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October 3, 2005

Got Curry? The British Curry Awards Top 10 Curry Restaurants

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Last week marked the inaugural British Curry Awards Dinner, held at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

Enam Ali — owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom and the editor of Spice (a curry house trade magazine) — was the the driving force behind the establishment of the awards ceremony.

Curry is no small beer in the U.K.: British curry restaurants serve 2.5 million customers a week and generate sales of £3.2 billion ($5.6 billion) a year.

Without further ado, then, the envelope please.

And the winners are:

■ Aziz, Oxford, +44 (0)1865-794945

■ Malik’s, Cookham, +44 (0)1628-520085

■ Bombay Brasserie, London SW7, +44 (0)20-7370 4040

■ Tamarind, London W1, +44 (0)20-7629 3561

■ Curry Mahal, Harrow, +44 (0)20-8422 7976

■ Rajnagar International, Olton, Solihull, +44 (0)121-742 8140

■ Aagrah, Shipley +44 (0)1274-530880

■ Vujon, Newcastle, +44 (0)191-221 0601

■ Britannia Spice, Edinburgh, +44 (0)131-555-2255

■ Juboraj Rhiwbina, Cardiff, +44 (0)2920-628894

Here's Nicholas Lander's October 1 Financial Times story on the festivities.

    Glitz in Search of Dynasties

    Towards the end of his speech at the inaugural British Curry Awards Dinner last week, Enam Ali - owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom, editor of Spice, a curry house trade magazine, and the man behind these awards - stopped and allowed himself a nervous smile.

    "You know, many say that the future is orange, but we all know that the future is curry."

    The quip was greeted rapturously by the 1,200 restaurateurs, staff and families in London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

    But, as this and other speeches were to reveal, however popular British curry restaurants are at the moment - and it is estimated that they serve 2.5m customers a week, generating sales of £3.2 billion a year - they face an uncertain future.

    Ali and his colleagues are hoping that an infusion of glamour from these awards will go some way towards helping.

    As we gathered over trays of vegetable samosas, seekh kebabs and Kingfisher beer, the mood was confident.

    Television cameras were taking the event to 126 countries round Europe and the Indian sub-continent.

    There was a message of support from the politically astute Tony Blair, no less.

    Dotted round the room, paling in comparison with some wonderfully colourful sarees, were the gold chains of Lord Mayors, present to support their local restaurants.

    And there was culinary glamour in the shape of three-star Michelin chef Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in Bray, invited, along with Harold McGee the American food writer and Blumenthal's long-term collaborator, by his local curry restaurateur Malik Ahmed of Malik's in Cookham.

    By the time the award ceremony took place, Ali and Sir Gulam Noon, whose Noon Products is the market leader in ready-made Indian meals producing almost 300,000 a day, had set out their stalls.

    First, they insisted on the words curry and spice rather than Indian when referring to restaurants.

    This is important because, although there were restaurateurs from as far afield as Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the event, the vast majority of restaurants the British so carelessly categorise as 'Indian' are, in fact, run by the Bangladeshi families who have settled in the UK since the late 1940s.

    Then Noon made a stirring call to arms: "The British invaded India in the 19th century with gunpowder. A century later [we] landed in the UK and transformed whole swathes of British society with curry powder. Without the success of the curry restaurant I could not have built my business. I have ridden on the back of your achievements."

    Even if there is some incompatibility between the ready-meal market and the curry restaurant, this was just what Ali had hoped to hear.

    He began his speech by explaining how several great curry restaurants had closed because the sons of the founders had not wanted to carry on the family businesses.

    In a touching sequence the faces of some of the UK's first curry chefs were flashed on the large screens behind him.

    "Many of the pioneers of our glorious past passed away without the recognition they deserved," Ali said. "We don't want this to happen in the future."

    Here was the nub of the evening.

    Britain's curry houses are successful not just because the food caught the imagination of an increasingly adventurous eating public, but also because they combine the charms of home cooking with the intimacy of being looked after by numerous members of the same family.

    When Mohammed Aslam, managing director of the nine-strong group of Aagrah restaurants in Yorkshire, stepped up to collect his award for the best restaurant in the North of England, he modestly attributed his company's success to nothing more than "the commercial development of our home cooking".

    But many curry restaurateurs are finding it increasingly difficult to entice their sons to take over.

    Long, anti-social hours, the low status of the profession and the higher education many curry restaurateurs are putting their children through are contributing to worries about the industry's future.

    Ali hopes the glamour and recognition associated with an awards ceremony might induce them to stay in the fold.

    Yet, by the time the ceremony drew to an end, there was only one thought on everyone's minds.

    Where was the food?

    Atypically for a gathering of so many restaurateurs, nothing had appeared since we sat down at 19:30pm.

    Each table boasted a large karai stand, designed to hold eight traditional karais, or bowls, in which we were expecting food provided by Madhu's of Southall, old hands in the Grosvenor House kitchens thanks to their reputation for cooking for large Indian social gatherings.

    Finally put to work, our waitress brought a series of dishes many in the room have helped establish as British favourites: chicken tikka; rogan josh; masala fried tilapia flown in from Lake Victoria in Kenya; chicken tikka masala; delicious aloo ravia, small aubergines stewed with new potatoes; vegetable biriani and tandoori naan bread.

    But, as I listened to the winners thanking their staff and families, I was struck that not one woman had received an award.

    British kitchens in general have been slow to accept female chefs and restaurateurs but it is now inconceivable to think of a prosperous British restaurant industry without the likes of Sally Clarke, Rose Grey, Angela Hartnett, Rebecca Mascheranas or Ruth Rogers.

    If the sons of the UK's curry restaurateurs aren't too keen to take over their parents' thriving curry restaurants shouldn't the owners be doing more to encourage their daughters?

October 3, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

Hello

Can you rectify your listing, please? The winner for Wales is not Juboraj from Cardiff but the Bokhara Brasserie from Bridgend

Thank you

Vijay

Posted by: Vijay Bhagotra | Oct 24, 2008 3:52:06 AM

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