Café Spice Namaste is an icon of Indian food. It’s a beacon of culinary hope around the corner from The Tower of London. It’s a haunt of discerning businessmen, stars of film and the small screen, and indeed anyone who enjoys vibrant food and friendly service.
Chef Cyrus Todiwala and his partner in life and restaurants, wife Pervin, have been at the helm of Café Spice Namaste for the past 17 years. It’s a restaurant that has seen other Indian eateries come and go but Café Spice Namaste remains, and just continues to do what it has always done: providing memorable food.
One might ask why it’s taken me so long to review Café Spice Namaste. Well, in truth I have written about their celebrated Khaadras Club (see review here) and that is a frequent event that allows Parsee food aficionados to indulge their passion for a little-known cuisine. The eagerly-anticipated feast introduces some unique dishes that you will not likely be offered elsewhere within these cold northern shores. Cyrus also has his eponymous restaurant at the Terminal 5 Heathrow Hilton (see review here); and then there are his cookbooks; and he has recently been listed as one of the 101 most influential Asians in the UK; and then there’s his line of chutneys. Yes, that Mr T can keep any food journalist busy.
Those chutneys have pride of place by the entrance and the distinctive pink labels are instantly recognised by the connoisseur. They are such a deliciously indispensible element of the battery of Todiwala offerings that one half expects the diners to be sporting pink T-shirts emblazoned with the legend ‘I heart T’ or ‘Todiwala for King’. I am sure the diners would not object to the sentiments, but it’s more a matter of pink not suiting every complexion.
Café Spice Namaste is just yards from The Tower of London but its clients are mostly regulars rather than passing tourists and I guess 17 years’ worth of regulars amounts to a lot of familiar faces. You might notice that guests are greeted by Mrs T and often by their first name. Those guests have their favoured table and their habitual ‘curry’ (perhaps a Dhaansaak, which is a Parsee speciality and it’s authentic here), and settle themselves for an evening of conviviality.
If you are a Café Spice virgin then start your meal with a sharing platter which will give you a tantalising overview of the quality of the dishes and indeed the ingredients, for Chef Todiwala has long been a supporter of fresh British meat and produce. One bite of the venison starter and you will see the wisdom of buying the best. A morsel of salmon tikka and you will appreciate the skill of the chef at the tandoor – every nibble is distinct in flavour and texture. But save room for what’s to follow.
Murghi Ni Curry Nay Papaeto was my choice. Those aforementioned regulars have insisted that this curry remain on the menu. It’s a traditional Parsee-style chicken curry and one can recognise that by the chunks of tender potatoes. Parsees say a meal is not complete without potatoes or eggs. It’s a rich and aromatic gravy dish made with a selection of nuts and spices and moist chicken breast, and I can now understand the appeal. This is comfort food that we crave on these cold wintery nights. It’s a simply presented and flavourful curry that takes time to prepare. It’s worth the effort, as the diners will attest.
My guest ordered Country Captain which he proclaimed remarkable. Cyrus cooked this for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the first Diamond Jubilee Luncheon in March 2012. Many versions of this Anglo-Indian dish use chicken but this mutton Country Captain is richer and more impressive. Shoulder of mutton is slow-cooked with whole spices such as cinnamon and cracked cardamom, along with ginger and garlic. The meat becomes meltingly tender and forms the filling for the fusion shepherd’s pie. The topping is mashed potatoes enriched with egg yolks. It’s a magnificent dish but it tastes like home cooking at its best.
The meat used for Country Captain isn’t just a bit of any old sheep. This is mutton from rare breed sheep from the Orkney Island of North Ronaldsay. No need to feel anxious about eating something from a rare breed, as these animals represent the livelihood of Orkney crofters. Their way of life and traditional culture depends on the continued success and popularity of their particular sheep, that live just on seaweed.
Cyrus is dedicated in his support for both the crofters and their animals, but he is active in many charities as well. For every portion of Country Captain sold, £2 will go towards supporting three of Café Spice Namaste’s adopted charities: the Time and Talents Association (started by Queen Victoria), Learning for Life (preventing child labour in India) and Find Your Feet (tackling poverty in India and Malawi).
Café Spice Namaste prides itself on its selection of seasonal vegetables so Parsnip Bhurta was the side dish for the Country Captain. Now, I know it’s that jolly ‘ho ho ho’-ish time of year when our lives are punctuated with gift-buying, tree-trimming and sprout-avoidance but I felt sure that the banal parsnip would be at least worth a taste here. Yes, I dragged my feet over trying this, but it was a revelation and a delicious one. The vegetables are roasted in the tandoor then pureed and cooked with shallots, ginger, chilli and spices to create a moreish vegetable preparation that you will likely fight over – and it really does contain parsnips!
Café Spice Namaste offers a tempting array of Indian desserts that are authentic and unique to this restaurant. Their wine list offers lots of by-the-glass options as well as bottles from Europe and the Subcontinent. I hear their mixologist has a deft hand with a Red Chilli Mojito and I look forward to trying one on my next visit.
There have been many ‘next visits’ over the past 17 years and it’s no surprise. Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala have created an enduring restaurant that’s unpretentious, welcoming, with food that will assure a return. You can sum up Café Spice Namaste in just one word: ‘outstanding’, and you don’t need to be a food critic to know that.
Café Spice Namaste
16 Prescot Street
London E1 8AZ
Phone: 020 7488 9242
Open Monday – Friday
Lunch: 12.00noon – 3.00 pm
Dinner: 6.15pm – 10.30 pm
6:30 pm till 10:30 pm
Closed on Bank Holidays and Sundays
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018