TV chef and patron Cyrus Todiwala OBE has come a long way since opening his first eaterie in London in the 1980s. Although the Bombay Brasserie has since closed, his flagship restaurant, Café Spice Namaste in east London, is now 19 years old and over the years he has added two more, The Park Café and Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen.
Then there’s the successful TV series and book The Incredible Spicemen, numerous appearances as a guest chef on Saturday Kitchen, not to mention his recent appointment as chef ambassador to the Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton.
This year marks the re-launch of his young chef’s challenge, Zest Quest Asia, and heralds a new restaurant, Assado in Waterloo, which opened a few weeks ago.
Over a host of tasting dishes Cyrus explains the ethos behind his new offering, which celebrates the flavours of India and the culinary influences of Portugal.
“Not many people realise that the Portuguese explorers were the first to experiment with spices such as cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmeg,” says Cyrus. “A few years ago Discovery asked me to do a documentary series, Mr Todiwala and the Galleons of Spice, to trace the route of Vasco da Gama.
At first I thought he was just a thug who started this big rape of India, exporting gold, iron ore and manganese, but when I went deeper into it I discovered that this man was a genius for what he did. From a historical perspective he broke that barrier and as a result cultures started crossing paths. “Most of the things we take for granted such as tomatoes and chillies, the Portuguese were the ones that brought them to the rest of the world.
“He was asked by the king to find India but he lost direction and found Africa and South America, and so you have these influences onto Indian food and the Portuguese influence on all three.”
This fusion of flavours is one that is very close to Cyrus’ heart as it evokes his own culinary journey of growing up in India, working in Goa and relocating to Europe.
Now he is inviting diners to sample the marriage first-hand. There are lightly spiced plates including paprika and tomato-infused braised octopus and anchovy fillets spiked with garlic, chilli, thyme and olives. The pulled pork marinated in coriander, chilli, ginger and garlic is a taste sensation and the lamb xacutti featuring a dazzling array of 21 ingredients is deeply satisfying and velvety.
My son’s particular favourite is the delicately spiced Goan-style coconut curry with okra and courgette. Pork vindaloo (vindalho) is also on the menu. Cyrus explains its origin.
“Sea journeys were fraught with diseases such as scurvy and beriberi, but the Portuguese were able to stay out longer because of vindaloo, which basically is a pickle. They carried barrels of wine vinegar and into this they put garlic and chunks of pork.
“This ‘vin de alios’ was put on ships with fresh supplies and when they became dry or used up the barrels came out and the vinegar was used to soak the bread. The meat gave them protein, the vinegar vitamin C, the garlic gave extra nourishment and the bread added the carbs so they could stay out much longer.
“For the Goans the vinegar and garlic was too tart, so they put pepper, chilli, cinnamon and ginger into the mix and so the peri peri red masala, which is the base for the vindaloo, was born.”