Madame D (CLOSED)
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Himalayan food from the team behind Gunpowder in a room above a pub.
Please note, Madame D has now closed. Time Out Food editors, August 2018.
‘So what’s Himalayan food like, then?’. This is pretty much everyone’s first question when I tell them about Madame D. The answer? Well, the flavours are a little like those of inland China (intense, rather than delicate), just without the bam-bam fire. Plus the odd velvety nod to north India. What makes Madame D special, though, is that the chefs really know their way around a kitchen. It’s from the same kick-ass crew behind Indian joint Gunpowder, only this time, they’ve gone into the hills of Nepal for inspiration. So if you love good food and you’re the sort of person that broadly likes the food of south and south-east Asia, then, yes, you’ll be into it.
My favourite dish? A buxum cushion of aubergine, stuffed with juicy mushrooms and slathered in a mysterious-looking brown sauce. Basically ugly. And yet beautiful. Soft and rich, it chimed one moment with sweet, the next with salt. Then – pause – and listen with your taste buds, for mellow garlic and gentle heat. There’s the crunch of nuts, the hum of spring onions.
Do not miss naga chilli beef puffs, either. Technically these are a snack. They’re also only £3.50 each. Order at least one per person or be prepared for a scuffle. They are a homage to the dry, fiery beef chilli you get in Nagaland (one of the most remote parts of north-east India, close to the Burmese border). Normally it’s served with just rice, but here they’ve taken small spoonfuls and popped them into extra-buttery homemade pastry which they’ve first lined with slow-cooked, caramelised onions , to balance out the spice. There’s sweet and heat and meat and oh so much butter. Imagine a round samosa, only better.
And do get the Himalayan fried chicken, too. I thought I was bored of fried chicken until I tried it. It’s served as a single escalope, cut into strips. The shell is not at all greasy, but ferociously crisp: it almost makes an audible ‘crunch’ when you eat it, like biting into a stick of celery. The meat inside is tender. There’s a sharp, vinegary dipping sauce.
One of the nicest things about this place is the vibe. It’s a small room above an east London pub (on busy nights, it also takes over the downstairs bar). So yes, there are period features: cornices, a ceiling rose… a proper fireplace. In contrast, the furniture is basic and bare. On the night of my visit, the music was vibrant, the mantelpiece lined with enough candles to launch an impromptu seance. For atmosphere and small plates that break the mould, yet are somehow still familiar, pay Madame D a call.