Café Spice Namaste, Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala's popular family-run Indian restaurant in the east London, is the pick for 'iGlobal' in this regular series showcasing Indian cuisine and how restaurants have revitalised themselves with a little help from UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out scheme that ran all through August.
Café Spice Namaste's journey began in 1991 but it was only in 1995 that the Michelin-starred restaurant opened its doors to welcome diners. Using only the finest local British produce and freshest ingredients, its meat and vegetarian tikka platters, authentic Parsi dhansak, and Goan-inspired seafood dishes are among the tempting cornerstones of a menu whose specials change as regularly as the seasons.
Cyrus Todiwala, the man behind that menu, is someone who has been passionate about cooking since childhood. “On the creative side, I am proud to say that there's no other restaurant that has ever brought to its diners the wide expanse of produce on a regular basis as us and this continues to this day and beyond,” he says.
A majority of his staff are still with the restaurant since 1991, which he feels also helps instil a lot of confidence in the minds of regular customers.
“There is much for me to learn and evolve and develop and get better at, I just hope I have the time to cram in as much as I can. I am definitely envious of the ladies of India who can cook so well and so simplistically, especially Gujarati ladies who are so skilled,” says the celebrated chef.
With the Covid-19 pandemic bringing much uncertainty globally to an otherwise prosperous hospitality industry, for Todiwala it has meant reacting to and strategising quickly as it closed its doors.
“We were not geared up for takeaway services, and therefore we decided to completely close down and donated the food to those who are in need,” he said.
Whilst the restaurant may have been closed, it remained connected with its customers through social media - uploading videos of its mouth-watering dishes. As it came to grips with the lockdown and its ramifications, Café Spice Namaste re-opened for takeaways within two months.
“We decided to open up after complying with all legislative issues, deep cleaning the building and getting it ready to accept the first set of customers,” says Todiwala.
So, the restaurant now operates as a takeaway and dine-in experience.
He adds: “We will stick tight and do our very best to keep all costs under check and manage until the business picks up fully. The city needs to reopen and offices need to get there staff back in order for us to benefit from the office crowd coming back to work.
“We hope that post-summer, things get better and gradually the public confidence builds up and they travel and get out more.”
Todiwala believes that the impact of Covid-19 will be long term. Reflecting on the Indian food sector, he feels that though it will bounce back, the industry has already had several knockbacks in the past few years - from mounting wage costs in the search for the right skills to the difficulty in bringing in skilled workers. Besides, a change in the perception and palates have also caused a slowdown.
He said: “Most of our businesses run a frugal operation with no cash in hand to survive an assault of this kind. That in itself is bad enough to prompt closure. As to how long this will last and how soon people will regain confidence, it's anyone's guess.”
by Preeti Bali
*More from 'iGlobal' Eat Out to Help Out Series