January 9 2018
Pig Guide review: Noya’s Kitchen
In a similar fashion to how the words “small plates” are increasingly becoming synonymous with that nasty “uh-oh, we’re going to be told what we want to eat and end up having to spend a fortune on not very much food here” sinking feeling, the phrase “Supper Club” as a regular menu option has begun to strike dread into any true gourmand’s heart. You’re going to be forced to sit with people you’d really rather not sit with and make small talk. You’re going to have to endure an Emmer wheat/keto/insect course and pretend you know/like/want it because everybody else round you seems to know/like/want it. You’re going to have to take a beer/cocktail/tea flight with your supper, because its been “carefully matched to compliment the flavours,” so asking for wine would make you look like an ignoramus. Aaargh! Eating out “fashionably” is a veritable minefield… except it isn’t really, because of course, you can still eat what and how you want, when and how you want it. And what you want right now is something to eat at (and anything that’s been cooked in) Noya’s Kitchen… and the fact that Noya serves multiple small plates as part of her Supper Club menus shows that this brand new, independent addition to the Bath foodie scene is the glowing exception that proves the “rules” I’ve just set about the notion of either concept are totally, utterly redundant.
At the age of 7, Noya Pawlyn and her family fled southern Vietnam as a refugee during the 1970s conflict. Now living in Bear Flat with a family of her own, Noya’s love of – and instinctive feel for – recreating the dishes of her homeland led to her inspirational idea to host pop-up Supper Clubs at a tiny cafe around the corner from where she lives. Since hosting her first pop-up in 2013, the events proved to be immensely successful; places were often fully-booked months in advance, representing one of Bath’s hottest dining tickets.
Last December, Noya opened the doors to her very own restaurant on St James’s Parade, where she’s created a vibe-environment that’s as warm, welcoming and sociable as her previous informal Supper Club experiences. It’s a rather magical environment in terms of décor, too: subtly elegant paintwork and wallpaper, twinkly fairy lights, Vietnamese tabletop knick-knackery and handwritten chalk board menus that change as frequently as the traffic lights on the busy thoroughfare outside the window, which suddenly feel like a whole world away even though you’ve only just stepped in off the street. And as you take it all in, and think about where you are and what’s to come, one aspect of the whole experience strikes you as clear from the very off: we’re on properly personal territory here – a real home-away-from-home created by a woman who genuinely wants to share her own home cooking with you, as authentic, personable, and downright real as it’s possible to get without stepping into Noya’s actual kitchen at her actual home up on Bear Flat.
You can, if you so wish (and if you’re in the mood,) get up-close-and-personal with your fellow diners…. or you can sit in a corner at a table for one and pretend you’re not actually there. You can pop in for lunch, or you can pre-book and do the full-on feasting thing in the evening. And you can take your own wine, or beer, or hip tipple of the hour with you, because Noya’s Kitchen is BYO, and nobody is going to put any kind of pressure on you regarding what you choose to match your grub with. As for that all-important grub…
You might eat fat little glistening dumplings stuffed with fat little glistening morsels of pork and served with dipping sauce that you’re going to want to bathe yourself in, let alone the dumplings. You might eat rice-paper wrapped summer rolls stuffed with fruit and vegetables and herbs and prawns or chicken or tofu, accompanied by a twinkling pool of nuoc cham for more dipping action. It’s possible that you’ll eat a perfect pho, or melting, seductively moreish slow-cooked pork belly, or lemongrass and garlic infused Bun bo Hue, or coconut-rich fish or chicken stew. You might eat all of this, or some of this, or none of this, because what’s on the menu when you visit will have changed and changed and changed again since we first visited, as it had when we last visited. But one thing is guaranteed: whatever you eat, it will be zingingly fresh, and uniquely tasty, and gloriously, uniquely spicy/salty/bitter/sweet/sour in a way that can only be authentically Vietnamese. You could be in a cafe in Hanoi, or a noodle bar in Da Nang, or a teahouse in a lane in the middle of a Saigon market… but actually, you’re in the middle of Bath, and you’re paying very un-Bath prices (circa £6-£9 for a hearty main course at lunch time; £40pp for a 5-course Supper Club menu in the evening) for an experience that, in this neck of the woods at least, can only be described as other-worldly.
I’m totally, utterly over-excited about Noya’s Kitchen – it’s a place that shows what can be done in Bath if the person who is doing it honestly, really does love cooking, and loves food, and loves the people who love cooking and food. The menus prove that we don’t have to be dictated to, but how lovely it is to be guided. The whole shebang shows how properly exciting food can be if it’s put together by somebody who’s properly excited about it, as Noya so clearly is. In summary, Noya’s Kitchen is one of the best things to have happened to Bath in many years. Chúng tôi yêu bạn, Noya.
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