By Sarah Rees

THE UK’s first dedicated Indian restaurant was opened in London in 1809 by a Bengali traveller, surgeon and entrepreneur Dean Mahomed.

The Hindoostane Coffee House, popular with colonial returnees, offered customers an authentic Indian experience with bamboo furniture, curry, and hookahs with real Chilm tobacco.

There are now around 9,500 Indian restaurants in the UK and the sector is hailed as a huge success story. According to the Federation of Specialist Restaurants, the annual turnover of the industry is approx £3bn a year and it employs over 60,000 people.

The period between 1980 and 2000 saw the largest emergence of new Indian restaurants (5,000) as the rising popularity of ethnic cuisine gathered momentum.

However, this period did much to damage the reputation of such establishments with their flock wallpaper and rippling waterfalls setting the scene for a trend in drunken revellers congregating at the local curry house when the pubs closed, demanding the hottest curry on the menu.

Many such restaurants dished up mediocre food, far removed from the authenticity of India’s great cuisine.

It was in 2000, in the aftermath of decades of ‘curry chaos’, that Spice Valley Balti (SVB) opened in Bromsgrove. Established by three brothers from the Bangladeshi Uddin family – Muhammad, Gias and Monir – the restaurant offered a superior Asian dining experience in a stylish, modern setting.

Now, after 15 years, the success of the business has predominantly been built on a strong reputation for its balti selection – with over 60 baltis on the menu.

All dishes are freshly prepared, using local ingredients where possible – including potatoes and coriander grown by the family. And, while Indian food is often full of calories, SVB uses very little oil or fat in the cooking process, creating a menu which is considerably healthier than many of the meals served in Britain’s Indian restaurants.

When SVB opened in Bromsgrove there were only two other Indian restaurants in the town. Now there are about 14 but ownership of some of these has changed over the years. Spice Valley Balti has been owned and managed by the same three brothers for a decade and a half. Five more family members now also work for the business.

Gias Uddin says: “This ensures we have the right number of staff to support the business at peak times. Our sister Mez helps with front of house and customers enjoy meeting our children, who work part time alongside college studies or other commitments.”

The success of the business is also attributed to the skills and passion of executive chef Muhammad Uddin. With his own unique culinary style, developed over 30 years, he creates dishes based on the influences of the traditional cooking methods and foods he enjoyed growing up in South Asia. However, he has accepted that the European palate differs to that of native Asians.

“Restaurant cooking in the UK differs to home cooking in Asia,” Muhammad explains. “Europeans prefer sweeter, milder dishes with meat generally served off the bone. We use milder sauces because that is what people enjoy.

“As a chef, it is all about understanding what our customers like and making sure we deliver, but I am keen to ensure they still experience the true flavours and essence of authentic Asian cuisine.”