The Story Of London’s First Indian Restaurant.
It’s commonly assumed that London’s first Indian restaurants were set up by Bangladeshi immigrants in the 1960s and ‘70s, but actually, the first one was established over 200 hundred years ago, in 1810. Hindoostane Coffee House was owned by Sake Dean Mahomed, a charismatic Bengali traveler, surgeon, entrepreneur, and captain in the British East India Company. He was also the first Indian to publish books in English. HCH was located at 34 George Street — now renumbered as 102 George Street — in Marylebone, between Gloucester Place and Baker Street. It’s now marked by a Green Plaque, unveiled on the building by the City of Westminster in 2005.
But first, a little background
Indian curry was already popular in England in the 19th century. In fact, spices had been present in English cookery since the time of the Crusades in the late 11th century. Hannah Glasse’s The Art Of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, first published in 1747, is one of the first cookbooks to give recipes for curries and pilaus. The early British curries and pilaus were very mild, flavored with salt, peppercorns, coriander seeds, lemon juice, and more herbs than spices. By the 19th century, turmeric, cayenne, ginger, cumin, fenugreek, and caraway seeds had been introduced. The cooking methods were also different; for instance, the British were reluctant to fry the meat in ghee or fat, preferring to braise it in stock. Mobeen Butt, founder and director of the Muslim Museum Initiative, which records the history of Muslims in Britain, tells us, “there were other restaurants serving ‘Indian’ food before Sake Dean Mahomed’s Hindoostane Coffee House, but he was the first to be run by an Indian.” According to the MMI Indeed the ‘Mistress of Norris Street Coffee House, Haymarket’, declared in Public Advertiser, 6 December 1773, that she not only sold “true Indian curry paste” but would “at the shortest notice [send] ready dressed curry and rice, also India pilaws, to any part of the town.” This must have been the first Indian home delivery service. So coffee houses and taverns had already been serving curries alongside their normal menus, a few since as early as the 18th century. Additionally, the British who’d been enjoying spicy food in the 19th century India attempted to recreate the dishes in their own homes when they returned.