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?
“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.
“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.”
241-243 High Road, South Woodford, London E18 2PB
Tel. 020 8505 2727