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Cyrus Todiwala – Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen

By Rosie Birkett

Rosie Birkett speaks to British Indian chef Cyrus Todiwala about his new Goan-Portuguese restaurant – and how he came to change the UK’s idea of Indian cuisine.

“You could never master India,” says Cyrus Todiwala, as daylight from Café Spice Namasté’s huge windows illuminates his face. “Not in a thousand years could I learn enough to say that I’m a master of Indian food – an expert perhaps, but not a master.” This is a modest statement from a man synonymous with elevating standards of Indian cuisine in the UK with his daringly authentic, Parsee-influenced cooking.

Awarded an MBE for his services to education and training, plus an OBE for his contribution to hospitality, Todiwala runs – alongside Café Spice Namasté in the City, where he’s cooked for nineteen years – The Park Café in Victoria Park and Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen at the Hilton in Heathrow Terminal 5. Last year, he wrote two cookbooks: Mr Todiwala’s Bombay (Hardie Grant) and The Incredible Spice Men (BBC Books). When we meet, he has just – with his wife and business partner Pervin – opened a new Goan-Portuguese restaurant in Waterloo, called Assado.

Assado means ‘roast’ in Portuguese, but is also a classic pork dish both there and in Goa. Because of the Portuguese influence, we are trying to marry both of these cuisines in a way we haven’t seen done in this country before. There will be lots of rare-breed British pork, fantastic charcuterie and amazing Portuguese breads.”

Introducing new versions of familiar foods is nothing new to Todiwala, who arrived in London in the nineties to find his national cuisine being bastardised. His food takes in the cooking styles of the Parsee (Irani) Indians of Bombay, as well as Southern India and the West Coast flavours of his home city and Goa – regional nuances that were previously unheard of in London’s ‘curry houses’.

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“The cuisine we introduced when I arrived in 1992 was very different to what was passing for Indian food at the time. The restaurant was also visually different – we broke away from heavily carpeted floors, wallpaper and dim lighting – this was the first to abandon all those barriers and just went completely bizarre. The decor was all colourful, the food was different – everything about it was different. That’s what changed the whole thing around.”

Born and raised as a Parsee in Bombay, where he also attended catering college, Todiwala was executive chef for all of Taj Hotels’ restaurants in India before he made the move to the UK. It’s fair to say his influence on London’s Indian dining scene – and British Indian cooking in general – is nothing short of awesome. While his Indian peers, chefs like Atul Kochhar and Alfred Prasad, have taken British Indian food to Michelin heights, Todiwala is proud of remaining accessible to the everyman.

“It makes me very happy that I kick started a lot of things,” he says. “And sometimes people say this to me and ask why I don’t have a Michelin star, but I decided to steer away from this and have a cuisine that was more friendly – that people found wholesome, rather than going down that fine dining route. But I am glad that we have chefs that have followed that path, because we need that – to show that Indian food can excel at that level. So we have two nice platforms now and we are the people that cater for the masses. People like that food, for which there will always be a market. It’s British Asian food.”

Mr Todiwala’s Bombay and The Incredible Spice Men are both out now. Assado is located at 157 Waterloo Road, London.

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