘podis’ – dry spice blends – to the British table and consciousness with a humorous brand that’s deadly serious about fine food, and these are the quite simply rocking results.
Available in Nutter Coconut, Silly Sesame and Pecky Peanut, try out the whole trio with this packet of sachets, then stock up on your favourite with a full-sized jar (or two, or three…). Sweet, savoury, crunchy and munchy; sprinkle them on anything and everything, from fresh fruit to seared steak.
Cheeky Food Co. Gift Bag of 3 Sprinkles Pouches, £7 cheekyfoodcompany.com
THE GIFT: The Playful Indian’s ‘Those Curves Are Sweet’ card
Because we’re all feeling fat in out post-holiday bodies, and there could be nothing more delicious than letting someone know you love their new handles.
‘Those Curves Are Sweet’ greeting card, £2.25 theplayfulindian.com
THE HERO: Kanthi Kiran Thamma
First up, a huuuuge Happy Birthday to Kanthi, who celebrated on 7 Jan – but that’s not why he’s a hero. On the very same day, he hosted a fundraising charity dinner for the Chennai flood victims at Curry Leaf Cafe – the Brighton restaurant he co-owns with Euan Sey.
The pair’s aim? To help rebuild a school for students with hearing and speaking disabilities. The result? Over £1300 raised for the cause, an amazing dinner for all in attendance, and a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for the very happy chef.
So three cheers to Kanthi – top talent, top chef, top bloke.
Curry Leaf Cafe, 60 Ship Street, Brighton BN1 1AE curryleafcafe.com
THE RECIPE: Chef Kanthi’s Andhra-style pappu charu
Kanthi Kiran Thamma, Head Chef and Co-Owner of Brighton’s Curry Leaf Cafe, says, ‘This is Andhra Pradesh’s take on the Tamil sambhar. ‘Pappu’ means lentils and ‘charu’ roughly translates as ‘soup’. My Amma (mother) prepared this daily when I was growing up – this recipe is straight from her kitchen but I’ve used British winter root vegetables in place of the traditional aubergines, carrots and drumsticks.’
For the dal:
- 150g toor dal (split yellow lentils), washed and soaked for at least 20 minutes
- 350ml water
- 25g seedless tamarind, soaked in 100ml hot water (if you can’t get tamarind, use the juice of 2 lemons and 1 tsp of sugar)
- 50ml vegetable oil
- 1 small red onion, quartered
- 3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
- 1 big tomato, quartered
- 100g celeriac, diced
- 100g parsnip, diced
- 100g swede, diced
- 100g sweet potato, diced
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- salt, to taste
For the tadka (tempering):
- 1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil)
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp urad dal
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2-3 dried red chillies, torn
- few fresh curry leaves, washed
- 1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
- pinch of asafoetida
- 1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
Boil the soaked dal in the water for about 25 minutes, or until soft.
Meanwhile, push the soaked tamarind through a sieve set over a bowl.
Discard the pulp and reserve the thick liquid in the bowl.
Heat the oil in a saucepan set over a medium heat.
Add the red onions, chillies and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, then add the root vegetables and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add the tamarind liquid, the cooked dal along with any remaining water, the red chilli powder, turmeric, and salt.
The mixture should be of a thick broth consistency – add more water if it’s too thick.
Bring to the boil until the root vegetables are thoroughly cooked, then reduce the heat to low whilst you prepare the tadka.
For the tadka, heat the ghee or oil in a frying pan set over medium-high heat and add the mustard seeds, urad dal, cumin seeds, torn dried red chillies, curry leaves, garlic, and ginger.
Cook until golden-brown, then remove the pan from the heat and add the asafoetida.
Tip the entire mixture immediately into the cooked dal and mix well.
Check seasoning, add the coriander, remove from the heat, and serve hot – alone, with rice, or as an accompaniment to South Indian items like dosa, idli or vada.
- To read more from Kanthi Thamma, click here
- To read more about Cheeky Food Co., click here
- To read about 2015’s Indian food highlights, click here