Favourite Tables recently sat down with Bombay-born chef Cyrus Todiwala OBE the Chef Patron of the iconic City of London restaurant, Café Spice Namaste, and the eponymous Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. Heathrow is soon to be followed by a New Opening of the same name at the brand new Lincoln Plaza London in Canary Wharf.
Cyrus is a champion of the environment, sustainability and follows closely the ethos of his Parsee community to undertake good works for others. He recently launched the ground-breaking Zest Quest Asia, a student culinary competition designed to develop skills and raise the profile of Asian cuisine ably supported by wife Pervin Todiwala and the Master Chefs of Great Britain.
He is an Ambassador for The Clink Charity and Patron of the British Lop Pig Society. He appears regularly on BBC Saturday Kitchen, has written numerous best-selling cookbooks, and has his own line of hand-crafted pickles, chutneys and sauces.
With such a busy schedule we made the most of the time we had and fired off our questions…
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
CT: “Dhaan Daar Nay Vaghaar” — quite simply, Parsi-style daal with rice and caramelised onions and garlic. Or breakfast prepared by my wife Pervin.
Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?
CT: I would have wanted to get a degree into agricultural studies, I have always loved nature, plants and the soil.
Q: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)
CT: Le Gavroche
Q: Have you ever been presented with a dish/ingredient that you just could not eat and where was that?
CT: I once struggled miserably with fermented tarantula. It wasn’t the most appetizing, but I ate it, partly to look good…choke!
Q: Which city or country is the most innovative in terms of food?
CT: I feel it’s London. Here you find creativity and novel ideas everywhere, every day.
Q: What is set to be the next ‘new’ ingredient? And which in particular interests you?
CT: These aren’t so much ingredients, but tastes and processes. Umami and fermenting have certainly made a comeback. I’ve already run two master classes on them.
Q: If you could change any misconceptions about restaurants/restaurant food, what would they be?
CT: There are so many misconceptions surrounding restaurants. Not all restaurateurs are making money hand over fist, and neither are we all ogres when it comes to staff welfare, which is sometimes what the media makes us out to be. In fact, restaurants have to work very hard to survive and landlords and councils need to be more considerate towards owners and operators.
Tough it may be, but it’s also true that the restaurant industry is open to people from all walks of life, and regardless of age, it can offer career opportunities. You could be starting out your career or making a change, or wanting to develop new skills. All the industry asks for is the right attitude, aptitude and the desire to work. The restaurant industry can help solve unemployment problems so long as Government is understanding and flexible with us. How? By taxing us less so we can be allowed to flourish.
Q: Have you been featured or would you like to be featured on any TV food programmes. Are these types of shows a good thing for the restaurant industry and chefs?
CT: I have been featured and would definitely like to be featured more. On whether these shows are a good thing for the restaurant industry depends on how well the programme is made and the light it shines on the industry. This is how impressions are made. Young people are either motivated or disillusioned by what they see, and producers have a role in seeing to it that the right message gets across. Chefs do benefit immensely from these food programmes. But the danger is they can also relay the wrong impression to young budding chefs, who then feel that getting on TV is an absolute necessity.
Q: How important is a Michelin star? A growing number of chefs and restaurants have recently asked that they be removed, because of the pressure – your thoughts.
CT: It depends on how much you desire it. It’s this desire and determination, and sometimes desperation, for whatever reason, personal or professional, that can drive some to insane lengths. Michelin is a recognition of all round standards, though it has also become such a status symbol that some obsess over it, adding to the pressure. Perhaps some are giving it up because they discovered that they chased it for the wrong reasons, or perhaps misunderstood its core meaning. Maybe the fear of losing the stars is simply too great. On a personal note, the media and the industry do give great importance to it, to the extent, it seems that those who hold Michelin stars then belong to an elite club. But Café Spice Namaste has held a Michelin BIB Gourmand longer than any other in the Michelin Guide and we’re very proud of this. It means good value, good food. Maybe this is what most people are looking for today.
Q: What do you think about negative reviews?
CT: Unless totally justified, I think sometimes they’re not as honest as they ought to be. At times, reviews can be quite vindictive to the extent of destroying an establishment. But sometimes a negative review kick-starts the recognition of weakness and can drive one towards achieving excellence too. One incident, one bad interaction, or just one bad day for the restaurant or individual does not mean that the place is bad or that all staff are indifferent. So I think a review should be backed up by more than one or two visits.
Q: If you received a call from Buckingham Palace with a request for Chefs who have received an OBE to prepare one dish each for a Dinner for The Queen and a small group of visiting dignitaries, what would be your dish?
CT: I would still do what we prepared for Her Majesty during the beginning of her Diamond Jubilee tour, the “Country Captain” or Indian Shepherd’s Pie. I think that would stand out by providing a real cultural connection with India. It will help showcase how the very first spice influences weaved their way into Britain, leading to the current desire for spices and hot food. It would showcase Britain today as the most multi-cultural nation in the world where people don’t just mingle and live together but take part in one of the most important things in life — good healthy eating made using top quality ingredients!
Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu that you have created in the past 6 months and why.
CT: “BEEF XACUTTI”. It’s always challenging to put this curry on the menu except if you are in Goa itself. Being one of the most intricate and labour – intensive curries it can let you down heavily. It is performing extremely well on the menu and is impressing diners as we had hoped it would, making all that effort that went into it worthwhile.
Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?
CT: Oh, there are too many! The reason, moment, or event would play their part in my choice. For one, I would like to cook alongside a regional Italian master to showcase the similarity and the link to one’s Persian heritage. Franco Tarusho would be the most likely companion as his style of cooking is brilliant. Though retired now, I still have a very deep respect for this grand master. Having said that, Mr Mosimann is my hero and perhaps doing a selective menu with him would suit me very well!
My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?
Restaurant (1): Green Papaya, Mare Street, Hackney, London.
191 Mare Street, London E8 3QE, England. www.green-papaya.com
Well, we dine here more often than not. It’s the place for us to relax and chill, enjoy some good food and very friendly staff. We know the owner very well too. We’re never disappointed.
Restaurant (2): Good Earth Cromwell Road.
Address: 233 Brompton Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 2EP. www.goodearthgroup.co.uk
[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7569756"]
Had the most amazing mind blowing meal last night.
Indian tapas…… every single dish was full of taste and flavour… a taste sensation. Beautifully presented and served.
Staff were very friendly and informative about the dishes. Understood what we liked and advised accordingly. I could not pick out a favourite dish, but “must try” are the Fried Chicken, the Bhel puri, raw mango, tamarind, sev, yogurt, Butter garlic crab, seaweed papad and the samphire pakoras, date & tamarind chutney, chilli garlic mayonnaise.
Very reasonable prices and a lovely vibrant restaurant. Felt very at home and comfortable, could have stayed all evening.[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7569756"]
Earlier this year we had the pleasure of trying out the top rated restaurant in Nottingham – Gurkha One.
As we went quite late there were only a couple of other diners in.
We were seated and given menus. Our first surprise was that the prices were much higher than those advertised on the website. I can only assume that the website hasn’t been updated or they are the takeaway prices (we are talking about £3 cheaper for a main meal onlne).
Regardless, we ordered a couple of poppadoms. These came with mango chutney, onion salad and mint yogurt. The mango had quite a kick to it which wasn’t well received by a certain non-spice eater at the table!
Drinks prices were very high so I ordered a small Cobra, bottled, at £3 for 330ml.
For mains I went for a vegetable madras with pilau rice. The others went for vegetable vindaloo and saag aloo.
The staff here are very friendly and chatty! The owner was telling us about the history of the restaurant, it has only been open since November and got to the top of Tripadvisor reviews by March after a quiet few months. He told us how they prepare everything from scratch in the kitchen and how that differs from most places.
On trying my madras (which came out very promptly) I could instantly tell this was like no other I had tasted! It had the best flavour, best texture and was all round the best curry I have ever had (and believe me, I have had A LOT). The heat level slowly crept up on me and was never too intense, it was perfect. The rice was wonderful. Colourful and spot on. The portions were very good too, I didn’t quite manage to finish mine!
The vegetable vindaloo was also described as the best to date.
Our only issue was with the saag aloo. As we asked for it to be very mild and this couldn’t be done. The way they do their spinach is using a blender which makes the meal look a bit grim in presentation, but it does taste very good (to those of us accustomed to heat!) The owner was very apologetic and took the dish back to re-make. Unfortunately this didn’t make a difference and the only solution was to provide Greek yogurt with the meal. The price of the meal was deducted from the final bill which was very considerate of them.
The owner was keen to know where we’d heard about them and to share their story which was nice. Although I think he was slightly distracted with the saag aloo situation as he forgot to provide my glass for the water, which was definitely needed by that point
We received hot towels when we had finished, which were actually very, very hot. With the bill we got mints and definitely lots of smiles!
Overall, this place is a great little restaurant.
If you are in the area and want to try Indian food at its best, and are willing to pay that little bit more for the experience, look no further!
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About Favourite Tables
Our ethos is about places people love – always has been, always will be.
We know that most people choose where to eat based on recommendations from friends and family, a social interaction – a Social Marketplace
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The popularity of each Favourite Tables restaurant is assured on the Social Marketplace and through the restaurant reviews they receive.
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