Food adds spice to Indian investment in UK

Food adds spice to Indian investment in UK

 Until some time ago, people of Indian origin or visitors from India would complain that the so-called 'Indian' food available in Britain is not the real thing – it is customised to the British taste, and is not tingling enough to satisfy the 'desi' palate.

The situation cannot be more different now, with several well-known Indian restaurant chains opening branches in various towns, and recent immigrants opening outlets offering authentic fare from their respective culinary regions in India.

As Indian investment grows in Britain across various sectors – from steel to luxury cars to IT to finance – Indian restaurant chains are also expanding.

Branches of well known restaurant chains such as Chennai Dosa and Sarvana Bhavan offering south Indian fare at modest prices can now be seen doing brisk business in various towns here.

Chennai Dosa, considered the fastest growing chain in Britain, opened its first restaurant in East London in 2003, and has now opened its 11th branch in Trafford, Manchester. Sarvana Bhavan has five branches in London, Leicester, Essex and harrow.

Since 1810, when Sake Dean Mohamed from Patna opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain, the 'Hindoostanee Coffee House' in George Street, central London, the Indian food industry has grown exponentially as Britain's love affair with spicy Indian food continued over the years.

Today, there are over 12,000 Indian restaurants across Britain and the industry is estimated to be worth 4.2 billion pounds annually, including the revenue from the large volumes of packed Indian food sold in supermarkets.

Chennai Dosa claims that after opening the first branch in 2003, "within a year we became the largest dosa maker in Europe. We brought about a radical change in the way South Indian food was defined in Europe".

Many 'Indian' restaurants here are owned by immigrants from Bangladesh, with fare often customised to the British palate.

For example, the popular 'chicken tikka masala' dish is a British invention, while some insist that the 'balti' cuisine also originated in Birmingham.

As Indian restaurant chains expand to Britain, many long-established 'Indian' restaurants here are struggling in difficult economic conditions and tight visa rules that prevent recruiting staff from the Indian sub-continent.

Many family owned restaurants have closed as children of owners prefer other professions, while some are innovating to remain in business.Expanding Indian restaurant chains transfer staff from India, while some entrepreneurs have opened region-specific restaurants that are doing brisk business.

Notable among these is the Shri Krishna Vada Pav, opened in Hounslow by entrepreneurs from Mumbai, offering 'vada pav' for 1 pound, and other Maharashtrian fare such as 'pav bhaji', 'misal pav' and 'bhel puri'. Its customers include many Britons.

The Trafford branch of Chennai Dosa is spread over two floors in the busy shopping centre of Stretford Mall.

General Manager and chef, Suresh Bhaskar, said: "We looked at venues all over Manchester, including the city centre, but we felt the Stretford Mall had the right location for us...We are already a very well established brand and people know and love our food".

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall manager, said the opening of Chennai Dosa was a very exciting new development: "Chennai Dosa is going to offer another very good reason to come to the Stretford Mall and offer the community a chance to sample some wonderful cultural cookery".

He added: "It will create a substantial amount of new jobs for the area to add to more than 750 jobs which the mall and its retailers already provide. I think it will be a tremendous draw for new and existing customers and reflects the positive developments which are happening at Stretford Mall all as we move into 2012".

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