There was a time, long before Cronuts, when “fusion cuisine” was not the buzzword of big city dining, but simply a product of migration.
The Bangladeshis arrived in Britain and came up with chicken tikka masala, the California roll came about after a Japanese chef in Los Angeles needed a substitute for bluefin tuna, and fish and chips is thought to be the work of Spanish Jews, who brought together the traditional pescado frito of Spain and Belgium’s famous fried potato.
There were no mad scientist chefs producing mutant munchies, just the sharing of traditions and merging of flavours to create dishes so delicious, they rendered geographical boundaries obsolete.
It is on this premise (and with no mention of the f-word) that the husband and wife team behind Spitalfields’ wildly popular Indian joint Gunpowder present Madame D’s; a new eatery dishing up cuisine from a little cluster of hills known as the Himalayas.
With the exception of a smattering of Nepalese restaurants primarily concentrated in the south east, London’s dining scene knows little of this colossal swathe of mountains that separates the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau.
The sheer size and geographical complexity of the area means the cuisine draws from Sichuan, Nepalese, Tibetan and Bengali flavours, with a focus on hot, fresh-tasting dishes that make stars of chilli and herbs.
Madame D’s is based on the culinary traditions of Chinese-Tibetan immigrants who settled in India after being driven from their homes; not unlike like the (fictional) opium-smuggling Madame D herself.
There is a bias towards Indian flavours (and with the queues outside Gunpowder visible from the top windows, it’s easy to see why) but soy sauce and Sichuan pepper play starring roles in the small menu of 10 sharing dishes, as do the pan-fried duck momo dumplings for which Tibet is famous.
Start with a couple of the Naga chilli beef puffs; delicately spiced balls of mince wrapped in flaky pastry, and don’t overlook the veggie options like fleshy slices of aubergine stuffed with mushrooms and nuts and slathered in a punchy sauce.
Whole seabass is served Chinese style in ginger and soy and tastes plenty fresh though largely unremarkable, but the meaty masala lamb noodles are a must; laden with lovingly spiced mince and topped with a gooey fried egg.
Go in a group to sample everything from the Himalayan-style fried chicken marinated in six different types herbs and roots to the Nepalese pork, cooked then dried in the mountain tradition of meat preservation – both received glowing reviews from a neighbouring table.
Little touches of Madame D are everywhere in the 25-cover “flat” – see the website for the full backstory – from coat stands and goldfish bowls to maps of the Himalayas charting her journey from China to Nepal and Calcutta, where she traded the last of her opium for a ride to England.
Wonder what she’d make of Cronuts?