Thursday, 24 August 2017

Madame D, Spitalfields

I like to think I can put up with a great deal of discomfort in the pursuit of good food - noise, queues, darkness, annoying useless hand dryers instead of paper towels - but if there's one thing guaranteed to ruin my evening it's the dreaded phrase "communal seating". I don't care how many people you think it's necessary to shoehorn into your shoebox of a restaurant in order to turn a profit; there is absolutely no excuse for forcing people to squeeze in next to each other like tube passengers to eat their dinner. It's awkward, uncomfortable and completely counterproductive to the most basic levels of hospitality. If two strangers' elbows are clashing while they tuck into their starters your tables are too close together, simple as that.

With that in mind, Madame D's couldn't have got off to a worse start. Initial delight that they were able to fit the two of us in on a busy Wednesday night turned to despair after we saw where we'd be sitting - in the middle of a desperately overcrowded row of tables so close together that someone deciding they needed the toilet necessitated the whole table being pushed out into the middle of the room. I'm sure the extra £50 from a two-header made all the difference to that evening's profits, but is it really worth winding your guests up so much to achieve it?

Anyway, rant over - for now. I mention this only because the food at Madame D's is so good that it deserves a nicer environment in which to enjoy it. A much nicer environment. Naga chilli beef puffs weren't anywhere near as hot as the involvement of the fearsome naga would suggest, just full of meaty beefy flavour and surrounded by nice soft pastry.

Prawn crackers - presented in what I hope is an ironic plastic bag and not just picked up from the local cash'n'carry - came with an interesting Newari-pickle coleslaw (not as good as the Darjeeling Express Newari pickle, but not bad) and a genuinely lovely szechuan pepper sauce studded with pickled prawns, which impressed with a complex set of flavours and a good hit of chilli offset with cooling tomato. I'm not entirely sure why this snack, more often than not offered for free in Thai restaurants, cost £8.50, though. Maybe they were very expensive prawns.

Hakka chilli paneer was another rich and satisfying set of flavours and textures, fresh vegetables and fearsomely hot chillies, studded with bouncy, salty cubes of cheese. It's abundently clear that the guys behind Madame D's (just as they proved at Gunpowder) are experts in constructing and presenting lively, characterful small plates Indian cooking. It's just a shame it has to be enjoyed while attempting to tune out the conversations of three different sets of diners within easy earshot.

The one large dish we ordered was this masala lamb noodles, served in a tiffin tin, and topped with a fried egg. Sort of an Indian-spiced spaghetti Bolognese (I'm sure they'll hate me saying), it was, like all the food that had come before, confident and inventive, rather unlike anything I'd seen before in London (other than the odd set of flavours at Darjeeling Express), and endearingly quirky.

Unfortunately despite the food - and the supremely attentive service, it has to be said - being so good, all everything else about Madame D's made us want to do was to wolf it all down as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. Still, at quieter times, and perhaps if you managed to snag a table whose proximity to fellow diners was somewhat less than intimate, there's the potential for a really bloody lovely time to be had. So perhaps it's best, for the sake of my blood pressure, I just focus on the positives. Like those naga beef puffs, or the hakka chilli paneer. Lovely, calming, quiet, hakka chilli paneer.


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