Satish Warier knows about generating buzz. He spent 15 years as an editor and Web producer for India's biggest newspapers and magazines, and manages a rock band for fun. When he got fed up with his last job ("I never managed to find bosses who quite understood me," he says), he quit to start a restaurant, and those old contacts came in handy. Today, Gunpowder, tel: (91-11) 2653 5700, is New Delhi's hottest new dining venue, having earned rave reviews and a fashionable following since it opened in July.
In New Delhi, where the dining scene is dominated by fussy five-star hotels and flashy restaurant cum nightclubs, Gunpowder is something different. Here, a casual aesthetic rules. The cotton tablecloths are secured with binder clips and the day's menu is just a neatly stapled printout. On a recent evening, Warier and his business partner, Kiran Bhushi, happily pulled up chairs to chat with guests; one diner picked up a guitar and started strumming. This was his dream, Warier says, "a place where people can come, chill, relax."
But the food is serious and the service is skilled. Gunpowder's short, seasonal menu is limited to the six states of India's southern cone, and Warier and Bhushi do most of the cooking themselves. (Both are accomplished home cooks; Bhushi also worked as a part-time caterer while studying for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago.) They do not cook in bulk or cut corners, so each dish has a distinct array of flavors. Idukki pork (named after a district of Kerala) is fork-tender and bathed in coconut gravy, while the toddy-shop fish (another dish native to Kerala, made with lots of chili and tomato) is dense with flavor. The semiya payasam often a bland, milky pudding is creamy, toothsome and studded with cashews.
With only 30 seats, Gunpowder is usually full, even on weekday evenings, so reservations are a must. Go early, and work up an appetite with a walk through its neighborhood, Hauz Khas Village, where chic boutiques nestle among 14th century monuments. The best seats are on the terrace; you'll have an expansive view of a medieval reservoir in front of you, and the pleasant hum of the kitchen just behind.