I didn’t really start to eat out in Indian restaurants until I went to Huddersfield Polytechnic in the early 1980’s. I can’t remember an Indian restaurant in my hometown of Morecambe – we’d ventured as far as China, but India was an outpost too far in those days!
Huddersfield as a town was much more multi-cultural than the seaside town I grew up in, and along with the nearby city of Bradford, it provided an array of Asian eating opportunities.
However, it was my first year marketing lecturer who got me fired up about Indian cuisine. He was an aficionado on Indian food and took every opportunity he could to weave his eating out experiences into our weekly lecture. The rest of the week he lectured the marketing engineers, so he loved his weekly visit to the hotel and catering department – it was his chance to shine. Every week we’d hear stories about the famous Karachi Club in Bradford with its formica tables, no cutlery and chapattis instead of plates – it all sounded very exotic to me!
Despite the curry craze taking a while to spread to the north west coast, the British have long enjoyed food with a bit of bite. Some 200 years ago, an Indian migrant opened Britain’s first dedicated curry house in London’s Portman Square to cater for the fashion for spicy food. It was called the Hindostanee Coffee House. In the 19th Century Indian food became fashionable among the middle classes and Queen Victoria herself was said to enjoy the odd curry and she had an Indian staff who cooked Indian food every day.
The first truly popular Indian restaurant to open up was Veeraswamy in 1926 on Regent Street, London where specialist staff were recruited from India and produce was sourced from all over the world. Still thriving today, it’s the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK and has made it on to National Geographic’s 10 best destination & special restaurants in the world.
Curry and chips
After 1971, there was an influx of Bangladeshis following war in their homeland, particularly to London’s rundown East End (the now famous Brick Lane area) and to the industrial hubs of Manchester and Birmingham.
Curry goes posh
In 1982, Taj International Hotels opened The Bombay Brasserie in London and changed the entire Indian restaurant scene once again by setting a new benchmark for quality. Chutney Mary, The Cinnamon Club and Tamarind all followed in this contemporary style of cooking.
I spent the late 80’s and 90’s in Manchester and regularly visited the ‘Curry Mile’ in Rusholme which was densely populated with shops selling yellow gold, Sari’s and Indian sweets. The fight for business between the hoards of restaurants was intense, with waiter standing on the street trying to tempt you in. Others tried a more subtle approach with BYO drinks and magicians doing card tricks, which was actually very good entertainment!