Gul and Sepoy, Spitalfields

Have you been to Gunpowder or Madame D’s (which I reviewed for Binge) yet? No I hear you cry. Then ladies and gents, seriously, you have got to get your skates on and head over to Spitalfields in East London and give them both a try. They’ve both received the highly acclaimed accolade of ‘bib gourmand’ (bg’s are given to restaurants which offer both excellent food and good value for money, but do not have to offer the same level of service and pomp that those winning a star would have to).

Gunpowder focuses on home style Indian food, whilst Madame D’s focus is Himalayan, or rather ‘Hakka Chinese’, food. However the really exciting news and the purpose of this post, is that the husband and wife team, Harneet and Devina Baweja, along with Gunpowder head chef, Nirmal Save, have just launched their third restaurant in under two years. Impressive hey! Gul and Sepoy is a stones throw away from their other two restaurants based on Commercial Street, just along from Som Saa.

I went with an open mind and an empty belly, but secretly I was thinking, can they have nailed a third fabulous restaurant? The answer came after my first mouthful, an absolute high five, whoop whoop, YES. I spent the meal grinning ear to ear on the combinations of flavours and dishes that were presented to us. We went for the tasting menu – £25 per person, to be shared. The menu concentrates on cuisine from both south west Indian and north west India. The ‘gul’ part is inspired by the King of Punjab’s most famous courtesan and her love of cooking. This food focuses on rich, sumptuous dishes. The ‘sepoy’ (which means soldier) menu draws from the more rustic, coastal style cooking of the south west.

It was the bream and the ‘royal guchi (morels) pulao that defeated my companion and I. We had to save a little room after all for some ‘wild berries and lavender kheer’ to sweeten our palates.  The staff kindly wrapped our leftovers into doggie bags that we could take home.

The restaurant is stylish and yet understated, with an eye catching navy exterior, gold writing type face (important details that I notice) and plum door with lots of foliage. It looks inviting and sets the tone perfectly. As you enter there is a large oak bar, offering some temptingly delicious sounding cocktails as well as a wider-ranging wine list than the other two restaurants. Upstairs, which I didn’t venture, apparently has ‘marble feasting tables providing a touch of luxury and a nod to north India’s ancient royal palaces’. It’s priced slightly more expensive than Gunpowder and Madame D, but not eye-wateringly. I went for a mid-week lunch and it was fairly quiet, but I imagine evenings will be busier and it won’t be long until lunchtimes will follow suit. It’s perfect for a lunch or dinner to be enjoyed at leisure and not hurried. The neighbouring table of 8 gentleman were clearly having a leisured client lunch, so it works for pleasure or work.

The final piece of good news I want to share with you is that in spring 2018 they will be launching their fourth restaurant south of the river at the new development ‘One Tower Bridge’. ‘Gunpowder Market Market’, will focus on Harneet and Devina Baweja’s heritage by serving up homestyle Calcutta cuisine. I know a fair amount about Calcutta cuisine, (my other half is originally from Calcutta) so I am very excited to see what they come up with. Apparently there will also be a bakery, which will turn into a wine bar in evening. I’ll report back once their new venture launches.

In the mean time go seek out their latest venture, Gul and Sepoy. All three restaurants rock and you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t take chilli then perhaps steer clear of Madame D, but it’s not crazy scotch bonnet hot, more like you know your alive kind of hot, if you know what I mean.

 

Gul and Sepoy 

65 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD

Lunch: Tuesday -Saturday: 12.oo-2.45pm

Dinner: Monday -Saturday: 5.30-10.30pm

+44 207 247 1407

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


Som Saa – restaurant review

img_2947

I am not going to beat around the bush. If you love spice and heat – and let me just stress the latter, HEAT – then stop what you are doing right now, make an excuse that you have to leave whatever you are doing and get yourself down to Spitalfields  – 43A Commercial Road to be precise. At this address you will find a little white sign with black writing on it with the words Som Saa. Go in and if you find yourself there at lunch time, you might just be lucky enough not to have a wait before being shown to your table.

img_2946

This Thai restaurant, opened earlier this year by ex Masterchef 2009 finalist Andy Oliver, Mark Dobbie, chef from now closed Michelin starred Nahm restaurant in Knightsbridge and Pok Pok in New York and front of house, Tom George, will more than knock your socks off. I had gone with really high expectations after hearing all the hype and had half expected them to be crushed after my visit. It’s normally the case when a play/book/film/restaurant get’s over hyped you feel a real crushing blow that it really wasn’t that good, but with Som Saa it is a whole different story.

img_2944

The seed for Som Saa was planted a couple of years back when they ran a pop-up (of the same name) at Climpson’s Arch in London Fields. This ran for a year and began to get so much of a cult following that leveraging into a permeant bricks and mortar site was an obvious transition. They had had the chance to try out a range of dishes on punters and had leaned valuable lessons on what worked and what needed to be fine tuned. They raised their capital through crowdfunding raising a staggering £700k in 4 days.

img_2954

They wanted their new residence to have the same feeling and vibe of the old Climpson’s Arch and although I did not get to experience it, looking at the architecture it has the exposed brick arches, rustic, tables chairs and flooring that I can only imagine is not too far removed from their pop-up days. There is a small window looking onto the kitchen itself, with incredible smells wafting it’s way around the restaurant.

img_2950

Similar to another recent great find – Gunpowder – Som Saa’s lunchtime menu is short but perfectly formed. I much prefer short menus as the offering is always far superior and the food far fresher. My companion and I opted for the following:

gung golae – grilled prawns in a southern style coconut marinade

som tam thai – Bangkok style green papaya salad with snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts and cherry tomatoes (they can make this vegetarian if you wish)

gaeng hung lay – Burmese style curry of pork belly and shoulder with pickled garlic and fresh ginger

gaeng baa pla – jungle curry with family fish, thai aubergines, holy basil and wild ginger

khao hom mali – jasmine rice

It’s no exaggeration that every dish was punch-the-air fabulous. Seriously they did not even slip up on one dish. Papaya salad is always a good indicator of whether the restaurant will be any good and even that was delicately balanced with the necessary zing and heat.

I loved the look of all the menu, but felt that this was more than enough for a midweek lunch. Apparently the evening offering offers a few extra dishes, but I would go back in a heart beat and eat the same again and perhaps alternate with a new dish on every visit. I skipped dessert, as I invariably do, but I have been reprimanded by one of my instagram followers who insist I am missing out and that I must ‘give them a try’. I also didn’t take advantage of the interesting cocktails – ‘day by the pool (yes please ;o) – prosecco, jasmine tea, gin, creme de violate, lemongrass cordial, but with school runs to rush too I really couldn’t.

Som Saa is a rare Thai citrus fruit that has, apparently, an incredible flavour and can be found in old Thai recipes. Thompson describes it as a “metaphor for the restaurant” in that he wants to “introduce diners to new tastes”. It is time to move on from the dumb down version of Thai food that we have all grown up with and to experience a more authentic Thai experience.

Som Saa

43A Commercial Street

Spitalfields

London

E1 6BD

lunch: tue-fri: 12-2.30pm

dinner: mon-sun: 5-late (last orders 10.30pm and 10pm on Sunday)


Gunpowder – a new exciting Indian restaurant worth seeking out

img_2882

I rarely eat out at Indian restaurants these days – other than my old favs down in Tooting and perhaps Gymkhana if I’m in town. My other half is Indian so as you can imagine by default I cook and eat a fair amount of Indian food. When my mother-in-law comes to visit or we go and stay with her she spoils us with her traditional Bengali fare, so in many respects I am pretty spoilt when it comes to tasty, home cooked Indian food.

My other half had recently eaten at this new Indian restaurant, close to Spitalfields market and the Bangladeshi enclave of Brick Lane, named ‘Gunpowder’ and had waxed lyrical about how much I would love it.

img_2883

I did not need to be asked twice. It was relatively easy to find – literally 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street station. The exterior, although small and low key, appealed; the font and paint work had been chosen with care. As there is a no reservations policy I arrived just past noon to find only one other table already seated. It was not long however, before the place filled up with hungry diners. Whilst I waited for my fellow guests the waiting staff were attentive and friendly, guiding me around the menu and the days special – partridge cooked in Indian spices, if I recall.

img_2874

Much like the restaurant itself, the menu was small and yet perfectly formed – it seats only 28. Although Gunpowder – named after a spice mix and a nod to the old artillery ground nearby – is on the premises of an old curry house, it is far removed from your typical cuzza. The restaurant is the brainchild of Kolkatan Harneet Baweja and his wife, who brought on board Mumbai-born head chef Nirmal Save, ex Tamarind and Zaika.

The menu choice is refreshingly original with dishes such as: chettinad pulled duck served with homemade oothappam, sigree grilled mustard broccoli, karwari soft shell crab and wild rabbit pulao, to tempt diners. The cuisine is not specific to an area, instead encapsulating elements across many regions.

img_2875

We started with ‘rasam ke bomb’ – which were the perfect spice explosions to kick off the proceedings. The ‘rasam’ – a spiced Indian thin soup, was presented in shot glasses. On top sat round crispy shelled pani puri. Within these little beauties was a lighted spiced potato mash. We were encouraged to bite, sip and bite again until we had finished both the ‘bomb’ and the shot. It was the most magnificent way to start the proceedings adding a theatrical allure to the whole occasion.

Whilst we waited for our other dishes to arrive we munched on tasty porzhi okra fries. Even if you’ve been put off okra in the past seriously try these, you will not be disappointed. Following the fries we feasted on spicy venison and vermicelli doughnuts, which looked similar to scotch eggs but instead had soft spiced venison incased within a crispy shell. The hot dipping sauce to accompany the doughnut added further zing and spiciness to the dish. We followed these with maa’s Kashmiri lamb chops, saag with tandoori paneer and a rather delicious spiced kale with a yogurt dressing. I loved the attention to detail and the genuine passion that had gone into making each dish.

The restaurant is onto a winning formula in that the menu is original and yet follows through spectacularly with flavour and heat. Those who love their spices will feel right at home at Gunpowder. This is not the place to come if you are looking for your chicken korma and other typical curry house dishes. I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Opening hours

Monday to Saturday

Lunch 12 noon – 3pm

Dinner 5.30pm – 10.30pm

Sunday closed

 

Address

11 White’s Row

Spitalfields

London, E1 7NF

 


Malaysian Inspired Street Food in the Heart of Soho – Sambal Shiok

IMG_1101

Soho, as a location, has always had a certain mystique and vibe completely unique to any other area in London. It’s bang central and could be described as the beating heart of touristy Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street. The seediness that it had in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s has largely dissipated and now it is a magnet for those seeking to nourish their bellies and soul with memorable food, washed down with an ale or cocktail.

IMG_1104

Located on the corner of Beak Street and Great Pulteney Street – an intersection you’ll find at the end of London’s iconic Carnaby Street, you will find a pub by the name of ‘The Sun & 13 Cantons’. After a fire in late 1880’s, 13 Cantons was added to its name after its Swiss patrons who lived and worked as watch makers in the vicinity. Cantons, the Swiss word for counties, at the time had 12, but due to the Swiss community frequenting the pub it was charmingly given the name ’13 cantons’ as a tribute to it’s loyal customers.

The pub hosts culinary residencies, or extended pop-ups if you will, for 6 months plus, serving Indian/Asian inspired food at very affordable prices. Up until October they have ‘Sambal Shiok’ with chef Mandy Yin at the helm, tempting diners with addictively spicy Laksa Noodle Soups, Hainan Dumplings, Beef Rendang, Nasi Lemak or Malaysian Fried Chicken as well as a number of smaller starter dishes and sides. Yin grew up in Kuala Lumpur and after a two year stint feeding the masses at some of London’s markets, she made the transition to her own private residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons.

IMG_1105

I had been salivating over her Laksa noodle soups for quite some time, thanks to instagram, and with the interchangeable weather we have been having in the UK, I felt a strong need for something spicy and warming to give me that inner glow of happiness.

The pub itself was given a new lease of life in 2015 and today has Parisian inspired interiors with dark green leather banquette seating and different shades of green metro tiles and mirrors on the wall; all rather chic indeed. After deliberating on which laksa to choose I decided upon the spicy prawn and tofu. I am often suspicious when restaurants say something is spicy as they are invariably ‘Western spicy’ as opposed to properly spicy, but this laksa is dance about, super spicy. I loved it. My lunching companion, who I discovered whilst ordering is not so in favour of spice, opted for the Hainan dumplings and fried chicken with a tasty peanut satay on the side. Chicken portions were generous and more conservatively spiced, which appealed to my companion. It’s not often I get to eat fried chicken, although I do recall rather loving KFC as a child, but this fried chicken was lip-smackingly good.

Would I return, hell yes, I’ll be found slurping the laksa from time to time until the next residency starts in October.

Sambal Shiok
The Sun & 13 Cantons
21 Great Pulteney Street
London
W1F 9NG
Tel020 7734 0934

lunch 12pm to 3pm Tuesdays to Saturdays

dinner 5.30pm to 9pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On Thursday and Friday evenings Sambal Shiok’s simpler street food menu will be available on a no reservations basis. Takeaways will be available at all times. Last orders will be at 2.30 and 9pm for each session.


The Little Viet Kitchen – Islington

IMG_9415

For those who have a weakness for seriously tasty Vietnamese food, as I do, you need to pay a visit to Chapel Market, a stone’s throw away from Angel tube station. As you stroll through the market, past the famous Pie & Mash and Eels restaurant M.Manze you come across a shining beckon of shabby chic cool with a mint, grey and wooden exterior. The name ‘The Little Viet Kitchen’ is etched above the door. Once you enter a wave of calm serenity washes over you. This is a place to lunch and take your time.

The first thing that hits you is how charming and well thought through the restaurant is. From the stunning chandeliers, to the beautiful vases of fresh flowers on each table, to the wooden ceilings, the bar stools and the lights above the bar.

IMG_9416

Everything oozes with considered cool. It’s a place that immediately puts you at ease. There is no frenetic lunching here.

IMG_9417

 

The restaurant is the brainchild of Thuy Pham-Kelly, who launched the restaurant last year, having previously run a successful Vietnamese supper club. She still continues with her supper clubs each month where dinners arrive at 6pm and are treated to a surprise Vietnamese banquet that changes each month. Her passion and love of Vietnamese food is clearly evident both in the cooking but also the way that she has injected so much of her own personality into the restaurant. She wants diners to feel they are dining in her own home.

IMG_9421

We started our Vietnamese feast with non-alcohol cocktails. For me a ‘Lemongrass Ginger Sherbet Colada’ and for my partner in crime ‘Cucumber Mojito’. I had never tried anything like my sherbet colada before, but I must say it was addictively good. It reminded me vaguely of those wonderful sherbet fountains I used to eat as a child. You know the ones that you dip a liquorice stick in.

We then opted for today’s special starters (they change daily), which were king prawns and a spider crab each on a Vietnamese salad bursting with flavour. It was a great taster of what was to come.

IMG_9422

As a side note I wanted to mention the stunning, tactile crockery that the food was served in. Not only did the bowls and plates have weight they also kept the food hotter for longer, owing to the fact that they were made of clay. Sourced from Japan, they complement the food perfectly.

IMG_9411

One of the statement dishes (the other being Pho, but I shall have that on my return visit) is Banh Xeo – Vietnamese Pancakes – which was larger than life as you can see. We opted for the one filled with pork belly and prawn. It’s a great dish to share and allows you to get really stuck in as you need to eat it with your fingers. After cutting a bite sized portion of the pancake you wrap it in a lettuce leaf and add some fresh herbs – mint and coriander. You then roll it up slightly before dipping it in the nuoc cham sauce. If you want to know how to cook them yourself, albeit a lot smaller ones than the one I ate, take a look at my recipe here.

IMG_9420

Next up was the ‘Coconut Poussin Curry’ that packed a delicate chilli punch. All the meat sourced is organic  and consequently has flavour and tastes good. The coconut infused broth was deliciously creamy and nicely spiced. Nothing bland about the cooking here.  The dish does require quite a bit of concentration to eat as there is a generous portion of noodles sitting in the bowl. Transferring noodles to mouth without any contact with one’s pristine top/blouse/shirt (delete as appropriate) is quite a skill. I think I just about managed it!

IMG_9419

We were then treated to Thuy’s special ‘Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls’ that were filled with pork, water chestnut and glass noodles. They were utterly delicious and I liked the fact that they had water chestnuts in them, a first for me.

IMG_9418

Needing to digest we drank cups of lemongrass and green tea, the perfect beverage to finish off a very filling and delicious lunch. Will I be returning? Most definitely YES and I plan to entice more of my south London friends to join me. The northern line really does make it very easy.

 

The Little Viet Kitchen

2 Chapel Market, Angel Islington

London, N1 9EZ

Tel: 0207 837 9779

Monday             Closed

Tuesday             12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 22:00

Wednesday       12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 22:00

Thursday           12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 23:00

Friday                 12:00 to 15:00, 18:00 to 23:00

Saturday            12:00 to 23:00