If you don’t want to break the hearts of young children – and if I’m being totally honest, grown adult women too – then don’t, for goodness sake, put a giant, and fun-looking photo booth in the middle of your restaurant which doesn’t actually work. As a disgruntled eight-year-old makes his way back to his family after realising it’s purely for show, the booth’s curtain twitches in a mysterious, Wizard of Oz-like fashion, and we get a flash of the bar stock it seems to be concealing.
Empire Empire’s custom-made, vinyl-only jukebox is thankfully the real deal, sitting prettily by this new neighbourhood spot’s front door and playing a deft selection of 1970s Indian disco that’s heavy on the Asha Bhosle – though this is about the size of the joint’s much promo-ed disco theme; it’s definitely just a normal restaurant, rather than a low-lit Studio 54 meets Bollywood bacchanalia. But the food is more than genuine, coming from the same team as Gunpowder, who’ve been neatly delivering classic Indian sharing plates across their trio of restaurants in Soho, Tower Bridge and Spitalfields for the past few years.
This is their first west London venture and it’s here, on a deeply Notting Hill stretch of All Saints Road (we swear we hear someone urgently shouting the name ‘Crispin!’ upon arrival), that Empire Empire focuses on the full throttle cuisine of the northwestern Punjab region, with biryanis, kebabs and tikka given top billing.
Tandoori hariyali king prawns were big, beefy boys, stained Kermit-green with coriander and mint.
Our starters – fresh and crisp onion and kale pakora, magnificently sloppy tandoori chicken wings and a shiny tankard of mini pappadums – threatened to overwhelm our rather tiny two-top, and as other dishes followed fast, space on the table was at a premium.
Tandoori hariyali king prawns were big, beefy boys, stained Kermit-green with coriander and mint. They didn’t take up space on the table for too long at all, devoured as they are extremely swiftly. Then there’s a juicy goat seekh and duck and guinea fowl jheela kebabs, and creamy butter chicken, which could have actually done with a little more chicken, if we’re being honest.
More memorable was the toothsome okra in a rich, almost fruity bhindi-do-pyaza, and an extremely pretty gulab jamun for dessert. In fact, much of the food at Empire Empire is attractive – you’ve never seen a more delicate kebab, served on old school floral crockery and scattered with jewels of dried fruit – but they're not quite as consistent and cohesive as their culinary cousins at Gunpowder yet.
The vibe Gunpowder bring their classy Indian home cooking to Notting Hill with a (very, very loose) disco theme.
The food Biryanis, kebabs and tikka rule the roost.
The drink Endless cans of 40FT Brewery Disco Pils go extremely well with everything on the menu.
Time Out tip Hold the bread. Skip the paratha and roti and just order another main; one of the various chicken tikka dishes, perchance?