Following one of our very first drinks dates, the man who would later become my Luxury Boyfriend crashed the dinner I had planned with a mate at Gunpowder. We three squashed around one of the Spitalfields restaurant’s tiny tables, fell upon the regional Indian cuisine with gusto, then retired to Blessings Bar full of fine food and good cheer.
10 months on, my – now our – mate’s off travelling in Nepal, and team Gunpowder has opened Madame D – a new Himalayan gaff upstairs at Blessings which LB and me are very much looking forward to blessing with our presence. It’s funny how things turn out.
Tearing him away from the planning of yet ANOTHER new venue – the September-opening Gul & Sepoy – I asked co-founder Harneet Baweja to spill the beans about the venue and menu he’s masterminded together with his wife Devina and chef Nirmal Save.
Himalayan food is rather under the radar in the UK – what’s the allure?
The Himalayas are an integral part of Asia, and these beautiful mountains allow many cultures to co exist in their belly. It’s so exciting – you have the Tibetan, Chinese, Nepalese and Indian influences all coming together.
What’s in that name?
Madame D is a fictional immigrant who arrived from trading opium in the Himalayas to settle in Shoreditch – she represents resilient 19th-century women who lived that life.
What made you feel that this cuisine should be the focus for Madame D?
We need more love in this world. We need people to come together and be accepting of different cultures, and food is the perfect way to make this happen. Food around the Himalayas is reflective of this; its diverse techniques, ingredients and spices blending together to satisfy the cravings and nourish the soul.
Growing up, my family took a lot of our summer holidays around the Himalayas. The food memories from these trips were incredible, so we decided to go back and backpack around to small villages in North Bengal, Sikkim, and Nagaland in order to further understand the local food.
What were your most interesting discoveries along the way?
I would say the cooking techniques themselves. Closer to the mountains, the fresh produce available is quite different. Over centuries, the locals have learned how to extract maximum flavour. It also amazed me to see how Oriental-style noodles and soups were partnered with very Indian/Nepalese pickles and spicing.
Which of Madame D’s dishes were hardest to perfect, and what are your personal favourites?
Momos – Himalayan dumplings – were most tricky. It’s all in the technique! My favourite is the Naga beef puff and tiffin chilli garlic noodles with minced lamb topped with a fried egg. I would get versions of these dishes to take in my school tiffin as a child, so they’re very nostalgic.
Dining out’s not all about the food – how will Madame D’s drinks and decor enhance the Himalayan vibe?
The place is essentially a den. It’s styled as Madame D’s first London flat, and we’ve tried to do it up like we think she would have done – it’s a cosy space, furniture is minimal, and it’s made homely by trinkets and ornaments collected from her travels. Charlie from the bar downstairs is working with us on a couple of Himalayan-inspired cocktails and sodas, which is very exciting.
Which other Indian cuisines would you like to turn your hand to exposing next?
That’s a tough one. I’d like to explore more but I’m not sure where. Hopefully I can travel back again this year with the aim of understanding the cuisine of my own roots and culture better.
- Madame D, 76 Commercial Street, London E1 6LY. For more information, click here
- To read an interview with Harneet Baweja about Gunpowder’s Michelin listing, click here
- To read about Nepalese cuisine, click here
- To read more about momos and Indo-Chinese cuisine, click here