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Hindoostane Coffee House: London’s First Indian Restaurant

According to Rylance’s account in the book, the restaurant had a relaxed ambience with a colonial style decor, and probably served mildly spiced curries.

  • Mapping the history of Indian restaurant in London, it has been revealed that the first Indian restaurant was established over 200 hundred years ago in 1810
  • With HCH Mahmoed endeavoured to serve ‘Indianised British food’ in an elite and comfortable surrounding
  • Much later, in the early 20th century, sailors from East Pakistan, the present Bangladesh, opened eating establishments in London for the members of their community

The variety of Indian cuisine today reflects a 5000-year history of a blend of various communities and cultures, leading to diverse flavours and regional cuisines. The coming of the Mughals, the British, and Portuguese further added to epicurean delights in the country.

Indian cuisine was further influenced by the spice trade between India and Europe and is frequently termed by historians as the primary reason for Europe’s Age of Discovery. Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia.

Indian style and taste of cooking have also shaped other cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia, the British Isles and the Caribbean.

Just like the way food influences travelled to India, similarly, Indian cuisine and recipes were appreciated abroad. Specific dishes and spices have become immensely popular across the world leading to Indian restaurants gaining ground globally.

Mapping the history of an Indian restaurant in London, it has been revealed that the first Indian restaurant was established over 200 hundred years ago in 1810.

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‘Hindoostane Coffee House’ (HCH) owned by Sake Dean Mahomed, a charming Bengali traveller, surgeon, entrepreneur and captain in the British East India Company, was the first Indian restaurant in London, reports Londonist.com.

Sake Dean Mahomed. Image Source: Wikipedia.org
Sake Dean Mahomed. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

HCH was previously 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.

Since Indian curry was already famous in England during the 19th century and Mahomed was an ambitious entrepreneur, he wanted to capitalise on this growing market and affinity.

With this target group in mind, he established the Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club in 1810, which with time was known as the Hindoostane Coffee House.

HCH wasn’t a coffee house in the contemporary sense of the term serving hot drinks, but a concept used by many restaurants at that time after drinking coffee had become a trend.

With HCH, he endeavoured to serve ‘Indianised British food’ in an elite and comfortable surrounding.

He first announced his intentions with a rather elaborate advertisement in The Morning Post, 2 February 1810, which read as, “Sake Dean Mahomed, manufacturer of the real currie powder, takes the earliest opportunity to inform the nobility and gentry, that he has, under the patronage of the first men of quality who have resided in India, established at his house, 34 George Street, Portman Square, the Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club…”

However, not much is known about HCH. A book was written by Ralph Rylance ‘The Epicure’s Almanack’, London’s first restaurant guide has a slight mention of the Indian restaurant.

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Rylance refers to Mahomed as ‘Sidi Mohammed’, and said that the restaurant “opened… for the purpose of giving dinners in the Hindoostanee style, with other refreshments of the same genus. All the dishes were dressed with curry powder, rice, cayenne and the best spices of Arabia.”

According to Rylance’s account in the book, the restaurant had a relaxed ambience with a colonial style decor, which probably served mildly spiced curries.

Born as Sheikh Din Muhammad in Bihar, Mahomed was way ahead of his time. He singularly took up the Indian food business at the time when Indian cuisine was making its way into the heart of the Britishers.

Much later, in the early 20th century, sailors from East Pakistan, the present Bangladesh, opened eating establishments in London for the members of their community.

‘Salut e Hind’ was the first to open in Holborn in 1911, followed by The ‘Kohinoor’ in Roper Street, and ‘Curry Café’ on Commercial Street in the 1920s. The most successful and influential among them was ‘The Shafi’ in Gerard Street that was opened in 1920.

-This article is prepared by Bulbul Sharma, a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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