Above and Beyond

Curry Legend Bashir Islam has been an inspiration to the curry industry for many years, with an approach based on mutual respect

Bashir Islam at Spice Merchant Beaconsfield

Restaurateur Bashir Islam’s motto is simple: ‘promise less and give more’. His philosophy in life is to give people more than they envisage, to over-deliver and to exceed expectations across all areas of the business, from the kitchen, to the service to the front of house.

We’re meeting at one of Islam’s three restaurants (although over the years, Islam has been involved in plenty more). The Spice Merchant is located in the historic area of Beaconsfield Old Town in Buckinghamshire, with the other two (also with the same name) in Henley-on-Thames and Cookham, and describes itself as serving ‘contemporary Indian cuisine’. On the menu, it says, you’ll find ‘traditional Indian pot dishes, such as Bhuna and Jalfrezi as well as a selection of more modern and creative dishes’. The decor reflects this approach too, with wooden floors, large mirrors and opulent lighting.

Bashir Islam

Bashir Islam came to the UK in 1976, working in a succession of Indian restaurants in various locations, starting in Palmers Green, moving on to Crystal Palace, then Leyton and also Portsmouth. He then completed stints at restaurants in Uxbridge and Gants Hill, before settling in Beaconsfield. His first restaurant – Tropical Curry, was opened in 1980 in the modern part of the town and, he recalls, was the first such Indian restaurant in the area. In 1983, he opened his flagship restaurant, The Cookham Tandoori, in partnership with his brother (now called The Spice Merchant Cookham) and then in 1994 the one where we are sitting today. The Henley restaurant opened in 2005.

Many chefs cut their teeth at the Cookham restaurant, before embarking on their own hospitality ventures and founding successful businesses of their own. Bashir has also helped to fund many of these, providing start-up capital (rather than going into partnership) and being an inspiration for many in the curry industry,

Bashir Islam in earlier days

He shies away from being called an inspiration to the industry and a business mentor, however and doesn’t believe he has done anything too differently from anyone else. He says his approach is down to a simple premise: if you treat people well, they will respect you and stay with you. And similarly, he says, do not work for someone who doesn’t respect you and always ensure you take pride in your work.

“I never forgot who I am, and where I came from and that is why a lot of people lose their way,” he says. “You must not forget who you are or your identity –  once you lose this you have nothing.”

A family approach

Bashir likes to put the emphasis on creating a family environment at his restaurants, where everyone is welcome, whatever their role.

“When you work here with me it’s like a family because I worked for others before and have been treated very badly,” he says. “I thought this was not right – people who work for me, this is like their home, they should feel comfortable. If people need help, I want to be there for them. Indian restaurants do not do things by the book – everyone is our friend, we are like one big family.  Everyone is capable of achieving anything and we try to give people what they want.”

Testament to this is the fact that many of his former staff speak very highly of Bashir, and remember him for the level of training he offered – not just with regards to the food business but around customer service too. As one employee explained while we were there, his success is down to what Bashir has taught him. Bashir too says he has not come across a single person yet who has previously worked for him and doesn’t want to talk to him again.

“Most of my staff started with little or no experience, I trained them from zero and occasionally brought some in from other restaurants,” he says. “Anyone who works with me knows what is expected of them; it’s an amazing cultural experience working in a restaurant. As an owner I can provide nice lighting and supply the food, but cooking and serving dishes is all down to the team. So if you book for dinner and the person serving you is not properly dressed or does not have a clean appearance, you are not going to eat there.”

A people business

Bashir Islam is also astute, being able to spot the right people to work with and bringing out the best in them. He acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges throughout his time in the industry has been finding the right staff. While he might have many ideas that have proved successful, he says you can make so much more of these, and the prospects are much more exciting, if you have the right staff by your side.

He’s also spotted gaps in the marketplace, and as he puts it, ‘been able to seize an opportunity.” The Spice Merchant for example has its own online delivery system, called Feast Online.

“I see things a good many years before others,” he says. “If you look at the likes of Just Eat, I created Feast Online. I could see that many Indian restaurants were proving to be very popular but we needed to get quality food delivered to people’s doors. I invested money in establishing this online food delivery system for my restaurants.”

Enjoy what you do

While not a trained chef, Bashir also enjoys creating dishes, and has put his own stamp on the menu at The Spice Merchant, including a take on Chicken Tikka Masala, with lots of spices to give the dish a bit of a kick.

“I am not a chef and have never been one but I have a very good understanding of food,” he says. “I use top-quality products – I like going to markets and seeing fresh produce, I can’t compromise on quality. And you also need to understand spices and why you are putting a particular one into this curry over that one. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s quite simple – don’t do it.”

At the age of 65, Bashir acknowledges that he is close to retirement (neither of his three children are interested in taking on the family business) but that hasn’t stopped him thinking about new ventures – he plans to open a fish and chips shop in Henley.

“I don’t know how it will work, I am too old to do this job,” he reflects. “The only thing I say to people who are thinking of opening a business is to make sure you give everything you have within yourself. Never undermine your competitors, respect them. And if you don’t know something, study what is already out there, but always think about how you can do it better. Learning never finishes. Don’t do something for the sake of it. If you are not happy with something don’t sell it, if you can only serve 10 people tonight then don’t serve 12. You might lose two customers today but the other ten will come back again.”

Spice Merchant Cookham, High St, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9SL, Phone: 01628 52258

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The future’s bright

Curry Life finds out how a young female scientist has gone from working in her family’s Indian restaurant to inventing and commercializing a spray to help combat Covid-19

Sadia Khanom had an interest in all things scientific from an early age and this has stood her in good stead. Aged just 26, she is the founder and managing director of Voltique, a business specialising in finding solutions to problems in the disinfectant industry. Its first product, named after the business and created by Khanom, is a formula that achieves a high level of disinfection, targeting and killing all strains of pathogens including coronavirus, for up to 14 days.

Based in Little Sutton in Chester, the idea for the spray came about while Khanom was preparing for a PhD in Alzheimer’s research and neurodegeneration at the University of Chester (she has a personal interest as her grandfather was diagnosed with the disease). She had already gained a degree in biomedical science at the University of Salford and a Master’s from the University of Chester.

Personal drive

“I wanted to help people with regards to Alzheimer’s and dementia as I was 14 when my grandfather was diagnosed and there was a lot of stigma surrounding these and other degenerative disorders at the time,” says Khanom. “This was when I knew I wanted to be a scientist. My interest is in genes and genetic make-up so there was a natural drive to help with the Covid-19 pandemic as it relies heavily on genome sequencing.”

There was another motivating factor too. Khanom’s parents own Indian restaurant Café India, where Khanom herself has been working since the age of 15. With the restaurant forced to close due to lockdown, Khanom could see first-hand the devastating effects of the disease. When lockdown was first announced in March 2020, the restaurant closed for six months.

“Being a scientist, initial reports of Covid-19 sparked my interest and I wanted to find out more about the disease, and I managed to find studies and publications previously released on coronavirus,” she explains. “There were already scientists publishing their own theories on the new strain of the virus so it was a very good time to find out more. Everyone was suffering globally and my parents’ restaurant was affected too. With transmission rates being a huge factor I wanted to explore how to get these to zero, by creating a longer-lasting disinfectant that is active on surfaces and that can continually kill viruses to lower the spread.”

As Khanom explains, her research led her to realise that there are many limitations within the disinfectant industry, such as harsh chemicals, or products with toxicological and respiratory effects. Any project looking to stem the effects of Covid-19 can be a long process, requiring patience and determination. Khanom spent 14 months researching and developing the spray, with help from her mentor, Colin Hagan, who specialises in scientific innovation.

Family inspiration

The spray, powered by electricity and dispensed via a machine, can be used in a range of settings, from hospitals to hotels and restaurants, among others. Khanom used her parents’ restaurant as a trial venue, testing the product on different surfaces, from leather to wood to fabric. The name ‘Voltique’ is derived from ‘volt’ and ‘electric’, with Khanom saying that the idea came from the fact that living things use electricity. She credits her parents’ outlook on life and the work they have put into the restaurant for motivating her to develop the breakthrough spray.

“My parents always taught me that humanity comes first no matter who you are,” she says. “We are born in this world for a reason, to make a difference and to follow our passion.  It helped that I was interested in science from a young age and my parents have been very supportive. Being the eldest child, I felt it was my responsibility to do something and give back to society. I have seen my parents work so hard building their restaurant, that from a younger generation point of view, it feels natural to want to give something back.”

Her father Kabir Ahmed has also been a great inspiration to her on the creative front, with Khanom pointing out that her parents have a great working dynamic – her mother runs the operations side while her father manages the kitchen.

“They were in different fields of work before they decided to open the restaurant – they made the move because family and friends would often say how good my father’s cooking was,” explains Khanom. “It was a hobby before it was a business, and having grown up with it, I understand just how tough an industry it is. My parents also understand this and the last thing they want is for me to be tied to this industry. They have been very supportive of how I want to make a difference.”

She adds that with the curry industry, there is a stereotype of what curries should be like and her father wanted to change that, by using high-quality ingredients and combining this with creativity.

My Father has his own style of cooking, he uses the basis of curries but puts his own twist on dishes,” says Khanom.”It’s very much a family-run restaurant, we know what our customers want and it’s great to see that sense of satisfaction when you’ve been able to offer what they like.”

Khanom’s endeavours could also help to raise the profile of female scientists, another area she is passionate about. Being young and having not been in her field of science for very long, Khanom could have encountered some opposition to her invention.

“I knew exactly what I was doing and how certain I was about my product, which then led to a lot of support,” she says.  “Women are certainly becoming more recognised as scientists – it is a long-term job and there is no guarantee you can find a solution, it’s quite rare. There are many women doing a Phd but the uncertainty of the whole career puts off younger women. I hope what I have done can help encourage them, by showing what’s possible if you put your soul into something.”

With £10m worth of orders from the likes of NASA and the NHS, Khanom appears to have hit the ground running with her product. In the near future, she is looking forward to continually refining the product, and says there is interest in developing a version in a hand-held bottle. There are limitations to this, however, as the product will lose some of its benefits if it’s in a bottle rather than dispensed via machinery.

“I want to make sure there are no limitations on the product and that it is the best it can be”, she says. “I’d also like to go back to my research on Alzheimer’s and possibly mentoring. I’d love to help the younger generation to follow their dreams and passions, especially in the field of science.”

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Jafor Solim Uddin has been a curry chef for more than three decades and is using his creativity and his enduring passion for cooking to great effect at The Fat Buddha

There’s not much that escapes the eye of Jafor Solim Uddin, head chef at The Fat Buddha restaurant in Maidenhead. Curry Life managed to squeeze some time with him just before a mid-week evening service, but he still headed to the kitchen several times during our chat to check on his staff and a number of takeaway orders. Restaurant owner Shorif Ali describes his chef as ‘always in control’ and says that nothing gets out of the kitchen without the chef seeing it first’. He even jokes that Uddin keeps an eye on the front of house operations too.

Uddin, who prefers to go by his nickname Suhel, was originally born in England and brought up in Bangladesh, before returning to the UK in 1985. He has been at The Fat Buddha in Maidenhead for around 18 months, ever since it opened in March 2020, just prior to the pandemic. Previously, Suhel was at the original outpost of the restaurant (also called The Fat Buddha), in Berkhamsted. This one opened in 2015 and he worked there for around a year.

Suhel’s relationship with Ali goes back much further however, with the two having known each other for around 25 years – Suhel originally worked as a chef at restaurants owned by Ali’s parents. His father was also a chef, but Suhel learnt his trade from working in many other restaurants – around 15 in all before The Fat Buddha, with his longest stint at one restaurant being around 13 years.

A passionate approach

Suhel doesn’t describe being a chef as a job – instead he refers to it as a passion; in the same way as people care about the food that they eat, he cares about what goes into the dishes and how they are presented. A typical day will see him arrive at the restaurant around 11am, where he oversees three other chefs, preparing base sauces and main ingredients until mid- afternoon, before getting ready for the evening service.

Suhel’s style of cooking is, in his own words, ‘not your typical Indian dishes, with food given a twist with unusual ingredients and different spicing to suit people’s palates’. Sauces are flavoured with coconut milk, pepper, coriander, garam masala and a range of spices and Suhel also makes a number of fresh chutneys.

Some of his signature and favourite dishes include King Prawn Moglai, grilled king prawns medium spiced with cashew nuts, Buddha Chicken (made with chicken fillet to ensure the meat is tender) and Tandoori Broccoli, served with yoghurt and mango sauce. Lamb Chennai, made with pepper and red chilli topped with coconut milk, is also a standout dish.

“I have tried most of the dishes we serve and if I don’t like it, it doesn’t get served,” he says. “I love cooking – it’s hard work and long hours but if you don’t enjoy it, you can’t be a good chef.”

The restaurant is located in an affluent area, with Ali saying that people are keen to not just dine but to have an experience too. The restaurant has a cocktail bar with its own mixologist, with many people arriving for drinks before moving through to the main restaurant.

Sustainable and inventive

“We refresh the menu every six months and I create new dishes,” explains Suhel. “If there are some dishes that are not selling well, or which are difficult to maintain, we remove them, one example being sea bass as it was too time-consuming to prepare. Quality and maintaining consistency across the board is key to success and even after 35 years, I am not tired of the industry. My biggest challenge is finding good chefs – I’ve brought my own team with me, people I have known previously and whom I can trust. There is a big need in the curry industry to boost skills.”

Suhel also oversees The Fat Buddha’s ‘Outdoor Tandoor’ offer, which provides outdoor catering for corporate events, parties and celebrations, with Suhel providing live cooking. This runs mainly during the warmer, summer months, with a choice of four menus, while indoor event catering is available too, choosing dishes from the menu. The restaurant is also looking to be more sustainable in its approach to food, with Ali sourcing many of the ingredients from local suppliers. Vegans and vegetarians are catered for too, with dishes including Sabsi Bahar (dry mixed vegetables) and Paneer Shashlik, marinated Indian cheese, served with peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Suhel also enjoys being creative in the kitchen – customers often have requests for certain dishes, giving Suhel the chance to be inventive and to experiment with spices.

“I wouldn’t want any other job – I enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen. Sometimes you have to be demanding with your staff, sometimes you have to be soft, the important thing is to always communicate with staff and make sure that everything we do is coordinated.”

The restaurant also has a thriving takeaway service and on a busy evening (most Fridays and Saturdays) Suhel is in charge of between 90-100 covers. The Fat Buddha tries to ensure a smooth service by inviting people to enjoy drinks in the bar area and ordering a few canapé-style starters, before progressing to the main dining area. It’s a place where people like to linger and enjoy their food.

Even after 35 years in the business, and having recently won the ‘Best Chef’ award at the Curry Life Awards, held in October, Suhel is hungry for another challenge. There is the potential to become executive chef across the two Fat Buddha restaurants, overseeing the kitchens at both. Suhel is also keen to extend his skills and knowledge, and is proud of his membership of Curry Life’s Chef’s club, a networking orgnaisation for curry chefs.

“The Club is a great opportunity for learning from your peers, it can help to give you ideas to change things, and if I have any issues I want to raise, I can speak to other members,” he says.

The one thing Suhel doesn’t do is cook at home – he leaves the kitchen and the food firmly in his wife’s hands.

The Fat Buddha

3 Bridge St, Maidenhead SL6 8LR, Phone: 01628 308078

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A packed restaurant on a cold, windy Thursday night. Diners queuing for a table. Solid bookings for the foreseeable future.

And all of this on the back of being named the nation’s top curry restaurant at the glittering Curry Life Awards – staged recently by this magazine in London’s West End.

Clearly owner Abi and his team at the Village Indiya restaurant in South Woodford are doing something right – so what is the secret of their outstanding success?

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“Teamwork and listening carefully to our customers,” is Abi’s swift reply, as if both priorities were an absolute given for any successful restaurant anywhere in the world.

Warming to his theme, Abi adds: “Whether you’re talking about people working in the kitchen, or the staff front-of-house, it’s vital that you get the right people, with the right qualities.

“In our case our chef, Sayadur Shahin, has more than 15 years’ experience working in various restaurants and knows what works and what doesn’t. Creating new dishes that people want to eat, and blending fresh home-made ingredients, only comes with experience.”

Abi continues: “Equally, our front of house manager, Alamin Khan, is the best I know at listening to customers and tweaking our service so that we’re giving them what they want.”

He adds that although the recent lockdowns brought many challenges, they possibly reinforced the bond between the restaurant and the community it serves.A picture containing text, building, outdoor, ground

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“During the lockdown,” he says, “like many restaurants in our position, we had to rely heavily on takeaway custom and, while this clearly wasn’t as good as being fully open, it enabled us to reach out to a different type of clientele.

“The proof of the pudding really has been in the eating. Clearly people liked what they ate with their takeaways and I can honestly say we’ve never been busier since we reopened.”

That’s something borne out by our visit to the restaurant, judging by the reactions of other diners on a packed 50-cover evening, and by our own meal.

We tried to sample a broad range of dishes, with our three-person party selecting a mixture of lamb, chicken and prawn dishes – in the shape of a lamb biryani, chicken dansak and king prawn tikka masala.

Impressed with a fresh take on these traditional dishes, both in terms of presentation and taste, I asked Alamin for a deeper insight into the restaurant’s approach to the needs of its customers.

“We value feedback from our customers above all else and this is key to our success. If we are giving them precisely what they want, we know they will come back and also tell their friends about us.

“This in turn feeds through to the way we approach the menu. For example, we have recently introduced some vegan based dishes due to their growing popularity.”

Alamin adds: “Also, because we know diners can tell the difference between bought-in ingredients and home-made ones, all of our spices and sauces are home-made, so that we can tweak them for our customers’ tastes.

“The same goes for service front of house. We are constantly checking that diners are happy and are giving them what they want.”

It’s a recipe for success which has been duplicated in other of the group’s restaurants in Essex – and has emboldened the Village Indiya team to open a new eatery shortly in nearby Woodford Broadway.

That is despite competition from established neighbouring Chinese and Italian restaurants.

As Abi sums up: “I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to emerge from such a terrible period as the lockdown to find, if anything, there is a stronger than ever demand for what we do and how we do it.

“The icing on the cake was to win such a prestigious prize as Best Curry Restaurant at this year’s Curry Life Awards.

“It means everything to be appreciated in this way and is confirmation that Village Indiya is going from strength to strength.”

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Village Indiya
241-243 High Road, South Woodford, London E18 2PB

Tel. 020 8505 2727

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Living the dream

Masterchef Australia contestant Kishwar Chowdhury tells Curry Life about her ambition to bring Bengali food and culture to the masses

Panthabhat (fermented rice), aloo bhorta (spiced mash potato) and khashirrezala (goat meat curry) are just some of the traditional Bengali dishes that wowed television audiences this year. Prepared by MasterChef Australia contestant Kishwar Chowdhury, who placed third in the cooking competition, the dishes were both a celebration of her Bengali heritage and her love of the cuisine.

For those unfamiliar with the television series MasterChef Australia (which is different to the UK version), 24 competitors are selected following auditions. They then take part in various tasks over a number of weeks until three remain in the grand finale, undertaking three challenges over two nights. The winner is decided by the most points scored for their dishes and stands to win a grand prize of AUS $250,000, with the runner up winning AUS $30,000 and the third-placed contestant AUS $20,000. The latest series, which featured Chowdhury, aired over several months, from April to July.

Melbourne-based Chowdhury, who owns a printing business with her husband, has been cooking for as long as she can remember. One of her earliest memories is of baking with her mother, while she also recalls marking festivals and family occasions with meals around the table, with her father rustling up hearty dishes. Her desire to bring Bangladeshi culture and cooking under the spotlight stems from her heritage.

“My upbringing was very traditional, like many migrant families we really held on to our culture and food through arts and language,” recalls Chowdhury. “My mother was from India and my father from Bangladesh [where he was a freedom fighter], both were well-travelled, with my mother having visited Burma (now Myanmar), Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We had a lot of different foods on our table and for me, cooking was a creative passion.”

Chowdhury moved from Melbourne to London in 2007 to study at university and took the opportunity to travel around Europe, before heading to Bangladesh in 2010 to set up her printing business.

“When I was a young adult, travelling and living on my own, I pared down what I cooked and ate more simply,” she explains. “I found beauty and simplicity in cooking for myself and became more technical with my food and explored new flavours with my travels. My move to Bangladesh had a massive influence on my cooking. Living in Asia changed my food philosophy completely and made me aware of seasonality. If something was not in season, it was not available, and when it was, people would eat that fish or that vegetable. What seemed like a hindrance instead became a revelation and it was an important lesson.” 

Industry influences

During her time away from Australia, Chowdhury cites chefs such as Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi as huge influences, and she emulated the latter’s cooking while in Bangladesh.

“Ottolenghi is all about those Middle Eastern ingredients, such as pulses and grains and I could easily find these ingredients in Bangladesh,” she says. “There were other interesting vegetables and it was an opportunity to learn about plant-based food. From a young age, I loved watching Anthony Bourdain, who went into uncharted territories, as well as Poh Ling Yeow [a former Masterchef Australia contestant]. She brought so much diversity to our screens and it was fantastic to see a role model like Poh embracing her heritage.”

Chowdhury returned to Melbourne in 2015 and continued with the family printing business while raising a young family. But she says she struggled to reconcile her upbringing with her heritage, and felt a desire to reconnect with Bengali culture, which led her to eventually apply for Masterchef Australia.

“My parents had worked hard to hold on to their identity and I struggled with being born and brought up in Australia and being Bengali as well,” she says. “I felt that I really needed to pass down everything they had taught me – my parents were very hands-on where food was concerned.”

Chowdhury believes representation played its part too, as she says there is not really much said about Bengalis, Bangladesh or east Indian practices, instead, it all tends to get wrapped up in Indian culture and forgotten about. 

“When I was growing up, no one here knew where Bangladesh was until the cricket team started winning,” she says. “It is important for someone like me to be visible, so my children can also be seen and not be embarrassed. As my son was growing older, he was happy to take bao to school for example, but less keen to take Bengali food. It comes down to representation.”

Pursuing her passion

Chowdhury’s son prompted her to enter MasterChef Australia, an experience she describes as ‘very spur of the moment’.

“I didn’t expect to get in but when I got there [to the auditions] and they asked me what my background was, I said if there was one thing I feel passionate about it’s that Bangladeshi food is not really ‘seen’ and deserves more,” she says.

Chowdhury describes the Masterchef experience as a ‘magical place’, one that is very competitive, where you are not just cooking under time pressure but trying to stand out amongst 23 amazing cooks in the same room.

“There are very long hours and you have to dig deep and open yourself up and be vulnerable,” says Chowdury. “You also have to always be in exam mode, you have to be ready to go, whether it’s sweet or savoury or pastry, you have to get dishes prepared and be ready to cook. It’s competitive, it’s tough and a lot of pressure but extremely exhilarating. Taking part has given me a new fire in my belly.”

The experience, adds Chowdhury, taught her where her strengths lie – she admits that like many other families, she cooks a lot of everything and anything.

“I always knew Bengali food was fantastic and I love it but it’s about being open and vulnerable – you are on international television, cooking something you know is great but you don’t really see it in a restaurant, it’s not something that is known and seen in public,” she says. “Most of the time, I was doing something for the very first time on an international platform; when the judges ate it and appreciated it, this gave me the confidence to keep doing it and to back myself and say: ‘this is my food dream, it starts now’.”

Once Masterchef Australia aired, Chowdury’s Bengali dishes had millions of hits on the web and her creations were shared online by many more people, which she says goes to show that there is a place for the cuisine. The dishes she created were a combination of what her parents taught her and different cooking techniques learnt from her own experience, which helped to elevate dishes or add a twist.

“Having to cook dishes in 75 minutes was a challenge, it’s about trying to stay authentic while adopting many new techniques,” she says. “If there was something we would marinade in the tandoor, I would smoke it first with a wood apple chip finish on a hibachi or in the oven, so the flavours are punchy.”

Onwards and upwards

Since Masterchef Australia finished in July, Chowdhury has not looked back. As soon as the show finished, she started training with Michelin-star chef Masahiko Yomoda at Ishizuka, which offers fine dining with French/Japanese Kaiseki degustation menus. Chowdhury described her time there as a ‘fantastic experience’. This has since led to a collaboration with Adam D’Sylva’s modern Indian restaurant Tonka, based in Melbourne, where she released a selection of her own dishes. These included ‘Kishwar’s Charred Corn Chaat’ and ‘Kishwar’s Veal Osso Bucco Rezala’. With the restaurant booked out for much of August with diners keen to taste the menu, Chowdhury says it was ‘desperately disappointing’ when Melbourne went into lockdown, forcing the restaurant to close.

“We had one service on the night of my launch, then Melbourne went into lockdown,” she recalls. “It was very traumatic, we had worked for weeks to perfect the menu and there was a huge response, with the whole event booked out every single night in August.”

Chowdhury adapted quickly to the fast-changing situation, with the food available instead for home delivery and stocked in supermarkets.

It comes as no surprise then that at present, Chowdhury has no plans to return to the family printing business. She wants to use the momentum from the show and her experience gained to start a conversation about the importance of sharing identity and food. In the near future, Chowdhury is looking to produce a cookbook that reflects her roots and her experiences to date, and which honours the cuisine of her ancestors. It’s an idea she referred to often on the television show; having learnt her craft from her mother and her grandmother, she is equally keen to pass this knowledge on to her two children.

“I want to incorporate my food influences, places I have travelled to and been inspired by and my Bengali heritage, so I can take readers to those corners of the world,” she says.

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A night of Celebration to Remember

The Curry Life Awards returned in 2021, crowning the industry’s best chefs and restaurants

Curry and food industry professionals, politicians and special guests gathered together for the Curry Life Awards 2021, which took place this year on 10 October at the Royal Lancaster Hotel London. The glittering awards ceremony, which was last held in 2019, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, took place following the World Curry Expo, also held at the hotel, with both events marking the end of National Curry Week.

Curry Life Awards, Lancaster Hotel – 10Oct21

The Curry Life Awards celebrate the unique fusion cuisine of Indian food in the UK and are part of a wider organisation that organises the British Curry Festival around the world. Close to 700 guests attended the event, which was jointly hosted by BBC breakfast sports presenter Mike Bushell and veteran broadcaster and journalist Angela Rippon.

The evening began with a tribute to those from the industry who have sadly passed away in the last year during the pandemic, before the awards were announced. A total of 46 awards were given, with restaurants and chefs recognised in a number of categories, including Best Editor’s Choice of the Year, Best Curry Chefs of the Year, Best Curry Restaurants of the Year, Best Curry Takeaways of the Year, Best Customer’s Choice of the Year and Best Curry House Supplier of the Year.

Curry Life Awards, Lancaster Hotel – 10Oct21

The event also paid special tribute to the founding father of Bangladesh, to mark the Mujib Centenary and Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh. The UK’s leading Bangladeshi artist and Freedom Fighter Himangshu Goswami dedicated ‘ShonoEktiMujiborerTheke’ to mark the Mujib centenary tribute.

The audience heard from headline sponsor Just Eat, Lord Karan Bilimoria, the chairman of Cobra Beer and president of the CBI and twice Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, who spoke on behalf of the British Asian Trust, the nominated charity for the event. During the evening, guests were also entertained by performances from the Bollywood Dance School and enjoyed a delicious Indian-themed menu provided by Madhu’s.

Commenting on the importance of the Awards, Lord Bilimoria said: “Like many business sectors over the past couple of years, the hospitality industry has been through the ringer because of the Covid pandemic.

“It is great to see it not only emerging from this dark period but also leading the way for other business sectors. Now that the economy is gathering momentum, it is truly heart-warming and instructive to hear of some of the stories of innovation, and pure hard work, emerging from this year’s Curry Life Awards. Well done to Curry Life for once again throwing a spotlight onto these examples of best practice and the brilliant people behind them.”

The editor of Curry Life magazine, Syed Belal Ahmed, said: “Over the years we have been staging the awards, we have seen a major stepping up of standards and quality being offered to customers-to the point where several restaurants are in a position to challenge for accolades such as Michelin stars.

“One of the major aims of the awards has always been to highlight best practice going on across the country – so that everyone has the opportunity to learn from the best – and that indeed has always been a driving principle behind Curry Life itself.”

Matt Bushby, the UK Marketing Director for Just Eat, added: “We are thrilled to sponsor the Curry Life Awards, celebrating one of our most treasured and iconic industries; one that has helped so many communities in so many ways over the last 18 months. We are delighted to play a part in showcasing the hard work and imagination of chefs and owners who continue to improve and impress in producing fantastic, value-for-money and creative cooking. Our congratulations go to all of those who have won awards. You fully deserve them for standing out in this excitingly crowded and competitive industry.”

Other guests at the event included GaganMohindra MP, Aaron Bell MP, Greg Smith MP, Charlotte Nichols MP, Wes Streeting MP, chef Dominic Chapman and cookery author MridulaBaljekar.

This year’s Award Ceremony and Gala Dinner raised more than £2,000 for the British Asian Trust.

Winners are:

Best Editor’s Choice of the year

Chandini Sawbridgeworth

Radhuni, Princes Risborough

Indian Ocean, Histon, Cambridge

The Everest Abercorn, Middlesex

Best Curry Chefs of the year

  • Chef JaforSolim Uddin, The Fat Buddha, Maidenhead, Berks
  • Chef Majadur Rahim, Blue Tiffin, Merseyside
  • Chef Mohammed Raj, Village Indian Dining, Upminster
  • lChef Kabir Uddin, Hastings Spice, Sussex
  • Chef Abdul Malik, Little India, Bolton
  • Chef Shaz Rahman, Blue Tiffin, Stoke
  • Chef Nazrul Islam, Biggles Lounge, Beds
  • Chef Atikur Rahman, Chilli Green, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend

Best Curry Restaurants of the year

  • Bombay 8, Warrington 8, Cheshire
  • Bombay Quay, Northwich, Cheshire
  • INAGA, Westwickham, Bromley
  • Westbourne Tandoori, Bournemouth
  • The Fat Buddah, Berkhamsted
  • Bengal Brasserie, Burley, Leeds
  • Shozna, Rochester, Kent
  • Monsoon Majestic, Newcastle-Under-Lyme
  • Zyka, Tilehurst, Reading
  • Café Spice, Darlington
  • Deshi Spice, Bedford
  • Taste of India, Old Hatfield, Herts
  • Barton Bangla Brasserie, Preston
  • Kushboo Restaurant, Barton Latimer, Kettering
  • Ashuka Guildford, Surrey
  • Spice Club, Bridgewater, Somerset
  • Mahaan, Worthing, West Sussex
  • Village Indiya, South Woodford, London
  • Taj Mahal, Chippenham, Wiltshire
  • Paprika Club, Leamington Spa
  • Sonargaon, Whitechapel, London

Best Curry Takeaways of the year

  • Love Curry, Cardiff
  • Tarleton, Preston
  • Fusion Foods, Markate, St Alabans
  • Mya’s Spicery, Morpeth, Northumberland
  • Bombay Spice, Bonnyrigg, Scotland
  • Aroma, Wilmslow, Cheshire
  • Baabzi, Warwick
  • Pink Chilliz, Canvey Island, Essex
  • Chutney Express, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham

Best Customer’s Choice of the year

  • Himalaya, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
  • Three Spices, Ruddington, Nottingham
  • Haweli, Ealing, London

Best Curry House Supplier of the year

  • Sardar Food Products

                Reading Berkshire

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Curry industry is an inspiration says Cobra’s Karan Bilimoria

Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and president of the CBI, says the curry industry has been ‘an inspiration’ in times of adversity, and that he is grateful for the support his business has received from the sector.

Bilimoria also recently attended the Curry Life Awards 2021, held in October. He said:

“I was pinching myself at the Awards, thinking, was this event really happening after the nightmare we have been through for over 18 months? [Are] 750 members of our industry from all around the UK in-person together? There was such a wonderful atmosphere, and it also highlighted the huge sacrifice made and the amazing compassion shown by our restaurants to their local communities, including the NHS. It was of course also a time to remember the tragic loss of loved ones that many of us have experienced.”

Bilimoria also commented how, as President of the CBI, he was privileged to chair the Business 7 (B7) summit in May prior to the UK hosting the G7 in June.

“At the B7, Dr Gita Gopinath, chief economist of the IMF, predicted that the UK would bounce back quickly and strongly from the pandemic because of the £400 billion given by the government to support businesses and our economy, as well as our world-leading vaccination programme,” he said. “In reality we have seen since this summer an energy crisis, fuel crisis, supply chain challenges, labour shortages and the pingdemic. Moreover our tax burden in this country is now at its highest level in seven decades. Inflation has already hit 4.2% and there is the prospect of rising interest rates from an all-time low. The recovery is fragile.”

However, Bilimoria acknowledged that we now are seeing demand coming back. “I believe that we are beating Covid with our continuing strong vaccination programme including boosters, the free availability of lateral flow tests with regular testing proving conclusively very effective,” he said “ The recent success of Pfizer’s anti-viral treatment, tablets for Covid where the trials showed a reduction for hospitalisations and deaths by 89% – this is a game changer.”

Bilimoria said that as long as the hospitality industry continues to show the spirit of resilience and adaptation and in particular continues to be innovative, it will succeed as an industry.

“At Cobra our innovations of King Cobra, our beer double fermented like champagne, produced in Belgium, and our Malabar Blonde IPA are examples of how one can continually innovate successfully. I am so grateful for the support we have received from the curry industry particularly in times of acute adversity – you are an inspiration to the whole country.”

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Tripadvisor site: almost one million fake reviews in 2020

Close to one million reviews submitted to Tripadvisor’s site in the last year were fake, according to the travel platform’s 2021 Review Transparency Report.

The report, published at the end of October, analyzed a full year of data on reviews submitted by the global travel community. In 2020, travellers submitted more than 26 million reviews, of which more than 12 million were for restaurants, more than eight million for hotels and more than four million for experiences. Tripadvisor rejected or removed over two million of these reviews, representing 8.6% of all submissions, that did not comply with the platform’s community standards. In total, 3.6% of all review submissions last year were identified as fake, with the majority being rejected before they were posted to the Tripadvisor site.

There are a number of reasons why Tripadvisor rejects or removes reviews, ranging from community standards violations, such as the use of profanity, to fake review activity.

Becky Foley, head of Trust and Safety at Tripadvisor, said: “Knowing that you can rely on trusted guidance from travelers who have been there before has never been more important. As we continue the work to earn the trust travelers place in our business, we take the enforcement of our community standards incredibly seriously as we use the best in technology and human moderation practices to fight fraud. Today’s report demonstrates how effective our team, tactics and technology are at maintaining those standards.”

This is Tripadvisor’s second Review Transparency Report, with the previous one released in 2019.

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From political activism in the 1960s to crypto currency in the 2020s, Dilchad has provided an inspiring place to both meet and eat.

It was in the 1960s when London made its mark as a leading global financial centre. It was around this time – in 1962 to be precise, that Dilchad first opened its doors, just a stone’s throw away from Liverpool Street Station. Founded by the Choudhury family, the business is still very much a family affair, but its food and its diners have changed considerably over the last six decades.

From its inception, the restaurant was popular with workers in the financial district but it also thrived as a hub for political gatherings. The UK branch of the Awami League, the political party which led the movement for Bangladesh’s independence, established its headquarters at the restaurant in 1970. Abdul Matlib Choudhury, the founder of Dilchad Restaurant, was not only a supporter of the Awami League, but also a leader of the first generation Bangladeshi community in the UK.

Today, ties between the restaurant and the politics of Bangladesh are just as strong. Abdul had five sons, Matiur Rahman Choudhury, Ataur Rahman Choudhury, Azizur Rahman Choudhury, Shafiqur Rahman Choudhury and Hamidur Rahman Choudhury, all of whom have worked at the restaurant at different stages since its opening. Shafiqur now spends most of his time in Bangladesh and was elected as the first British Bangladeshi MP in Bangladesh, in 2009. He is currently an influential politician and acting president of the ruling Awami League’s Sylhet region. Shafiqur was also once a community activist, and a well- known face in the community as well as a former leader of several organisations in the UK, including the Bangladesh Welfare Association. Other members of the Choudhury family live in the UK and regularly visit those in London .

“My father started Dilchad Restaurant in 1962 and also had ties to the Bangladesh Caterers Association in the UK, as well as being a community leader,” Shafiqursays.“This restaurant was not only a place for business lunches, it was for the community too, with many political meetings held here, particularly during the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan”.

Dilchad also served as a meeting place during the movement for independence in Bangladesh, no doubt with many heated conversations taking place and important decisions made, in a venue nearly 5,000 miles away from where the action took place. The father of the nation and founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, visited Dilchad while his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister of Bangladesh, has also been to the restaurant many times when she was the leader of the opposition.

Founder Abdul Matlib Choudhury

“It has changed a lot since we first opened,” reflects Hamidur, the youngest son of Abdul, who currently runs Dilchad alongside Moshiur Rahman Choudhury, the third generation of the Choudhury family. “There used to be very little competition but nowadays you can see so many more Indian restaurants in the area. “Most of the customers were business people during the day and the local community in the evening. It was a place to come for friendship and good food. But gradually over the years, the business clientele has changed – many offices relocated to Canary Wharf in the 1990s, then we had the recessions in the early 2000s and 2010 and the pandemic in the last year, with many people now working from home.”

Dilchad Restaurant was established sixty years ago by first-generation immigrant Abdul Matlib Choudhury. It has survived in the same family’s hands, and now it is run by his youngest son Hamidur and grandson Moshiur. From left, Moshiur Rahman Choudhury, Shafiqur Rahman Choudhury and Hamidur Rahman Choudhury.

A changing scene

The restaurant has also become smaller – it used to seat around 170 in total but now offers 90 covers. Moshiur started working there back in 1994, although between then and now, he spent around 10 years away from the restaurant industry working in the commercial property sector.  Moshiur acknowledges that it’s rare for someone of his generation to want to join the family restaurant business but having visited Dilchad regularly when he was a child, he is keen to keep the tradition and the memories going. For him, the biggest change over the last quarter of a century has been with diners.

“We used to get mainly men at that time, those working in nearby offices –  now we have a mix of men and women and a crowd that is younger,” he says, referencing the opening of the nearby Chapter, a building providing accommodation for students, as one driver for this. “The demographic is a lot more diverse – with people from Asia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it’s a different vibe. We still get many businesses dining with us but it’s moved away from the traditional finance and insurance backgrounds you would expect – our diners work at start-ups, IT and crypto currency businesses.”

In keeping with the tradition of being a meeting place for seismic events and topical subjects, The Crypto Curry Club, a series of networking lunches for blockchain and cryptocurrency experts, held several events at the restaurant this year. Founded by Erica Stanford, the aim of the Club is to share insights and ideas about the crypto currency space, while enjoying Indian cuisine. Fintech Starling Bank has also held events at Dilchad.

This new demographic also has different tastes, preferring lighter, smaller dishes. Dilchad has looked to reduce its menu in recent years, but some of its loyal, older customers prefer the traditional curries. Keeping everyone happy is a delicate balancing act, as Moshiur explains.

“A demand for less ‘heavy’ lunches meant we introduced some lighter dishes such as Chicken Tikka Caesar Salad and Kuchumber Salad. People are still asking for chicken Madras, Vindaloo and Korma so we’ve kept these on the menu. And with more competition in the surrounding area, we need to keep up with the latest trends. We are developing a street food menu in the new year, and more tapas-style sharing dishes.”

Dilchad also has a range of signature dishes, including Katmandu, a fiery curry of chicken or lamb, with Naga chilli blended with fresh green chillies and Scotch bonnets. It’s also expanded its vegan offering, although as Moshiur points out, many Indian dishes are vegan.

Sheik Hasina at a press conference in Dilchad (2003)

Staying on top of tech

To keep moving with the times, Dilchad has worked with several development chefs and sought advice from friends in Bangladesh on new or popular food trends. Ensuring that dishes are ‘instagrammable’ is also important. In previous years, Dilchad would advertise in publications such The Evening Standard but Moshiur says this is no longer cost effective.

“Now, it’s all about social media marketing, with Facebook and Instagram and we are getting another company to look at how we can best use TikTok – it’s a great platform for showcasing food,” he says.”

Dilchad used to organize regular Bangladeshi food festivals. One such festival was in September 2003. Mr. Gomez and Humayun, the Bengali chefs of Pubarni Hotel in Bangladesh were present. Dilchad director Shafiqur Rahman Chowdhury is seen on the left.

Over the years, the lunchtime trade has greatly reduced, reflected in the fact that many of the shops along the nearby Wentworth Street have long since shut their doors. And during the pandemic, the restaurant was closed as there was little demand for takeaways in the surrounding area, particularly with the majority of offices shut. Dilchad used the time wisely, developing different menus and since reopening in May this year, it has tried to ramp up its takeaway offer and says it is doing a lot more of these than it used to.

Its main focus though is on the dine-in trade. To continue to attract a new generation of diners, it’s important to invest in technology.

“I am looking at developing an online ordering facility and online booking system, customers order from these but the established ones now take a massive cut,” says Moshiur. “It’s important to keep up to speed with channels such as Instagram too – the food has to look stunning and it can be challenging to make a curry look attractive. We’ve got a popular thali dish that lends itself well to this.”

In 2022, Dilchad is marking its 60th anniversary, and plans to celebrate in style with a week-long series of events. The restaurant hopes to stage a charity event, offering menus priced as they would have been in the 1960s, featuring dishes from that era too.

For the present time however, Dilchad’s challenges are in keeping with many other restaurants.

“Christmas time should be one of our busiest periods, but in light of the new Covid-19 variant, we’ve had lots of cancellations for bigger groups,” says Moshiur. “We’ve also seen people dining out more in the earlier part of the week – Wednesdays and Thursdays are very busy but Fridays less so. The going is very tough but I am hopeful we will see a turning point.”

Dilchad Restaurant
24 Widegate St, London E1 7HP, Tel. 020 7247 9614

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To celebrate the culinary diversity of the United Kingdom, the British Curry Festival will be returning to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to showcase the Best of British Cuisine in a top five-star luxury hotel setting.

The event will occur at the InterContinental Dhaka from 16-29 October 2022, with highly-acclaimed Michelin-star chef experts in the British culinary scene joining the British Curry Festival team. He will showcase the ‘Best of British Regional Dishes’ while fellow chefs will focus on recreating favourite curry dishes from Britain’s high streets.

The choice of Dhaka marks a ‘homecoming’ for the festival – the first such one was held at the same venue in 2002 when the hotel was called Dhaka Sheraton, and it has been nearly 12 years since the festival last took place in Dhaka.

Curry Life developed the concept of the British Curry Festival in the UK, where curry is one of the most popular foods, considered akin to the national cuisine. The event aims to showcase British curry as a brand with the help of talented curry chefs and leading hotels and support from the British High Commission/Embassy and sponsors. The festival plays a vital role in Curry Life magazine’s aim to promote British Bangladeshi chefs’ artistic and culinary skills, highlighting their leading role in ensuring curry’s popularity in the UK and beyond.

The event is truly international. Over the last decade, it has promoted the best British curry in continents as diverse as Europe and Asia, helping further chefs’ careers by showcasing British curry cuisine on a global stage.

Festival founder and editor of Curry Life magazine Syed Belal Ahmed said: “We are delighted to bring the British Curry Festival back to its roots in Dhaka where the curry trail started. People of Bangladeshi origin are historically known to have invented Britain’s most loved national dish of ‘Chicken Tikka Masala.’

“Hopefully, this festival will create the opportunity not only to showcase the best of British curry cuisine but also help our curry chefs bring fresh ideas to their menus here in the UK. by working alongside the culinary masters of Bangladesh.”

The event was previously known as the British Fusion Food Festival, later adapted to Taste of Britain Curry Festival and most recently the British Curry Festival.

Curry is famous all over the world and originated from the Indian sub-continent. The spice trade between the Indian sub-continent and Europe is often cited as the primary catalyst for curry houses or Indian restaurants in every major European city, including London. Curry now outsells most European foods, with the curry industry reportedly making a turnover of several billion pounds sterling annually.

It is estimated that there are 12,000 curry houses in Britain, and over 90% of them are run and operated by people of Bangladeshi origin.

A high profile delegation of restaurateurs will be travelling along with a VIP from the UK with the festival team. For those who wish to join this exciting culinary journey, please call or message Syed Ahmed on 07956 439458 for further details.

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World Curry Expo showcases top suppliers

The World Curry Expo, held on 10 October at the Royal Lancaster London, featured a range of suppliers to the culinary industry, including Just Eat, Cobra Beer, Work Permit Cloud, Unisoft, Sardar Food Products, Novopay, Super Tuff Menus, Mr Printers, Lakeland Dairies, AB Pest Control and Mahi & Co. Visitors were also able to find out more about the Curry Life Chefs Club from a dedicated stand.

The Expo was held in the afternoon, prior to the Curry Life Awards 2021 and Gala Dinner, with many attending the Expo over the course of the day. There were also plenty of networking opportunities and feedback from the event has been extremely positive, with attendees praising the variety of sectors exhibiting.

“The range of suppliers was excellent and it was great to be able to talk to brands such as Just Eat and Lakeland Dairies, alongside businesses that offer accountancy, payment, printing and legal support,“ said Abdul Rahman of Taste of Nawab.

“It was a very productive afternoon, having many valuable suppliers in one place made it easy to seek out information and to build relationships,” said Abdul Ahad of City Spice.

“Once again, it was a fantastic event and was better than last year. We had lots of people visiting and wanting to know more about our products. For me, I know this will turn into a sale. I am happy”, said stall holder Mahfuz Sardar of Sardar foods.

This was the third Curry Life Expo to be held, with the previous one having taken place in 2019, as the event was postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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No Place Like Home

Whitechapel’s Sonargaon delivers authentic Bangladeshi food buffet-style and provides a place to chat, giving a new meaning to comfort eating

 ‘Adda’, which roughly means gossip or a bit of conversation, is a favourite pastime among Bengalis. And you’ll see plenty of this at Sonargaon restaurant in Whitechapel, east London. Opened in 2017, on the former site of another Indian establishment, the restaurant has quickly built a reputation as a place where you can happily hangout and catch up with friends and family. With its location by Whitechapel market, there’s a steady footfall from people shopping and stopping for a bite to eat.

The restaurant, open from morning through to the night, from 9am until 11pm, is owned by TufazzalAlam, Babul Ahmed Chowdhury and Misba B S Chowdhury. All three are friends who had already worked together at another restaurant (they also have other business interests including a grocery store, which is located next door to the restaurant). Their aim is to bring a ‘quality Bangladeshi food experience and to ensure this is delivered with perfection.’ The restaurant is run buffet-style, helping to reinforce the idea of bringing communities together and sharing good conversation over food.

The dishes, focusing heavily on Bengali fare, are an obvious draw, with 30 items on offer at any one time, usually 25 savoury and five sweet options. You’ll find authentic dishes such as paratha with beef bhuna and beef liver curry – popular with Bengalis at breakfast time, and Kala Bhuna (on the bone), a fiery dish of fried meat, onion and shatkora (a bitter citrus fruit), cooked with the chef’s own spices. There are also a range of fish dishes, including Mrigal, a fish curry on the bone (using fish flown in from Bangladesh), a choice of homemade chutneys and sweet snacks that are made fresh daily. Buffet concepts often bring to mind food that may not be the freshest, but dishes at Sonargaon are cooked fresh daily, with many ingredients sourced from the grocer’s next door.

“The Bengali community likes to gossip – everyone gets to meet and come here for food and some ‘adda’,” says Alam, who first came to the UK in 2004. “It’s become a place for the local community to gather. There are not many restaurants in this area that have such a strong focus on Bengali dishes. Many of the dishes we serve are influenced by those you would find in Sylhet, in north-eastern Bangladesh.” Ninety percent of Bangladeshi origin people in the United Kingdom are from that region.

Even though the restaurant has yet to celebrate five years in business, it has already built up a loyal customer base; as Alam explains, those who visit Sonargaon feel right at home. The restaurant was also named ‘Best Bengali Food Restaurant 2021’ at the recent Curry Life Awards 2021. People are welcome to stay for a quick snack or for a more substantial meal, while an upstairs space can host events for around 100 or the entire restaurant can be used for events for up to 200 people. An outside counter also does a brisk takeaway business and was used extensively over the various lockdowns at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. With such space on offer, unsurprisingly Sonargaon is a popular venue choice for weddings and perhaps even more so post-pandemic, with its ability to host sizeable, rather than mass gatherings. It’s also in demand as a caterer for external events.

Around 95% of customers are Bengali, and they are not only from the surrounding areas, but from much further afield too, while the restaurant is also popular with westerners who would like to try some authentic dishes. Alam also made the unusual move of ensuring that all of his front-of-house staff are women, which lends a welcoming, caring vibe to an Indian restaurant, an environment that is often male-dominated. There are three main chefs and 10 waiters who work different shift patterns and Alam has known his employees for many years. This means that staff turnover at the restaurant is kept to a minimum and Sonargaon is not plagued by staffing issues to the extent that many other restaurants are in the current business climate.

“Our female front of house staff is a strong team and staffing isn’t such a big challenge for us,” says Alam. “We have more issues with the lack of parking available, as so many people make the effort to travel to eat here.”

Access to the restaurant may not be a problem for much longer, with a new station set to open in Whitechapel in 2022 – part of the Elizabeth Line, while a new town hall will be unveiled, also in 2022, on the site of the former Royal London Hospital. It’s a clear sign that the area is changing rapidly and that passing trade is set to grow. To capitalise on the potential for a growing lunch trade, Alam is looking to launch a ‘grab and go’ concept for the outside counter/takeaway side. He is also looking to expand the Sonargaon concept and is toying with the idea of opening a second restaurant.

“We want to encourage others in the UK to come to this place and try Bengali food to get inspired and be inspired,” he says “It’s a great place for small meetings, people can enjoy a traditional breakfast or a late night dinner in groups. We offer tradition and value for money too.” The name Sonargaon is taken from the popular tourist destination in Bangladesh, which was the old capital of Bengal, roughly about 40km from the capital Dhaka. It translates as ‘golden village’ or ‘heritage village’. Alam and his partners have certainly spotted a golden opportunity and made their own restaurant a special place among Whitechapel’s Bengali community. Their next challenge will be taking the concept to a wider audience.

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