Gunpowder, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi

[Rating:2/5] I had heard good things about this ‘new’ place called Gunpowder in Hauz Khas village and had wanted to go there for a while. Teaming up with Angad and PC, we made the trek to Hauz Khas village last night. Hauz Khas village itself is quite a quaint place and I must confess, I hadn’t been there before. Most shops were closed when we got there, however, the street still looked quite alluring what with alleyways, mysterious gates and tunnels randomly scattered all over the place. The shadows only added to the nocturnal attraction of the structures.

I really was looking forward to visiting Gunpowder, as from what I’d heard there was a professional duo handling the restaurant from non-hospitality backgrounds. That always strikes the right chord in me, as it sounds like something all of us can aspire to – realize dreams that aren’t connected to ones profession.

Reaching Gunpowder in Hauz Khas Village is itself a labor of love. We saw quite a few people wandering around the high street looking vaguely confused, besides ourselves, who we later encountered at Gunpowder. One of them was Pamela Timms, a fellow food blogger. There’s this shortcut to the lake, on following which you begin to see signs saying ‘Gunpowder – The Peninsular Kitchen’. Follow them and you should be okay. It was quite thrilling really, almost like going on a treasure hunt. We ended up at a solitary doorway containing naught but stairs. After climbing for 3 or 4 hours (or was it floors) you end up with a breathtaking view of the lake. I didn’t know one existed here. Shameful. Really must learn more about Delhi.

Gunpowder can seat about 30 people with 12 outside and 18 inside (air conditioned). Smoking is permitted outside and not inside. The inside also features a glimpse into their kitchen. The staff do not understand English very well, though they’re very friendly and do their best to deliver good service, but don’t manage to make good their intentions.

We were met by this lovely, cheerful lady who immediately raised expectations a couple of notches. The fragrance from the food others were eating outside made us want to ask for a bite. I nearly did. We didn’t have reservations and had to sit outside, the availability of which needed to be confirmed too. On a Tuesday night, I thought that spoke volumes about their food.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, as you will see shortly.

They have a changing menu, which is jotted down on a ruled notebook and fairly greasy and rumpled from changing hands ever so often. I loved it! We ordered an Iddiki Pork Curry (300), Toddy Shop Meen (fish) curry (300), a Mutton Curry (260?), Fried Fish (300), Malabar Paratha (45 each), Dosa (50 each) and Rice (65). We would have ordered more, but then three guys can only eat so much. Angad was particularly famished due to a series of bad food review experiences that day. By the way, if anyone thinks reviewing food is a cushy job, let me know and we’ll go together one of these days.

The food was served quite fast, as the curries were probably pre-cooked and they only needed to dole it out into serving bowls.  The Toddy Shop Meen Curry was excellent and I’d go back for the same any day! Absolutely brilliant stuff it was.

That’s where the nice part ends and the rest of the food begins, which unfortunately was one of the worst I have tasted.

The spices were wildly unbalanced to extent of being demented. If the pork and mutton curries were people, they would probably have been serial killers or psychotic stalkers or something along those lines. Both dishes were hotter than Hades, with no flavours coming through. A fiery nature by itself is alright, provided the rest of the spices are balanced and complement the chilli. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single point of redemption for both the dishes. The spices were way out of proportion, too much chilli, the cuts of meat were substandard and mostly consisting of bones. I couldn’t tell I was eating pork until I encountered the fat. How bad is that?

The fried fish smelled *very* bad. Now, many people can’t stand the fishy smell of some fish. I’m not one of them. Can’t be, not with the kind of mother I have, who loves sea fish. I used to breathe in the air deep whenever we would enter Bombay by train, where they had these huge racks of fish being dried in the sun. What I’m trying to say here is, I *love* the smell of fish. This wasn’t the fishy smell of fish. It was the fishy smell of old fish, fish that has been left out a little too long.  Even ignoring that, it wasn’t fried properly, so most of the spices were left raw. It broke my heart to do that to a fish, but we had to leave it after a couple of bites.

The dosas were the thick variety, more like uttappams  really- quite well suited to the type of food we were eating. Both, the dosas and the Malabar parathas seemed to have been pre-made and kept heated.

Finally, I asked for some gunpowder. It too was something out of a horror movie. I’ve tasted the stuff from Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu – different varieties from each region, but this wasn’t something I could remotely relate to mullagapudi or gunpowder. The texture was right, but the spices were horribly out of balance as in the other dishes – the chilli was all out of proportion. I’d say they shortened the process by using a curry powder base, but then I could be wrong. And oh, they charged us 50 bucks for one tablespoon of the stuff with another tablespoon of oil. While asking for the gunpowder, we also had the misfortune of encountering this fairly arrogant gent whose demeanour could have been far more polite and welcoming.

Finally, we noticed people drinking wine inside and beer outside. It was fairly hot and we could have done with a cold beer. When we asked for the bar menu or facilities however, we were told that alcohol wasn’t served or allowed. Perhaps it’s the colour of the skin that matters, as both parties comprised lily white folks. Again, I could be wrong, but no one took the trouble of explaining things to me, so I’m only left with my own perceptions.

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All in all, Gunpowder has prices that rival fully equipped, larger restaurants with far better amenities with much better food, has food that I wouldn’t ever go back for and serves food that isn’t freshly prepared and is re-heated on demand – much like a dhaba on the highway. Much like the dhaba again, its bills do not reflect any sales tax number and do not have its name printed or stamped on. They also levy a service charge without any discernable quality of service.

Should you go to Gunpowder and is it value for money? I wouldn’t advise you to, but then it’s a free country.

– Sid

Edit 9th August 2009: Quite interesting how Gunpowder’s FB Fan Page reacts to negative criticism. It appears making racial comments and personal attacks are quite alright for this set of people. If the press is treated this way, I *strongly* advise you not to complain about the food if you do decide to go there. Might not be the best thing to do considering you’re perched on the 3rd floor. Here’s the Mail Today review by Angad Sodhi (click to view large image) that caused all the furore. The subsequent snapping, biting at heels and all of that (click to view large image) is quite surprising given its inappropriate and probably illegal nature.

One well informed fan even suggests Punjabis restrict themselves to running transport companies and highway dhabas.

I recall Angad mentioning that he wouldn’t like to mention that people were in fact drinking at the restaurant and that the bills didn’t adhere to legal norms as it may have caused them trouble, which he didn’t want. As you can see from the fan-boy reactions, he was thoroughly insulted for his (probably misplaced) consideration.

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Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.