Parsee (kinda like Indian but probably not as you have tried it!)
Cyrus Todiwala acolytes and followers – this restaurant is completely under his creative control and is the base he operates from. It’s like the Cyrus mothership and there’s a good chance you’ll run into him, if you show up at the right time.
People who’ve been lead to thinking that the Chicken Korma or Tandoori Chicken are the extent of the culinary wonders offered by India. The Spice Cafe might prove to be revelatory…
Tea tasters, obsessives and explorers. There are some very rare and wonderful teas on their dessert menu. Not that you have to have them for dessert, you could just come for tea. It’s a cafe afterall…
In A Word
Captain Todiwala’s Spiced Cafe
I end up at the Spice Cafe because we’re given the opportunity to profile chef patron and most very excellent chap, Cyrus Todiwala. Since I’m here, I figure I might as well eat/drink something (logic, top score) and so I end up eating a meal all by myself, but surrounded by middle aged, somewhat distinguished looking people drinking cobra beer who occasionally look in my direction.
Also the staff seem to find me a curiosity, perhaps like your birdwatcher friend who as acquired some rare but very unattractive kind of parrot… oneyou can’t help but want to see *as you read these words, you can make out the sound of a stretched metaphor snapping*. So I’m not really eating a meal by myself and this is OK!
When I show up (around 2pm) My eye is immediately drawn to the Gourmet Tasting Menu and I laugh aloud at the description of how you ‘need to set aside at least 2 hours’ to dine and how they’ll very happily give you more food, but not more wine (‘for the sake of your health’)’ – if it were dinner this would be ‘challenge accepted COME AT ME BRO’ but I don’t really eat lunch so, not this time.
I am then seated by a businesslike (yet likeable) woman who initial refers to me as ‘John’. I later learn that this is Pervin, Cyrus’ wife – they’re actually something of a husband and wife team and when I do a little research on her I discover that she is also held in high esteem as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. I later hear her reminding a 15 year old member of staff that he’s not allowed to serve alcohol to patrons (I think she might be referring to me, since I’m standing beside a shelf full of blended whiskeys, eyeing them with the uh…professional curiosity of a food writer)
Cafe Spice, despite it’s homely and welcoming interior full of Eurasian (I think?) trinkets (feels like the inside of a museum) lives inside a very large, very brown and very formidable looking building. I believe it used to be a courthouse, which makes sense as it’s solid interior projects power and permanence. The hallway is just stuffed with accolades and awards, it’s basically a trophy hallway and is a testament to the success of the husband and wife duo behind this place.
The restaurant area itself is divided into two areas, with the bar in the middle – it’s spacious, tables spaced far enough apart to hit some internal threshold I possess for a fine, relaxed feeling of space. Around 2:30pm a smooth jazz playlist becomes audible within the restaurant
It looks like they also have an outside bar and dining area, as you can see an outside terrace decorated with the Babylonian lion designs off of the Ishtar gate. It looks fucking amazing!
The Food & Drink
Cafe Spice’s food and drink is, unlike lots of places that ‘do Indian’ a pretty wide and varied representation. As no doubt you know, India is a very large country with lots of different culinary cultures, and many, many millennia of culinary development.
Here there’s a lot of regions that I know little of represented, such as Goa – with it’s pork, Christian influences and Portuguese words slipping in all over the place.
They also have multiple short runs of food such as ‘flavoursome dish for a limited period’, which is advertised on a laminated, pyramid shaped menu – along with a laminated ‘chef’s menu’ which goes alongside the bound, a-la carte menu.
Leeli Chutney Ma Salmon
The vegetables beneath are served al dente, and are infused with that same, sweet lime infusion that coats the salmon.
Spring Cabbage & Spring Greens With Kentish Spinach
There are also one or two little brown peppers that I, like a bit of a tool , eat whole and spend the next 15 minutes wondering why. As you dig deeper beneath the green you find whole chunks of garlic lurking. Can I call this a ‘garlic salad curry?’
On that note, Pervin gives me an ‘ooooooooooooh’ when I tell her that I’ve eaten a whole chilli – (I think my eyes are watering at this point)
At some point, the strapline ‘Eating all the food so you don’t have to’ pops into my head and I am compelled to note this.
Saphaed Guinea Fowl A’La Gooding
This has a powerful smell of garlic before I’ve even cut into it. I don’t like eating the legs of poultry, generally – factory farmed chicken thighs have a…distinct wrongness I can’t quite describe. This however, is no factory raised chicken (well, it’s not a chicken at all, is it…?)
My immediate sensation upon eating it is ‘holy fuck that’s rich and minty’ – which is pretty much a summery for how this part of the dish tastes.
It’s served in what seems to be the fowl equivalent of blue, in the sense that they’ve managed to keep the flesh on the inside a pink colour. This is achieved somehow by the double cooking process they use, which I think involves the tandoor AND boiling. *shrugs* Asides from, like any poultry leg, being fucking difficult to eat, I enjoy the hell out of this dish.
Apparently the word “Saphaed” means white, only white ingredients are used in this preparation.
It also comes with a green salad, which is multifaceted, with chewy green beans served on a layer of something leafy – there’s a rich coconut taste throughout.
Red Goan Rice
I can’t say that it’s any better or worse than conventional basmati rice, it has a more pronounced sharpness in it’s flavour, it’s less rich and more starchy. The flavour also intensifies the deeper you dig into the dish . They serve it with a creamy coconut sauce that goes
By course four I am DEFEATED, severely and dessert is not an option. I take a look at the menu anyway. Desserts are a selection of ice creams and miscellaneous desserts. It strikes me as being very ‘colonial’ – ice cream with cardamom and ginger for example
There’s a fine and ample ‘tea library’ that comes with the dessert menu – organised by region (e.g ‘From Darjeeling’) – I assume it’s where the cafe aspect of ‘spice cafe’ kicks in (as my mouth has now learnt all about the ‘spice’)
There’s also a pretty reasonable selection of cognac, armagnac, scotch (including a Henessy Paradis at £25.95 a shot! oi vey). However, these heady alcoholic options definitely don’t feel like something you’d order after a heavy, spicy Indian meal.
The tea however, is just perfect. I go for a a silver needle white tea from Darjeeling.
(Around this point, like some ill timed, petulant child, my camera stops taking images, and so I am unable to show you what this ceremony looks like)
The tea has to be steeped for exactly two minutes and is served in a brandy glass so that you can get the most taste out of it’s delicate aromas. At £6.70 for this much you’re not buying on quality but again…fuck me the taste is quite something else.
Probably the most expensive tea I have drunk by volume but also the most delicate and subtle. Like any good silver needle, it’s almost ethereal in taste – there’s the tiniest hint of a familiar smokey flavour to it. Probably too subtle for my barbarian tastebuds
Around this time, Cyrus emerges from the basement (which is where I think the kitchen is) – saying hello to various groups of people, who all look turbo stoked to see him. Some bloke from a table of middle aged men shouts ‘is that legal!?’ – and I’m not sure if he’s referring to Cyrus or not. I hope not ^_^
I suppose, as someone else once said, that Cafe Spice offers ‘Indian with a touch of fine dining’. It’s a great place to get educated about various different styles of cuisine coming out of India (Keralan-Syrian-Christian style anyone?), and makes a definite change from the type of stuff you get in your local curry house (not that there is anything wrong with your local curry house). Parsee cuisine, huh?
I’m glad that things seem to be going so well for Cafe Spice – Cyrus and Pervin really are fine people. Long may this continue. Next time I would like to see the ‘Beef Tikka Laal Aur Kaala Mirich Masala’ – Cafe Spice’s take on Bucculeuch beef.
A: 16 Prescot St, London E1 8AZ
P: 020 7488 9242