Harneet Baweja, the restauranteur behind Bib Gourmand outfit Gunpowder, opened his latest venture in July on All Saints Road near Portobello Road Market as an ode to his dad, the glory days of India’s disco era, and to the types of venues Harneet’s dad would head for on a night out of eating, dancing and socialising back in the day.
As Empire! Empire!’s dishes, interiors and music have all been done with a healthy measure of control and finesse, the restaurant is not the assault on the senses it could be, and in fact, is quite charming.
I visited for lunch when the restaurant was quiet so no doubt things ramp up in the evenings, but I fail to see where dancing, if any, would take place, as the front room is snug, packed with a few rows of tables for two as well as bench seating at the front window.
The dining room is a treat. The very nostalgic interiors reference India’s colonial-style decors while somehow pulling off a touch of Italian chic.
The tiled floor, ribbed glass doors encased in rich woods and smart table settings on white tablecloth-draped tables makes the neighbourhood restaurant the kind of place where you could go for an ‘effortlessly’ cool date night as well as just for a casual Wednesday night feed with pals.
The front room, which gives way to more seating through glass doors at the rear, also has as huge – huge – photobooth to the side, taking up a sizeable chunk of the room.
The sleek custom-built jukebox – customers are welcome to press its buttons – sits right at the entrance, encasing Bollywood bangers and disco hits from the 70s including the Disco Dancer soundtrack by ‘Disco King’ Bappi Lahiri.
The music is a brilliant curation of vintage sounds, and while sound levels never went higher than background music, and the infectious energy of old-school Bollywood disco by south Asian musical greats Kishore Kumar and Nazia Hassan and the like had a transformative effect on the lunchtime mood.
Empire! Empire! recommends six dishes to share between two, but as I was having a solo lunch, I scroll down the menu gave me FOMO, as I knew I would miss out on many of the dishes.
Brief menu item descriptions bely far more elaborate concoctions and the beetroot and paneer kofta, and the fish chop rogan josh are on the hit list for next time, as is a serve of the fish and prawn amritsari pakoras and one of the florally, fruity cocktails and mocktails which read as fab summertime drinking.
There was also a bowl of chestnut-coloured curry, glistening with flecks of oil, that a piece of meat on the bone had nose-dived into, which was subject of a photoshoot at the front window that also caught my eye as I walked in.
As it was, I didn’t go without and my grazing on cigar-shaped pappadums dipped into a superb trifecta of classic chutneys was interrupted by an unexpectedly large plate of kale patta chaat arrived.
Surprisingly hefty, the battered patties of crunchy fried kale leaves were loaded with a tangy sweet onion chutney and a spiced yoghurt dressing. The ant-sized slivers of Indian-style noodles gave it more crunch, while the pomegranate and herbs sprinkled across added bursts of bright flavours.
The tandoori haryali king prawns came shelled; their smoky creamy innards split and rubbed in an herbaceous verdant mix that had a gentle heat and served with a slaw mixed with an equally zingy dressing.
Empire! Empire! brings the nostalgic glam of 70s Indian disco to a classic curry house-style restaurant to create a restaurant that is fresh and modern and thoroughly delicious.
Address: 16 All Saint Road, Notting Hill, W11 1HH