Even if you were unaware of the jolly – and jolly talented – chap that is Cyrus Todiwala as the chef-patron of London’s legendary Cafe Spice Namaste; a regular guest chef on Saturday Kitchen; author of ‘Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay‘; and tireless ambassador of all sorts of noble causes, you can’t fail to have noticed him explode onto TV screens as one half of the BBC’s ‘Incredible Spicemen’.
Along with his Punjabi partner-in-crime, Tony Singh, Cyrus provided a delicious burst of glorious technicolour in a world of monochrome food programming. The duo showed the nation that spice is always nice, whatever you work it into – from British comfort classics to Mr. Whippy ice creams. And now, Mr. Todiwala is taking us on another edible journey with his new restaurant.
Assado is Portuguese-inspired, but not Portuguese; has an Indian-influenced menu, but is not Indian. It offers fast food, but not junk food. It’s a casual venue, but pretty smartly designed. It’s a place full of paradox and promise, and promises to prove most palatable.
It opens on Saturday 1st March. My mate Cyrus spills the beans on the concept, challenges he faced, and what to expect …
Come on then Cyrus; what’s Assado all about?
“Bringing a little part of European-influenced India to London and recognising an area that so far has gone rather unnoticed. It will explore the power and the presence that the Portuguese master mariners had; and the impact on the world we live in today. Assado will show how one big discovery led to the globalisation of the word ‘spice’, which is today taken for granted. It will reflect and revive some bygone flavours, nurturing and re-inventing some of the lost jewels of Goan Portuguese cuisine.”
You’ve already got two hugely successful restaurants on your hands with Cafe Spice Namaste and Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen – not to mention the Park Cafe managed by your son Jamsheed. So what on earth compelled you to open yet another new venue?
“I have always wanted to open two restaurants to recognise the communities I am part of and close to; the first a ‘Parsee‘ restaurant in a prominent area of London to showcase a rare cuisine; the second to recognise the Goan community to which I have been closely connected since childhood – hence a Goan Portuguese restaurant to rekindle the magic that’s largely been lost.
“Two years ago I was asked to do a documentary, ‘Mr. Todiwala’s Galleons of Spice’. Sadly it was never televised in the UK, but it was shown on the Discovery Channel in India and the Far East. This helped revive my desire to explore once again, and as soon as the opportunity presented itself the idea to develop Assado came.”
“I learnt very early in life to never look a gift horse in the mouth! The unit was offered on a plate and would I refuse? No! The concept of Assado would fit in perfectly with the local multi-cultural make-up; so why think any further? Do it, and make it successful.”
What sort of foodie will love Assado?
“Any and every foodie. People must not come to Assado with the pre-conceived, pre-determined ideas that they so often do when approaching an Indian restaurant. Even Goans will find the food is new to them, as they will not have been exposed to everything we hope to offer. Just keep an open mind, come, and enjoy.”
This project has been a huge labour of love, not to mention a huge amount of hard work. As Assado prepares to open its doors to the expectant and hungry masses, what are you most proud of?
“That the people we are working with believed in it too. That the restaurant is looking like we imagined it would. And then of course the cuisine. I think for the best part, we have everything covered and over time, as the public get to know us better, we will expand it like no other venue…
“…Except, of course, the ‘Mothership’, Cafe Spice Namaste. Over its 19-year history, no other venue has been able to compete with the achievements of our flagship restaurant. Since we arrived in the UK 21 years ago, life has been one hell of a breathtaking experience, and I hope it never ends.”
You’re becoming an old hand at launching new restaurants. Cafe Spice Namaste is fast approaching its twentieth anniversary, and you must have discovered your most and least favourite parts of the process by now…
“Most favourite; the excitement, the thrill, the challenge, the adrenaline rush, the brain working overtime, and seeing it come to life. The worst? Finding the right staff. Sadly, Britain has destroyed the willingness in people to want to lust for work and make something for themselves. It’s hard to find the right levels of dedication, enthusiasm, zeal, energy, attitude… This is my worst fear for growth of the hospitality industry. Will we find people capable of helping realise my vision for the restaurant?”
I plan to visit Assado pretty soon for a full-on feast – what should I order to impress my companions?
“Don’t order! Let it just come. Tell Gerard and Chef Janardhan that I have asked you to try everything!”
The menus at your various venues have explored authentic regional specialities from all over India over the years. Assado’s fusion food is a whole new prospect; what are your favourites amongst the dishes you’ve developed?
“From Cafe Spice Namaste to Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen; to the Park Cafe and now Assado; our motto is always, ‘if we don’t like it and we cannot eat it we do not put it on the menu’. I have spent several hours fine-tuning all the recipes to suit my palate and then my wife Pervin’s – because if she vetoes my food it is never sold. I cannot conceive of feeding customers food that we do not like ourselves. So for me, that question cannot be answered. It’s only aubergine that I cannot eat… And will not eat as I’m reluctant to suffer a belly convulsion fit!”
We saw you and Tony making merry on many an occasion during ‘The Incredible Spicemen’ – what tipples are you looking forward to sharing with him at Assado?
“I wish I could have the popular Goan spirit cashew feni on the list, then I could instantly say, ‘yes, that’s it’. We have some very nice young wines on offer, and soon some Ports and Madeiras too – although these I have to steer clear of.”
The stress involved with opening a new restaurant must on occasion make you feel like reaching for the bottle! What challenges have you had to overcome in Assado‘s planning and preparation?
“The restaurant name was easy, it just came. But describing Assado‘s role and deciding how best to explain it to the world is still a challenge. How will diners receive it? What will they think? Already there are rumours rife that we are opening a pure Portuguese restaurant. We are not and so as not to disappoint people looking for that experience, we call ourselves a Goa/Portuguese place.”
Along with his mixology skills, your son Jamsheed also makes a top job of managing the Park Cafe in Victoria Park. With Assado‘s ‘casual’ concept, are you now in direct competition? Is there a family feud a-brewing?!
“Do not forget whose idea the Park Cafe was! Our poor son was thrown into it, well out of his comfort zone, and he is doing remarkably well. His greatest fear is upholding the reputation of his parents, and perhaps the cafe needs to have greater informality. We have always been informal, even the formal appearance of Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen belies an easygoing atmosphere. Cafe Spice Namaste broke those barriers 19 years ago, and most people relax the moment they walk in. As an all-day dining restaurant, Assado will more relaxed still!”
Your skills as a chef, combined with your cracking character, have made you a pretty prolific figure in the culinary world. You really do seem to have a finger in every pilau. How on earth have you managed to juggle all your projects so successfully?
“Heard of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’? I am that cuckoo, and my wonderful wife Pervin has been made an honorary cuckoo too! Our loyal core team have given up, and some of them are now equally mad. It’s not the units that are different; it’s all those different angles to each that keep one just one step away from insanity… At the moment, I am holding on!”
What’s next on the unrelenting Todiwala agenda?
“A Parsee restaurant should and must happen before the community becomes far too insignificant. So I am hoping and awaiting someone with some money to walk up to me and say, ‘here’s £1 million, go ahead and open and pay me back when you can’! It won’t happen but I could hit the lottery.
“For soul satisfaction, I still want to do a school of Asian and Oriental cookery for those wanting to be great professional chefs and celebrate the new open, diverse world of Britain. This year we will be re-launching the Asian Junior Chefs Challenge as ‘Zest Quest Asia’ at the forthcoming PACE conference, in the hope that we can inspire aspiring British chefs to consider Asian cuisine as a viable career.”
- Assado opens on 1st March at 157 Waterloo Road, London. SE1 8XA. For more information, visit assado.co.uk
- Follow @AssadoWaterloo on Twitter and ‘Like’ Assado Waterloo on Facebook.
- To read more on the Portuguese influence on Indian cuisine, click here.
- To learn more about the Parsee community and the Parsee cuisine Cyrus cooks, click here.
- To read a review of ‘Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay‘ cookbook, click here.
- To read about the Goan Damn Good Curry supperclub, click here.
A retrospectively-added snap from the Assado launch party: