Flavours of some best Indian takeaways during lockdown
By Sam Smith
Curry life has reached out to some of the most popular restaurants and takeaways to learn how they are dealing with lockdown. But also, how this has impacted the food they serve and how customers are responding, all with an emphasis on flavours. This is what they told us…..
Restaurateur Manik Miah of Haweli in Ealing had a lot to say when it came changing customer tastes. “Our philosophy is simple; we provide generous portions at a reasonable price, but our real selling point is customers will experience unique flavours in the dishes we create. And we enjoy creating new dishes.”
During the pandemic, Manik told us that customers are mostly ordering the classic curries, and this is what’s supporting Haweli during lockdown. But he also told us that before lockdown, he noticed some significant changes in customer tastes.
“We’ve really been able to create some truly amazing dishes. And our customers have been very receptive to them. For example, we’re using our grill a lot more as well as making curry. Our tuna steak cooked in a variety of spices is becoming quite famous.”
“This dish is so different from what people are used to ordering when they visit a restaurant like ours. But the more unique dishes we create the more customers are willing to try them. We once had someone order our tuna steak dish every day of the week!”
“Our grilled asparagus with lamb or chicken is also very popular. It’s so different, we cook it in turmeric with poppy seeds, butter and pepper. We’re also seeing vegan food really taking off too. This gives us more opportunity to create new and exciting dishes.”
Ruhel Hoque of The Indian Ocean in Cambridge told us, “It’s our old favorites that have carried us during lockdown. Curries like chicken tikka masala, madras and korma have continued to be popular. They are also easy to produce and meals like these travel well.”
He did discuss the challenges of lockdown and how his customers’ tastes are changing. “There’s a scarcity of certain ingredients at the moment, such as turmeric. So we’ve had to reduce our menu during lockdown. We have plenty of stock, but it’s still a concern. If this situation continued indefinitely then I fear for many restaurants and takeaways.”
“Our customers know what they like, and they tend to stick to these dishes. This is especially true of our older customers. They love their traditional curries. But before lockdown we did notice customers’ palates are changing, especially among younger or millennial customers. They are taking an active interest in more authentic dishes and flavours.”
Ruhel went on to explain in more detail. “Grilled meat is now more popular. Flavours and spices from traditional Bangladeshi and Indian dishes, or a fusion of smaller dishes which, when ordered together, complement each other. Even if they originate from different regions. Sadly, these meals don’t travel well and aren’t well suited for takeaway.”
Shozna Restaurant – Rochester
Jamal Uddin Ahmed of Shozna Restaurant in Kent said of his experience, “We offered takeaways beforehand, so we’re lucky that we’ve been able to adapt quickly. Although it’s only half the experience. Customers visit us to enjoy the flavours in full effect along with the atmosphere.”
He told us about his customers’ takeaway habits during lockdown. “Our popular dishes before lockdown are still the most popular ones now. People still like what they’ve always liked. But our house specials are becoming more popular. Some customers are absolutely branching out, they are experimenting with more traditional and authentic recipes.”
“Many return to what they like, but it’s nice to see customers broadening their horizons. Customers are becoming more health conscious too, so we’re seeing a lot of plant-based and grilled food being ordered, in particular fish.
“Our fish curries and fresh grilled fish is really growing in popularity. This allows us to prepare more authentic dishes. Understanding spices and having the knowledge of what works together as a chef helps us teach that to our customers, who get a feel for it themselves. It helps their palate develop and gets them used to more intense flavours.”
Zak Khan, the owner of Zyka in Reading gave us his insight. “Today, people have authentic recipes at their fingertips, so they want something more. There are also trends to consider.”
“Smaller dishes are becoming more popular, similar to tapas but of course it’s traditional Indian and Bangladeshi recipes. An increasing number of customers now like to order a variety of small dishes to try them all. This is a great way for them to experience new flavours.”
Zak explains that while traditional curry dishes are still popular, he’s noticed some customers are moving on from their regular favourites to explore new but similar dishes.
“Those who may have liked korma or masala before may find they like dhansak or karai dishes. We’re selling a lot of dhansak through takeaway orders at the moment and we think there’s a connection.
“Dhansak and other sweet and hot dishes can be addictive. They also serve as a fantastic gateway to other dishes, allowing customer palates to evolve further. We hope this will be the case when we reopen to sit-down diners.”
6 Park Lane, Reading RG31 5DL
Tel: 0118 942 7788, www.zyka.co.uk
Kennington Tandoori, London
Dr Kowsar Haque from Kennington Tandoori told us about his approach to takeaway food during lockdown. “We run our restaurant as a separate business to our takeaway, so during the pandemic we switched our focus to takeaway only.”
“We’ve used online platforms since 2009, so everything we do is data driven. It allows us to analyse trends and track which dishes are ordered the most. When we switched to takeaways, we used this data to strip back out menu to just the four most popular dishes, korma, masala, rogon josh and our famous Goan vindaloo.”
“We were so busy. Serving these four dishes primarily has helped us support our business throughout the pandemic. We gradually expanded the menu, adding more items over time. This includes many of our vegan recipes, or vegan versions of our popular dishes.”
Kowsar explained to us why he thinks this model was successful. “Curry is comfort food; in fact, all takeaway is comfort food. People order a takeaway to eat it at home and relax. And this is what people have needed most during lockdown.”
“When people want exciting flavours they tend to visit a restaurant and enjoy that experience, which is different to ordering a takeaway. We look forward to welcoming our customers back for this when the time comes.”
313 Kennington Road, London SE11 4QE
Tel: 020 7735 9247, www.kenningtontandoori.com
Taj Cuisine – Chatham, Kent
Abul Monsur of the Taj Cuisine in Kent reflected on what’s changed for his business during lockdown saying, “We’re still selling the usual madras and korma meals, there’s always a market for these dishes. But we also have plenty of customers who like to order more adventurous dishes, even during lockdown.”
“We’re finding ways to make this happen, our curries are still popular but we’re getting a lot of orders for food like shashlick. Something we can serve in a container and our customers can eat it straight out of that. These dishes have increased in popularity during lockdown.”
Abul told us about his customers and how understanding who they are and the flavours they prefer has helped sustain his business during the pandemic. “It all depends on that customer’s palate. We use a lot of English herbs alongside our traditional recipes to create unique dishes.”
“Before lockdown we had a gentleman come here for his birthday. His present was a unique dish cooked just for him. Nothing that’s already on the menu, something tailored to his tastes. He told me it was the best birthday present ever. It’s hard to create experiences like this through takeaway food, but we’re finding a way.”