Noya’s brilliant Vietnamese supper clubs have been wowing the city’s foodie set for years. But her days of pop-ups are over with the long-awaited opening of her own bricks and mortar space. Matt Inwood went along to be converted.
It starts with a crystal-clear cup of jasmine tea as fragrant as having the very blossoms from that flower wafted under your nose. Since I’m similarly ignorant to the delights of Vietnamese slow-drip coffee, my server recommends I try that drink too, suggesting I don’t skimp with the accompanying condensed milk. I pour it all in and knock-back this wonderfully caramelly concoction almost in one hit. I’m already two flavour sensations in and I haven’t yet got to the food.
Indeed, I’m a little late all round to the food of Noya Palwyn, whose newly opened restaurant this is. Prior to setting up in the center of Bath, she was running a much-loved supper club from a café in Bear Flat. While I never got to make it to one of those evenings, I’d say she’s looked to recreate that easy going, stylish informality in her new restaurant space. For it’s a homely quality that marks so much of what is so good here, starting with the warm greeting from knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and peppering through everything from the decor to the dishes: that’s Noya’s curated Vietnamese tableware; those are her brush marks on the petrol-blue paint on the walls; the hand-written chalkboard menu; the fairy light garlands – it’s all the vision of one person, and there’s much of her rather large heart and soul here, too.Jasmine Tea. Photography: Matt Inwood
Vietnamese food hasn’t yet cemented itself in the UK as securely as many of its sister Asian cuisines, but the flavours are ones we all love and many of the staple ingredients are ones which we have been enjoying at home for an age. It’s a cuisine founded on five fundamentals of taste – sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty – and Noya celebrates each element in full.
With teapots and coffee filters cleared from the table, the food begins to arrive. First up is summer rolls: four delicate rice-paper-wrapped bundles of loveliness with a nuoc cham (dipping sauce) alongside. I bite in and reveal a colourful array of wafer-thin batons of mango and carrot, together with parsley, vermicelli noodles and umami-rich chicken (tofu and prawn were the other menu options of the day). The hot and sweet sauce complements them beautifully and each one is packed with such finesse, they’re very nearly too pretty to eat. I scoff four of them and mourn their loss almost immediately.One of Noya’s signature dishes; Summer rolls. Image: Matt Inwood
Here, summer is followed by spring: deep-fried spring rolls to be exact. The frying means that the flavours are less well-defined, but the pork inside is rich and moreish and given a boost of savoury depth by wood-ear mushroom. Once again, the magic of a clean and punchy dipping sauce balances everything so well.
A mother and daughter enter excitedly and take the table next to me. I overhear that they are seasoned fans of Noya’s supper clubs. They cast an eye at the last of my spring rolls and gripped by a minor territorial panic I quickly despatch them.
Chicken sticks with a peanut and lemongrass sauce are next. Chicken satay is my wife’s favourite and I can’t resist texting a quick picture to her. The envious reply was not complimentary. But the chicken is tender and the sauce is a mix of smooth and crunchy and packs a devilish little kick. The restaurant is now almost full buzzing with chatter, thoughtful chewing, slurping and appreciative noises.
A chicken curry provides the gentlest savory hug of the entire lunch, which is not to say that it underwhelms at all, simply that it is gentle and comforting, Katsu-ey in flavour. There’s a lovely warmth that starts at the back of my throat and emanates all the way to my stomach.Lemon posset; puddings have an English influence. Image: Matt Inwood
Dessert is a curious thing. I was hoping for something of Vietnam, but instead it’s the most English of things – a lemon posset. It’s impossible to fault, light and sweet with grated zest and syrupy clementine pieces on top and an almond and coconut biscuit to soften the sharpness and bring balance. It may well be Noya’s nod to the country she has made home, to show us something of our own food culture while so generously sharing hers. It works. And I’m left full without feeling so; thoroughly content without having expended any real effort.
My advice? Give it a go before all of her supper club devotees grab every available table and arrive very hungry, there’s not a mouthful you’ll want to skip.
Noya’s Kitchen, 7 St James Parade, Bath, BA1 1UL; 01225 684439