By Phoebe Ollerearnshaw
Set above a bustling Spitalfields pub is Madame D; the new kid on the block that’s proclaiming the wonders of Himalayan food. From the team behind Gunpowder—which recently won a Bib Gourmand from Michelin—this eatery is introducing the tantalising flavours of Nepal, India and Tibet to the British taste buds.
Dim lights, distressed walls, high ceilings, smoky candlelight, dark wooden benches and communal tables provide the joint with an intimate feel. Nothing is overly garish or pretentious; straight away I felt right at home. The upstairs dining area poses a perfect retreat from the chaos of the busy bar below. The space is apparently mirrored on the living room of the fictional Madame D, filled with trinkets and unusual memorabilia. Harneet Baweja, one of the two founders, shared the inspiration behind the character: ‘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.’
In collaboration with Blessings Bar downstairs, there is a strong focus on locally brewed craft beers and ales. The selection of wine and cocktails isn’t extensive but leaves enough room to find an appropriate pairing for the food. Madame D’s compact menu offers dishes that are designed for sharing, with prices ranging between £3 and £15. Just a few of the dishes on offer include whole prawns in roasted pepper and onion masala, Tibetan pan-fried duck leg, naga chilli beef puffs, stuffed aubergines with mushrooms and pan-fried seafood momos in a seafood broth.
As a group of five, we struggled to narrow down our selections. We finally settled on the beef puffs, hakka chilli paneer, pan-fried vegetable momos, tiffin masala lamb noodles with fried egg, Kathmandu curry and masala beef ribs with Sichuan sour cream and coriander drizzle. The smells and intense aroma coming from the kitchen filled me with anticipation. Immediately I thought to myself: ‘This is going to be tasty.’ As it so happens, I was right. The beef puffs, though a little on the pricey side (£3.50 for each small pastry parcel) were absolutely delicious. Soft and buttery short pastry meets with punchy, fragrantly spiced beef—what’s not to like? Feed me a bucket of them and I believe I’d die a happy woman. The Kathmandu curry with bamboo shoots and sweet potato was also a winner. This vegetarian delight was vibrant (both in colour and flavour); combining sweet notes with a subtle kick of chilli. The consistency was perfect, coating the rice with its green tinge.
Perhaps the only thing that let the meal down was the momos. This just so happened to be the element I was most looking forward to. Several members of my party (including myself) had sampled momos in either India or Nepal. They are a particular favourite of ours; reminding us of a time when we were young and carefree travellers. The dumplings themselves were somewhat stodgy, far too large and the sauce they came in was overpowering; it would have been better as an accompaniment for dipping. The consistency just felt completely wrong.
However, the rest of our orders made up for the momo fiasco. The ribs were tender; the meat was succulent and fell off the bone with the tiniest nudge from my chopsticks. They were drizzled with sour yoghurt that contrasted with the savoury glaze on the beef beautifully. The lamb noodles were hot (a little too spicy for my friends but perfect for me). The egg nestled on top oozed into the dish, giving the noodles a silky consistency—divine! My companions couldn’t get enough of the paneer; it was gone in a matter of seconds. Most of the dishes were very reasonable in price and in size.
While my dietary repertoire isn’t quite as attuned to Himalayan delicacies as it is other cuisines, I trust that Harneet and Devina have travelled far and wide enough to encapsulate the region. And if the cuisine isn’t exactly authentic, who the hell cares? If this is them pandering to the British palate, I can say with certainty that I am sold. Their home-style creations are intense, moreish and simply delightful. The overall feel of Madame D is relaxed, facilitating big laughs and satisfied appetites. I say with absolute conviction that I will be returning, I may even give the seafood momos a chance in the hope that they can redeem themselves. All in all, a really enjoyable experience.
Madame D. | 76 Commercial St, London E1 6LY
If you have enjoyed reading our restaurant review of Madame D, click here to read more on The Master Chefs website about The Greek Larder in King’s Cross.