Seeing as we’ve not yet made it to one of Noya Pawlyn’s sell-out Vietnamese supper clubs in Bath, we decided to invite ourselves ’round her gaff for lunch instead, to see what we’ve been missing…
Words by Jessica Carter
Photos by Anil Iltas
The day that we had arranged to call on Noya Pawlyn for a bit of lunch and a nosey around her enviable Bath kitchen (we don’t just turn up unannounced, you know), happened to be the very hottest of 2016 thus far. We won’t paint too graphic a picture but, suffice to say, after the uphill walk we very much needed to get some water on board and dab our brow.
So, as excited as we were to have Noya make us an Asian feast for our lunch, spice was not right at the top of our wish list at that moment in time – as you can imagine. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good chilli kick, but we’d already taken a beating from the sun, and were burning up before we’d even lifted a fork.
Luckily, though, this wasn’t going to be a problem. You see, Noya’s speciality is food from her native country – Vietnam – and this kind of Asian grub doesn’t actually focus on spice.
“There are lots of herbs in our food,” Noya explains. “It’s much fresher than other Asian cuisine. In fact, it’s all about freshness, and texture, and zing.
“At the markets in Vietnam,” she goes on, “you’d buy what was fresh that day, and then eat it that same day, too.
“Herbs are especially important; they’re not used as a garish, but as an actual part of the dish.”
Indeed, as she speaks we’re eyeing up the colourful, vibrant food that’s been dished up in her lovely light kitchen; there’s plenty of green in the form of crunchy curls of spring onion, crinkly mint leaves and fresh coriander; bright orange slices of pickled carrot; ruby red rings of sliced chilli; and a peppering of white sesame seeds.
Noya starts by soaking rice paper water for summer rolls, pointing out the fillings we can choose from. She rolls the first one with marinated prawns to demonstrate the technique.
We also tucked into chilli and ginger aubergine; lemongrass and chilli chicken stew with jasmine rice; crispy pork spring rolls on baby gem lettuce; and tofu spring rolls made of rice paper. The deeper we dug into this fresh, fragrant lunch, the more it became clear that this lady is a real pro in the kitchen.
“I’ve been cooking since I was seven years old. I’m one of five siblings and, although I wasn’t the oldest, I was the oldest girl – which is really the same thing – so I’d need to cook for them all when my parents were working.”
At the time, Noya and her family were living in a Hong Kong refugee camp, having left Vietnam when she was seven. Despite leaving so young, Noya still carries with her the cultural importance of food from her home country. Her kitchen is a central, family-focused space: old photographs sit on the dresser, there’s a long dining table which is large enough for the whole family, and an old, eclectic collection of kitchen tools and crockery.
Noya learned a lot about cooking from her mum and dad, eating purely Vietnamese food right up until she left home. That doesn’t mean she’s not adventurous, though. Noya loves experimenting, and encourages others to do the same at her supper clubs and cookery classes.
“Whether you’re adventurous or not, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “Just give some new things a go, introduce new flavours. You learn to trust your tastebuds; it’s all about confidence. The best meals I cook, and my favourites, are made from whatever I happen to have left in the cupboards.”
It was three years ago now that Noya started her regular supper club in Bath, which takes place at The Bear Pad café on Bear Flat. It’s grown from simply cooking for friends to regularly selling out, thanks to word of mouth (and her authentic, accessible food, we bet).
“Lots of people come back to the supper club again and again,” she says. “And there’s always something new to try, as the menu is based on just whatever’s available that day.”
Noya also teaches cookery, right here in her own kitchen. If you want to see the kinds of fresh, colourful dishes you can learn to make, then you’re in luck, as we’ve secured the recipe for those summer rolls for you…
NOYA’S KITCHEN, 07739 748806; supper clubs at The Bear Pad, 7 Hayes Place, Bath BA2 4QW