As the nineteenth century dawned, the only eating establishments offering Indian cuisine were community meeting places for those who had jumped ship in London looking for a new life or, more often, been put ashore without any means of support. Some of these were Vandary (Indian chefs) who jumped ship to seek work in London’s growing restaurant community but not enough to provide any real impetus for the cuisine.
The first recorded Indian restaurant of the twentieth century was the Salut e Hind in Holborn in 1911 but the first to have any real influence was The Shafi opened by Mohammed Wayseem and Mohammed Rahim in 1920. Coming from North India they opened their cafe in London’s Gerard Street (now the centre of London’s Chinatown) and employed four or five ex seamen. It soon became a kind of community and Indian Student Centre. Indian students in the UK rose from 100 in 1880 to 1800 by 1931.
Soon The Shafi was taken over by Dharam Lal Bodua and run by an English manager with employees such as Israil Miah and Gofur Miah who were later to run their own establishments. One of Dharam’s great friends was Bir Bahadur from Delhi who opened The Kohinoor in Roper Street (pulled down in 1978) and was to have a major influence on the industry.
Ayub Ali Master opened a Curry cafe in Commercial Road, London in 1920s. He also later, started the Indian Seaman's Welfare league in 1943.These restaurants were, not surprisingly, mainly for Asians but in 1927 the first fashionable Indian restaurant opened when <Edward Palmer opened Veeraswamy’s Indian Restaurant in London’s RegentStreet where it still thrives today owned by Ranjit Mathrani and Namita Panjabi. Edward Palmer had been greatly encouraged by friends and acquaintances after his successful running of the Mughal Palace in The Empire Exhibition at Wembley a few years before and he brought staff from India and created a traditional atmosphere such that it became called “The ex-Indian higher serviceman’s curry club”. Many of the people from all over India who were later to become the backbone of the new ‘curry’ restaurant industry, learned their trade at The Veeraswamy. In 1935 Veeraswamy's was sold to Sir William Steward, M.P., who ran the restaurant for 40 years. He travelled the world in order to source produce and was dubbed 'the curry king' by The Times. His other claim to fame is the introduction of curry in a can. It was at Veeraswamy that lager is first said to have been introduced into Indian restaurants during a visit by the Prince of Denmark.
Queen Victoria, shortly after the Prince Consort's death, arranged for her son to marry Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the beautiful eldest daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. The couple wed at St. George's Chapel, Windsor on 10 March 1863. The Princess became Queen of England until her death in 1925. Prince Axel of Denmark first met Edward Palmer when visiting the Empire Exhibition at Wembley on May 2nd 1924. Palmer ran the fantastic Mughal Pavilion at this early 'Disneyland' venture and the King and Queen of Denmark also visited on 24th and 27th June. Having heard of the opening of Veeraswamy's, the Prince visited and was enchanted so much that he made a present of a case of the royal beer, Carlsberg and gave orders for a case to be delivered each year. Many staff learned their trade at Veeraswamy's at that time so Carlsberg became the beer of choice as they moved around Britain opening their own establishments.
The name of the restaurant was later changed to The Veeraswamy during ownership by Sarova Hotels and to Veeraswamy under the present ownership. Meanwhile Sordar and Shomsor Bahadur had come from India to join their brother and opened The Taj Mahal, Brighton; Taj Mahal, Oxford; Taj Mahal Northampton; Kohinoor, Cambridge; Kohinoor, Manchester all before the outbreak of the Second World War and mainly staffed by ex-seamen.Other establishments for the seamen, usually from the province of Sylhet, opened throughout the years between the wars, such as Abdul Rashim and Koni Khan’s coffee shop serving curry and rice on Victoria Dock Road around 1920. Gradually the development of Indian restaurants spread outwards from London between the two Great Wars and many of the restaurants that have influenced those established today were created. Amongst those in London pre 1939 were The Durbar on Percy Street owned by Asuk Mukerjee from Calcutta, and his compatriot from the same city Nogandro Goush who owned The Dilkush in Windmill Street. Asif Khan from Punjab had The Shalimar on Wardour Street and Jobbul Haque of Urrishi owned The Bengal India on Percy Street.
Abdul Gofur opened a cafe shop at 120 Brick Lane as well as others in New Road and Commercial Road and Ayub Ali Master came back from America in 1938 and opened Shah Jalal at 76 Commercial Street London. Shirref’s in Great Castle Street opened in 1935 and Halal, which still thrives today, opened in St Marks Street E1 in 1939.
Such was the influence of the Bahadur family that it was estimated that nearly all first generation East Pakistani, or what was to become Bangladeshi, restaurateurs learned their trade from the Bahadur brothers.
Many cafes opened up around the seaports of Britain by ex seamen but they had great difficulty in obtaining the necessary rice and spices. During the Second World War the social focus shifted to The Gathor, a basement cafe at 36 Percy Street, London but soon after Sanu Miah opened The Green Mask on Brompton Road, which became a centre for prominent East Pakistani’s and their politicians. Also in 1942-3 Mosrof Ali and Israil Miah opened The Anglo Asian at 146 Brompton Road, London and by 1957 Mosrof Ali also had The Durbar in Hareford Road. His last business was The Curry Garden Indian in 1975 before retiring in 1979.