There are many Mr. Todiwalas strewn around the world but there is also “THE” Mr. Todiwala. It’s a familiar name to those who know anything about Indian food in the UK. His iconic restaurant Café Spice Namaste at Tower Hill, and his numerous TV appearances, have assured his high profile; but it’s not his celebrity that has garnered such a faithful following.
Cyrus Todiwala is a chef, and the showbizzy bit isn’t much in evidence in his restaurants. Yes, ‘restaurants’ plural, as now there is the eponymous Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 Hilton Hotel. He is just the same as ever, visible in the restaurant rather than remaining aloof as the majority of celeb chefs tend to be. He takes notice and cares about his guests.
We arrived on a cold and wet evening to find both Mr and Mrs Todiwala on duty. The “missus” is Pervin and she is one of the unsung heroes of both restaurant teams. She has a phenomenal memory for the previous meals ordered by guests. She is herself a trained chef and has the same passion for food and fresh produce as does her husband. She is a consummate professional but with a warm personality and a sense of humour which has endeared her to diners.
C and P Todiwala were staying later than they had planned, as one of their regulars (to have ‘regulars’ already in a little over a month speaks volumes) had asked for something a little different, something not on the menu. No problem at Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen. The guest is just as important as the food. I don’t want to give the impression that the table staff hover too closely or watch your every move from a distance. The service is appropriately attentive, with a good number of waiting staff who are indistinguishable from the chefs. OK, the chef jackets and taupe aprons are spotless but one has the impression that each dish has been made and delivered fresh from the open kitchen just for you …which indeed it has.
So that’s introduced my readers to the stars, but what of the new stage? When I dream of exotic spots I have a vision of a bungalow (an Indian word), sun-bleached shutters, lime-washed floors, rustic furniture, sumptuous soft furnishings and an elephant called Roy. In truth, I have just added the animally element after visiting Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen, but all the rest of it is indeed also there.
The huge wooden elephant is just about the only overtly Indian adornment in this stunning restaurant. It’s light and stylish with a hint of colonial charm. You know it’s an Indian dining room so the style can just be a testament to good design taste, as the kitchen is to all things culinary.
Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen offers an extensive menu but if you are new to Indian food, as many at this airport restaurant might well be, then consider Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen Menu which will give you an overview. This menu is bound to be popular with rugby players – or American Football players – as the main dishes can be continually replenished. There is also a Gourmand Tasting Menu for those who want a food-and-wine pairing experience.
Cyrus is Parsee and he has incorporated some of his family dishes into his menu. In fact there is much that will be new to even the most ardent of “curry” enthusiasts. Papaeta Purr Eedu is a recipe from Cyrus’ mum who was a great influence on his culinary repertoire. This dish incorporates both potatoes and eggs, two ingredients that no Parsee would want to live without. This is real comfort food, with ginger and cumin as the main flavourings. The vegetables are topped
Mankyo Chem Peri Peri or “dynamite” squid is vibrant with heat. Baby squid rings are marinated in a fiery Goan peri-peri masala then dipped in wheat, rice and white lentil flour. The squid is fried and garnished with more red Goan-style spices. This is one of the hottest dishes on the menu but there is also flavour that shines through the heat.
Dhaansaak was bound to be my guest’s choice of main course. He enjoys all Indian food but he does find the Dhaansaak at either venue to be unmissable. This is a classic Parsee lamb dish, prepared in the traditional way. Dhaansaak is composed of two words: ‘dhaan’ meaning rice and ‘saak’ meaning puréed vegetables and lentils with lamb. The rice served with the meat is different from your regular steamed or boiled rice. It’s a brown onion rice, which has a flavour of its own. The lamb was meltingly tender but there were some small and delicate meatballs in addition. These were peppery and moreish and alone would have been a delight with just the sauce and that celebrated onion rice.
Keeping with the theme I also chose another Parsee favourite, a recipe from Cyrus’ great-grandma. Murghi Na Kofta Ni Curry Nay Chaawal is a rich and aromatic dish with lots of ground nuts to make a silky sauce to coat moist chicken dumplings. Simply served with steamed rice, this sauce would have been just as good with some Indian bread. A winner.
Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen offers some tempting desserts and a little different from those you will find in most Indian restaurants. The ice-creams are unique and there are a couple that I will sample on my next visit. Black Pepper Ice Cream sounds intriguing as does the Stem Ginger Ice Cream, but we chose the Parsee Caramelised Apricot version, which was delicately perfumed by the slowly cooked Hunza apricots so favoured by Indian chefs. The Zafrani Crème Brulée was memorable. A golden-coloured cream with flavour from, well, saffron but also cardamom, to which I am addicted. The caramelised topping was perfect and was evenly speckled with dark burnt sugar. A simple and sophisticated dessert.
Mr. Todiwala‘s Kitchen boasts an Indian Tea Library. This is actually a changing list of exceptional boutique teas that will delight the connoisseur and educate the rest of us. We tried Makaibari Estate First Flush Grand Reserve 2011 from Darjeeling. Makaibari is located at Kurseong, and was the world’s first tea factory, established in 1859. Rajah Banerjee, the fourth generation, is now the owner.
We were expecting a special cuppa, but there was also theatre and a thoroughly engaging masterclass. A tray arrived laid with white linen and brandy glasses. I was starting to think this might be a misplaced order for those chunky American businessmen a couple of tables down. No error, these were just some of the props for the unique brewing process.
The glasses were warmed over steam while hot water was poured over the chosen leaves contained in a handmade ceramic pot. The slowly trickling sand in an egg-timer showed the passing of a couple of minutes. Once the infusion was complete the heated glass was filled with the light amber tea. Yes, it truly was a step up from your habitual dusty teabag. I preferred the first pouring as I felt it had more taste notes and less tannin. If you are into strong builder’s tea then you might like the darker and gutsier second brew. Tea at Mr. Todiwala’s is an event.
Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen is an outstanding example of a remarkable restaurant that just happens to be housed in a hotel. Gone are the days when hotel restaurants were mediocre and dull with a focus on merely fuelling a captive audience. Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen can compete with any Indian restaurant. Nothing mean, skimpy or banal here. This is an apt showcase for the talents of the Todiwalas – Mr and Mrs.
Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen
Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5
Colnbrook SL3 0FF,
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018