Review: Noya's Kitchen
by Jess Carter
11 May 2018
This energetic Bath cook serves up fresh, comforting asian food in her homely café...
She might have opened her café just last January, but Noya Pawlyn has been cooking her authentic, colourful Vietnamese food for Bath locals for five-odd years, having opened up her kitchen at home to run cookery classes and held regular sell-out supper clubs at Bear Flat. She still does all of the above, but now in her own rustic, cosy little restaurant on St James’s Parade.
Full of energy and vigour, Noya has found an ideal outlet in cooking, and has been whipping up meals since the age of seven. It was then that she left Vietnam with her family, and was charged with getting dinner on the table for her four siblings while her parents were at work.
She may have left her home country at a young age, but its food certainly came with her. Vietnamese cuisine is characterised by its freshness, colour, texture, balance of tastes, and incorporation of leafy herbs, and Noya knows it inside out.
Evening supper clubs – with set five-course menus – run at the café on Friday, Saturday and some Thursday nights, while lunch is served from Tuesday to Saturday. Not a trained chef, this has probably been the biggest leap for Noya; having orders for different dishes flying into the kitchen unpredictably is a whole new experience for her. Not that this was apparent to us punters in the dining room, though. There was a definite a rush on when we dropped in – front of house were zipping about with a sense of urgency – but the food itself came swiftly and well presented.
The laid back venue was mostly full, and wasn’t only playing host to lunch-break catch ups like mine and E’s; one table was talking shop over pots of speciality tea, while our neighbours to the other side were a couple enjoying a long lunch with a bottle of wine they’d brought in with them (did I mention it’s BYO here?).
Inside, big windows (the building has a gorgeous Georgian frontage with leaded glass) let in lots of light, while the midnight blue walls keep things cosy and atmospheric. Look out for all the old family photos dotted around in frames, too.
The lunchtime menu changes all the time: it’s officially weekly, we’re told, but Noya is prone to playing around with it whenever the mood takes her. It’s always short and sweet though, and you’ll find it chalked on a small blackboard, hung up on the wall with string. There were a couple of starters (£6 each) and three mains available in small or large portions (£6 or £9), meaning you can try a bit of everything if you like, or hog your bowl to yourself if that’s more your style. It struck me now inclusive the food is; while meat is available there’s no focus on it, and there are an equal number of veggie alternatives. Gluten-free dishes can be rustled up with ease, too.
Dumplings are always a win, right? And especially so here. With crisp, thin jackets, they came with Noya’s obligatory chilli dip and a fresh ’slaw of carrot and mint, peppered with sesame seeds. E’s were stuffed with sweet potato, and the first bite saw a satisfying crunch give way to a creamy, fluffy filling, with a delicate sweetness that paired a treat with that dip. My meatier version swapped out the potato for a generous amount of nicely cooked, well-seasoned pork.
The aubergine and ginger stir fry – fresh on the menu that day, thanks to a supplier’s glut and Noya’s whim – came with perfectly cooked jasmine rice, red chilli, spring onion, pickled radish, nuts and a heap of coriander (herbs are way more than just a garnish in these dishes). The aubergine itself had been cooked until the flesh was soft and silky, and coated in a thick, intense dark sauce that seeped pleasingly into the rice. Made from chilli, soy, dark brown sugar and rice vinegar, it achieved that ideal balance of sour, sweet and sharp character, with a gentle kick of spice.
The tofu and fresh vegetable stir-fry offered a mouthful of different flavours with every bite: fine rice noodles hid beneath sweet, tangy pickled carrot, crushed nuts, radishes, crunchy beansprouts and chunks of tofu, with a polite suggestion of heat.
This really feels like food for the soul – it’s fresh, vibrant and nourishing, and you certainly don’t have to have grown up eating Vietnamese meals to find it uber-comforting. With bowls like this from £6 (which you could easily spend on a sarnie in Bath, right?), the value box gets a big fat tick, too.
Noya's Kitchen , 7 St James’s Parade, Bath BA1 1UL; 01225 684439