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UK honours an Indian legend

Jane Austen?s dashing hero Mr Darcy could very well have enjoyed hot curry in London, writes Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Oct 01, 2005 00:38 IST
Vijay Dutt

Jane Austen’s dashing hero in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy, could very well have enjoyed hot curry here.

Patna-born Sake Dean Mahomed had opened his curry house, Hindoostane Coffee House, the first-ever in England, in 1810 in a Georgian building in Marylebone, London. He opened it in the midst of the Napoleonic wars — the period in which Austen set her novel.

The Luftwaffe destroyed the building at 102, George Street, Marylebone, but on Thursday, Lord Mayor of Westminster Tim Joiner unveiled a plaque in Mahomed’s honour next to the 1970s apartments. He said, “We are celebrating 195 years of the Indian curry houses in Britain.

“We are celebrating something that has become an institution as much as a part of the British way of life as the pub.” He was stating a fact — a 1997 survey showed Chicken Tikka Masala had overtaken Britain’s national favourite fish and chips.

Historians say Mahomed’s restaurant was a high-class affair, decorated in the colonial style and offered “what the greatest epicures of the time said was unequalled to any curries ever made in England”.

Mahomed, who came to Britain in 1784 after serving the East India Company’s army, had claimed his coffee house was for the gentry and nobility where they can enjoy hookha with real chilam tobacco and Indian dishes.

Peter Grove, author of Curry Culture — A Very British Love Affair, said Mahomed’s place would have been very different from most curry houses today. It was designed to cater to those who had been over in India and could not get their servants to reproduce the food they had on the sub-continent.

The venture failed after two years because eating out was yet to catch up. But Mahomed, who was declared bankrupt in 1812, moved on to become famous. In 1821, Mahomed opened his own baths, which he claimed cured ailments, on the sea front and King George 1V anointed him Shampooing Surgeon to the King. He died in 1851, aged 92.

The coffee house carried on until in 1833, under different owners.