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Originally published 2019
Last Friday was a particularly hot day. The kind of weather that makes cold showers welcome, long walks unpleasant, and greeting friends that ‘like to hug’ almost impossible.
This was the day I had arranged to visit Namaste Village – an Indian restaurant on Queen’s Road that I had never been to before.
I had been to their sister restaurant Namaste India on Opie Street plenty of times. I’ve visited with friends, family, colleagues… even an ill-fated second date. If you’ve not been before, Namaste India is a small, 26(ish) cover restaurant, serving vegan and vegetarian Indian dishes that are truly authentic and homemade. It’s wonderful and I highly recommend it for a relaxed, atmospheric evening with good food (it’s in the top ten Norwich restaurants on Trip Advisor).
Namaste Village is the bigger of these two restaurants. It is located in the south of the city, in an old Methodist Church which was built in 1887. Having seen it from the outside I knew that it would look different to its Opie Street counterpart, but even so I wasn’t prepared for what was waiting for me, stepping inside for the first time.
The cavernous dining area is clean and airy, and decorated floor to ceiling in bright colours and fabrics, and ornaments brought over from India. From the skylight in the high ceiling, hundreds of colourful umbrellas hang to create a dream-like dining setting, illuminated in bright orange, magenta and emerald green. It is instantly loveable.
I was at Namaste to talk to owner Vijay Jetani about sustainability, and the steps that he has taken with both restaurants in order to make them both more environmentally sound. Over the last 2 years, the Namaste team have thoroughly researched how they make changes within the business, in order to make it less wasteful and reduce their carbon footprint, and the results are astonishing: overall a 95% reduction in plastic waste.
“Once you find your partner, you don’t do more research. Like a marriage”
So what’s new? For a start, bottled drinks are on their way out. In their place is a water dispenser that produces filtered water on demand, both still and sparkling. Namaste have also partnered with beloved local brand ‘Norfolk Cordials’, to create drinks in house that are truly fresh (and so, so welcome in the heat). I tried one: perfectly cold rhubarb, orange and ginger cordial served in a glass with fresh orange, lime zest and grated ginger. It was true heaven. Drinking, I thought back to the office, where I would have instead been clutching an instant coffee that tastes like hot cardboard box.
The Norfolk Cordial partnership is a wonderful one, and one that was a while in the making. Despite looking nationally, it was this local producer who best fitted the ethos, and needs of Namaste.
“Once you find your partner, you don’t do more research. Like a marriage”, says Vijay, who explains the partnership: “The environment has not only benefited, but our staff too – there is no more carrying heavy boxes, there’s more room in the fridge, and there’s less stress when it comes to ordering”. And as the drinks are cordials, and are coming from within the county, the carbon footprint of these drinks is reduced across the whole supply chain, too.
“When you think of others, you benefit” Vijay continues. “Think of society, and in that lies your benefit”.
This is – through and through – the way Namaste is. The first restaurant on Opie Street was opened in 2011 by Vijay and his wife, who had both moved to Norwich from India, and had been working in IT. They not only wanted to do something that would enable them to work together, but also that would help them give something back to the community in terms of their knowledge, so they opened this vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Norwich, which was one of the first in the city.
Since then, the business has grown, and Namaste Village opened in 2016, in the Methodist Church that has also been a carpet shop and a gym, during its lifetime.
It is fitting then, that this beautiful building – itself lovingly recycled – is leading by example in terms of commercial sustainability. As well as the significant reduction in plastic bottles, all takeaway cartons are now silver foil, and come in paper bags. Namaste are also launching a lunchtime ‘tiffin’ service, which will be a real departure from the typical throwaway ‘grab and go’ lunch culture that we’re all guilty of. Namaste are offering a rotating ‘tiffin’ lunch: four separated tiers consisting of a vegetable dish, dahl, side salad and either vegetables, rice or noodles. Instead of simply taking your lunch in a disposable container, you can buy a tiffin (google them if you’re not sure), and Namaste will refill it for you at £5 a time. For businesses, as long as there’s over five people interested, Namaste will deliver your lunch, and swap your old tiffin for your new one each time (you will initially need to purchase two tiffins). Simple, delicious, good for you, and sustainable. It is for good reason the UEA has chosen to work with Namaste this year: the first such partnership between the university and a vegan/vegetarian restaurant.
“An enormous crispy crepe, stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and mustard seed, which you can have with a warm, spicy lentil soup and cooling coconut chutney”
All this aside, this blog has barely touched on the food. Of course, it’s beautiful, and as I said before has always been a favourite of mine. Everything is vegan and vegetarian, although this is definitely a place that meat-eaters will love. Check out the menu at Namaste Village here – prepare to get hungry. What I can COMPLETELY recommend is the Masala Dosa: an enormous (and it really is enormous) crispy crepe, stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and mustard seed, which you can have with a warm, spicy lentil soup and cooling coconut chutney.
There is nothing more I can write that does justice to Namaste – the food, the ethos, or the team. All I can say is that if you visit, you will be truly looked after, and know that you are supporting a business who in turn, is doing their bit to support community too.