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Friday, 26 August 2016

Recipe for Prawn Balichow by Chef Asharaf Valappil of Strand Palace Hotel

Authentic home-style Indian food and a touch of fine dining are the speciality of Asharaf Valappil, sous chef at Strand Palace’s Indian restaurant, Daawat.

Asharaf’s cooking is influenced by the rich culinary heritage of Kerala, his homeland in south-western India, otherwise known as the ‘Land of Spices, so his repertoire of dishes explodes with spice and rich flavour.

Also experienced in regional Indian, Asian, Thai and Italian cuisine, Asharaf works alongside Strand Palace’s head chef, Martin Lynch, to recreate dishes from regions including the Indian Malabar coast, Goa, Kashmir, and the Punjab.

Asharaf even offers an exotic version of very English Afternoon Tea or High Chai – a mix of spicy savouries, traditional Indian cakes, or dainty delicacies including good old British scones with a generous dollop of cream. Simply spiffing!

Prawn Balichow Recipe


  • 100ml                         Vegetable oil
  • 800 grams                  Prawns with shells
  • 3                                 Plum tomatoes finely chopped
  • 5 grams                      Turmeric powder
  • 300 grams                  Banana shallots
  • 10 grams                    Ginger garlic paste
  • 1 sprig                        Curry leaves (optional)
  • 3                                 Cloves
  • 1 tsp                           Black mustard seeds
  • 2 small sticks             Cinnamon
  • 3                                 Red chillies (less if you prefer mild)
  • 100ml                         Malt vinegar
  • 20 grams                    Sugar
  • ¼ tsp                          Salt


Spring onion
Chopped coriander


Clean the prawns and remove their shells, then put to one side

Heat a pan and add 25 ml oil, the turmeric powder and prawns. Cook until the prwns are a light golden colour.

Next add the tomato, ginger, garlic paste, cinnamon cloves, red chillies and vinegar  into a bowl and blend.

Heat a heavy based pan with 75 ml oil for tempering, then add the mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Add the chopped shallots and sauté until golden.

Add the paste, cover and cook over a slow flame for 10 minutes until the oil begins to separate from the gravy.

Add the prawns and cook for 6-8 minutes until the prawns are thoroughly cooked, then add the salt and sugar.

Garnish with chopped coriander and finely chopped spring onion.

Serve with steamed rice.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Best British Chicken Tikka Masala by Chef Azadur Rahman

The Bangladeshi-born executive chef at London’s Red Fort in Soho, Azadur Rahman, has worked in close association with founder Amin Ali, since 1983. In that time he has cooked for hundreds of illustrious people including former prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Steve Jobs, Sir Richard Attenborough and a whole host of visiting Indian stars such as actress Aishwarya Rai and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. He once even rustled up a takeaway for President of the United States, Barack Obama! Here is Azadur’s recipe for the definitive Chicken Tikka Masala as showcased at the recent Taste of Britain Festival in New Delhi. His inspired take on the ubiquitous fusion dish is probably the best you’ll ever taste.

Recipe for British Chicken Tikka Masala


  • 1 kg boneless chicken (skin removed)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp red chill powder (adjust to suit your taste)
  • 1 cup fresh yoghurt (must not be sour)
  • 2 tsps garam masala
  • 2 tsps coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 8-10 peppercorns
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • Seeds from 3-4 pods of cardamom
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8-10 almonds
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 tsps garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • ½ litre chicken stock
  • 3 tbsps vegetable/canola/sunflower cooking oil
  • 3 tbsps butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves to garnish

    1. Mix the chicken, lime juice, salt and red chilli powder in a owl and allow to marinate for 1 hour
    2. Roast the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves and almonds till they darken slightly and then grind into a coarse powder
    3. Mix the yoghurt, whole spice powder and all the other spices together and add them to the chicken
    4. Allow to marinate for another hour
    5. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry till golden brown and then add the ginger and garlic paste. Fry for a minute
    6. Add only the chicken from the chicken-spice mix and fry till sealed (chicken will turn opaque)
    7. Now add the chicken stock and remaining part of the mix to the chicken
    8. Cook till the chicken is done and the gravy is reduced to half its original volume
    9. Melt the butter and pour it over the chicken
    10. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves
 Serves 6 persons

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Indian YMCA: a taste of India in London

There’s a place in London where you can you find chicken curry, rice and poppadoms for less than £5 … and it’s not in Brick Lane.

London’s best kept secret, The Indian YMCA, is tucked away at the corner of sleepy Fitzroy Square. With faded Georgian residences once owned by artists and statesmen, the peaceful surroundings feel a hundred miles from the seething West End. In fact, the hostel is a five minutes’ walk from Warren Street tube station and Soho is just a stone’s throw to the south.

From the outside, the building is not particularly prepossessing; fifties architecture was never the best, although this one has in fact gained listed status for the design in contrasting brick and stone. But its history is prestigious. The YMCA has been providing a safe haven for Indian students coming to London to study ever since 1920. It is the only one of its kind outside India and was the first mixed hostel in London. Its existence is a shining example of how international bonds of cultural understanding and friendship can be formed which have withstood the test of time.

The YMCA Indian Student Hostel (to give it its full name), was founded by the first Indian National General Secretary of the National Council of YMCAs in India, Mr K T Paul, who was an advocate of Indo-British understanding. Reflecting the YMCA’s overall mission to aid the spiritual, mental and physical welfare of young people “regardless of caste, colour, sex or race”, the non-profit YMCA ISH became an important cultural centre, initiating scholarship programmes and hosting political debates on Indian affairs. Sir Arthur Yapp, who sanctioned the use of the first premises of the YMCA ISH, described it as a “little bit of India in Britain” in which “England may be welcome and may learn.”

In the years leading up to Indian Independence, the hostel (then located in Gower Street), was visited by luminaries and leading figures including India's famous poet, RabindranathTagore, and Nethaji Subhas Chandra Bose and even Mahatma Gandhi in 1931.

When Tagore visited he spoke to the students, quoting from his moving poem Sunset of the Century written on the last day of the 19th century, an indictment of nationalism that is still relevant today:

Be not ashamed, My brothers, to stand
Before the Proud and powerful with
Your White Robes of Simpleness.
Let your Crown of Humility, Your Freedom,
Build God’s Throne daily upon the ample
Bareness of your poverty
And knowing what is Huge is not Great, and
Pride is not everlasting.
The IYMCA was bombed in the Second World War but with the help of the University of London and a grant from the War Damages Commission, a foundation stone was laid for the new premises in Fitzroy Square in 1953. The new building was described as a “monument to Indian Independence”. In the same year, the Indian YMCA was visited by the first Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawharlal Nehru who gave it his blessing. Since then it has hosted many political and royal visitors including HRH Prince Charles and HRH Princess Alexandra.

On the day of my own visit however, the company was less exalted. On entering the foyer, the only form of life seemed to be the two young men behind the reception desk whose heads were barely visible over the counter.  Two rather more visible marble heads mounted on plinths; those of the founder KT Paul and the former General Secretary, Dr SD Malaiperuman, formed a stern welcoming committee from behind their cordoned off shrine. Overall, there was a feeling of calm and wellbeing in the sunlit entrance that was welcoming and homely.

In the adjoining room, lunch time and dinner, served within a strict time scale, offered a very different scenario. The canteen-like restaurant suddenly fills up with people from all walks of life:  Indian students, business people, Fitzrovians, bewildered visitors, and seasoned regulars, eating, chatting, discussing politics, food, literature, or maybe just last night’s TV, mopping up hearty curries with home-made Indian bread under fluorescent lights.

Cooked fresh by local chefs, the daily menu offers the kind of authentic food found on the Indian subcontinent in roadside cafes, universities, coffee houses or public buildings. Warming meat curries are cooked on the bone with tasty fish curries, freshly rolled chappatis, homely daals, bhajis, and fresh fruit lassi drinks. You just queue up and select what you want before bagging a place at formica communal tables. As in restaurants in India, hands are washed before and after eating in the sinks behind screens. Dishes range from £1.50 to £3.50. Lunch is a la carte whilst the evening meal is a set price buffet.

Short term stays are available from £55 a night, or even £30 if you’re willing to share a dormitory. Long term stays can be arranged for Indian students and trainees who are looking for a taste of home in the UK. Visit the website www.indianymca.org to find out more.

Indian YMCA

41 Fitzroy Square, London, UK W1T 6AQ

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Curry and Shakespeare at Taste of Britain Curry Festival

 Hotel ITC Windsor, Bangalore

“Unquiet meals make ill digestions”, wrote William Shakespeare in the Comedy of Errors. Good to report then that there was no “ill digestion” whatsoever in the Raj Pavilion at ITC Windsor, Bangalore on 18th July when the Taste of Britain Curry Festival launched with a tribute to the bard himself.

Performances of the Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet by talented students of Christ University, marked Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and presented a serendipitous opportunity to highlight another world famous institution – British curry. (Rumour has it that you can find a pretty good version of it on the Indian subcontinent as well!) 

British Deputy High Commissioner, HE Dominic McAllister, and Syed Nahas Pasha, Editor in Chief of Curry Life Magazine spoke at the opening of the Festival, after which guests had a chance to meet the other star performers of the evening – the chefs.

The merry band of five from the Sceptred Isle including Syed Zohorul Islam (The Capital, Durham), Amjad Ali (Eurasia Tandoori, Bridgnorth), Syed Noor Hussain (Spice Lounge, Durham), Pintu Rozario, consultant chef to Curry Life (Dhaka Sheraton), and Michelin-star chef Mark Poynton of Cambridge’s famous Alimentum, will be serving up a daily feast of British-Indian food and sophisticated gastro-pub fare. 

At a poolside banquet at the launch, guests had a sneak preview of the chefs’ showcase dishes including the legendary British Chicken Tikka Masala and Balti curry, followed by a collection of Windsor Desserts.

The Taste of Britain Festival, held in association with ITC Windsor Bangalore Hotel continues until 24th July 2016 at the Dublin Bar and the Raj Pavilion, presenting a gastronomic treat fit for kings and poets.

Historic city of Bangalore


Saturday, 16 July 2016

Montenegro: Europe's new destination

Montenegro is Europe’s latest must-visit destination that balances medieval atmosphere and mystery with outdoor adventure and chic beach resorts. We took one of EasyJet’s new flights from Manchester to have a look …

Why go?

If your only impression of Montenegro is in association with the Eurovision Song Contest, think again. Europe’s best kept secret, crushed between Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Albania, is a bewitching kingdom of karst mountains fringed with pines, deep canyons, azure seas, and medieval cities, permeated with churches, monuments and monasteries. But if history doesn’t float your superyacht, Montenegro has a double life: it’s also a playground for the rich, the cool and trendy, and the hyperactive with world class marinas, party beaches, adventure activities, vibrant nightlife and up-market restaurants.

Oh! And bears still lurk in the forests!

The History of Montenegro

Proudly independent, Montenegro has been successively ruled by the Venetians, Ottomans, Austro-Hungary, and the Italians and Germans during World War II. Afterwards as part of Yugoslavia Montenegro spent 50 years as a communist state, gaining independence from Serbia in 2006. In the recent civil war Montenegro united with Serbia to bomb neighbouring Croatia, in particular its city of Dubrovnik. Some bad feeling still remains between the two countries, but in spite of its turbulent history and a population of mixed religions including Islam, Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox, people now live together in enviable harmony.

Arriving …

We flew via EasyJet to Tivat airport on one of their new twice-weekly flights from Manchester. The arrival in Montenegro is spectacular and for those sitting next to the window, a little unnerving. With mountains on one side and sea on the other, the runway at Tivat is scarcely visible until you hit the tarmac. Emerging from the airport, the mountainous karst landscape is immediately apparent. Five minutes on our journey and the road plunged in to a long, unlit tunnel through the mountain. From this we emerged into what could only be described as a vast sea-filled valley: the spectacular Bay of Kotor.

The bay is often described as the Mediterranean’s only fjord and it’s easy to see why: dramatic mountains dotted with white, craggy outcrops plunge straight down thousands of feet below the water’s edge. At the far side of the bay the medieval city of Kotor, a UNESCO world heritage site, nestles below its bastions, citadels and fortress. From our apartment in Muo we had romantic views across the bay with its daily flotilla of cruise liners, luxury yachts and smaller craft. Tides are non-existent; access to the sea is from small jetties and tiny shingle beaches punctuated by waterside bars and restaurants.

The Bay of  Kotor

Kotor Old Town
Montenegro highlights

Surrounded by walls that date from the 9th century, Kotor is one of the world’s best examples of a medieval town. Inside, a maze of marbled passageways, and hidden steps lead to the walls and rooftop areas with panoramic views over the bay. Brooding and atmospheric, the town is home to churches, cathedrals and mosques, but it’s also full of back street bars, promenading locals, and spacious piazzas with sophisticated restaurants and shops. 

We gaped at the huge cruise ships whilst sipping cocktails outside the gate to Kotor’s Old Town. At dusk, we watched from our balcony as lights formed a golden semicircle around the city walls, hearing the church bells strike with a melancholy, gradually diminishing cadence.

On the second day we braved the vertiginous  road up Mount Lovcen to the Njegos Mausoleum where 461 steps took us to the dark tomb of the hero of Montenegro, Petar II Petrovic, guarded by two stern granite giantesses, with views extending from the Bay of Kotor as far as Albania and Croatia.

Across wild mountains, we drove to Ostrog monastery, an Orthodox sanctuary and place of pilgrimage for followers of all religions. Slotted Petra-like into the vertical cliff 900 metres above sea level, no-one can explain how the cave chapels with their ancient frescoes were created.

We visited Perast, the romantic village at apex of the bay of Kotor, where we took a boat trip to the island of Our-Lady-of-the-Rocks with its Venetian-style church. In beautiful Budva, we ate fresh mussels in a shaded courtyard restaurant. With its maze of old streets, surrounded by the sapphire-blue water of the Adriatic, the town, set on the sandy beaches of the Budva Riviera, resembles a mini Dubrovnik - without the tourists.

Top highlight was perhaps the day we climbed the 1350 steps to Kotor’s fort 260 metres above sea level. We began our hot and steamy ascent from the North Gate for the price of three euros, accompanied by a hundred or so equally hot and steaming tourists, to enjoy unforgettable views of the Bay and beyond.  Descending, we rashly decided to lose the tourists by following the semi-circle of the walls down a precipitous, fast disappearing route. Clinging on to various rocks and vegetation, we landed on a path surrounded by untamed nature, wild flowers and brightly coloured butterflies, and a feeling of complete isolation far above the busy city.

The descent from Kotor Fort

But two weeks is not enough to explore this small, surprising country. For example, the Tara Canyon plummets to a depth of 1300m, only 200 metres smaller than the US’s Grand Canyon. From here you can go on full day or half day rafting trips for a white knuckle ride. There’s also the famous island resort of Sveti Stefan beloved by celebrities, the deserted village of Stari Bar, and the capital city of Podgerica or the former royal city of Ceninje, both of which are well off the western tourist track. Then there is a plethora of hidden or not so hidden beaches including the vast Jaz beach where the likes of Madonna and the Stones have performed. Plus, the Morača Monastery and canyon; the glacial lakes of the Durmitor National Park; Lake Skardar; wine tasting; cycling or hiking in the Lovćen National Park, there’s no end to the magic of Montenegro.

Food in Montenegro …

Typical Montenegrin cuisine is homely and hearty. Rest easy in the fact that there aren’t many (if any) of the ubiquitous chain food outlets like McDonalds but there are excellent pizzerias and Italian restaurants. Lovers of spicy food may be disappointed to learn that there is only one Indian restaurant in the whole country in the capital city of Podgerica where the dining scene is more international. There is, however, a classy Lebanese restaurant – Byblos - which recently opened in Tivat, where meze appetisers and dishes such as baba ganoush, tabbouleh salads and kebab platters are served in Arabic tents, complete with draperies, tapestries and chandeliers. 

In Montenegro, ingredients are natural and organic with an emphasis on meat and fish. Lush vegetables, olives and cheeses are sold fresh from the markets and air dried ham is a speciality. Bakeries sell rather stodgy waistline expanding pastries such as bureks and gibanica. The local red wine called Vranac is excellent and costs around three euros for a glass, the white wine is not quite so good but the Krstač is very palatable. Typical desserts include crepes, pancakes and delicious fritters or doughnuts served with honey or jam. Cured meats, local cheeses, soups, stews (čorba) and polenta feature on most menus. Visiting one mountain restaurant, I was slightly perturbed to discover dishes described as ‘Cooked Head’, and ‘Grilled or Cooked Bowels’ but I suspect that something was lost in translation!

Further afield?

Visiting Montenegro offers a golden opportunity to visit Dubrovnik in Croatia, dubbed one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a mere 17km from the Montenegrin border. Many people will be familiar with Dubrovnik as Kings Landing in the epic series Game of Thrones (which makes it even more unmissable). It took three hours to get there, mainly because of a slight delay at the border, but the picturesque drive was in itself reason enough for going.

Dubrovnik is a different world in terms of the number of tourists, but it still holds an atmosphere of mystery and romance. We walked the city walls, ate seafood in a shady square, explored the marble streets and drank beer in a bar set on the rugged rocks looking over the Adriatic.

When to visit

Montenegro’s main industry is tourism. At present the majority of tourists seem to be Russian and other Eastern Europeans. But there’s also a growing band of British visitors arriving via Montenegro Airlines from London and EasyJet from London. RyanAir offers flights to the capital city of Podgerico. Significantly, EasyJet have recently added two flights a week from Manchester which are proving popular (prices from £100). Our visit was in June and places seemed very quiet. The main holiday season is from July, August and September when the temperatures are pretty high and can reach 40 degrees, however a visit in May, June or October is recommended, when prices are lower and temperatures still well above 20 degrees. The skiing season runs from January to March, mainly in the Durmitor mountains so tourism continues all year round.

Montenegro uses the euro as the main currency even though they are not part of the EU. I'm not sure how that works but prices pre Brexit were favourable i.e. you can get a beer for less than two euros.

Where to stay

There are many good value places to stay and Montenegro whether it's a boutique hotel, self catering villas or island luxury you seek. For our first week, we stayed at Kotor Vista, a lovely apartment overlooking The Bay of Kotor in Muo. Our second week was spent in the beautiful 5-star Regent Hotel in Porto Montenegro, Tivat, a new award-winning superyacht marina which was formerly a military shipyard Arsenal.  Porto Montenegro offers the height in luxury and service – most rooms have a balcony with a sea and marina view, there's a gourmet restaurant, luxurious spa and outdoor pool. They even leave you a present at your bedside every night to thank you for staying there! Expect to pay around 300 euros a night for a double unless, like us, you are there (thanks to a cancelled flight due to bad weather), courtesy of EasyJet!

Regent Porto Montenegro Hotel in Tivat

Regent Porto Montenegro at Tivat Marina

For a video of the cruise ship Sirene leaving the Bay of Kotor, click on the link below

Adapted from an interview with Steve Rudd, author, traveller, journalist and musician for The Driffield Times & Post. You can visit Steve's website with many interesting interviews at steverudd.co.uk

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A Feast for the Eyes: Inspiring wall art in Indian restaurants

Art is being added in some Indian restaurants art as an additional attraction to bring people across the threshold.
“Art makes a room. It is part of the culture of the place. As much as the food makes a statement about the restaurant, so does art.” Raymond Blanc. 
Henna Girl: Suzie Devey's iconic wall painting in the Sheesh Mahal

rt and food are inextricably linked: whilst food provides nourishment, a source of pleasure and sustenance for the body and mind, art provides nourishment for the soul. A stunning interior, painting or photograph on which diners can feast their eyes, not only enhances the décor, it adds interest, creates a talking point, defines the ambiance and renders it unique.  

For some years now, restaurants such as The Ivy and Le Gavroche have been showcasing paintings to popular acclaim. Now, Indian restaurateurs have also recognised the value of featuring original art to create exciting and beautiful spaces. 

Whether the interpretation portrays the exotic, the tribal, atmospheric or romantic vistas of far-away lands, a renaissance is underway. Thanks to the vision of enlightened owners and managers, restaurants are fast becoming the art galleries of the modern world. Let's take a look at some that are leading the way:

Sheesh Mahal, Hartlepool

A stamp inspired the wonderful paintings of artist Suzie Devey which now adorn the walls of the Sheesh Mahal restaurant in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool.

Suzie explains: “The restaurant owner, Shahrouf Miah, wanted one painting of the Taj Mahal, on the wall. I collected postage stamps as a little girl and I remembered one stamp which featured the Taj Mahal. I researched other stamps and presented the idea of enlarging the stamps from over 2cm square to over 8 feet! They liked the idea so much they wanted me to create the design around the entire walls of the restaurant.” 
Suzie then worked with the owners’ whole family to create the large-scale henna designs. “They were a wonderful family to work with,” remembers Suzie. “The dancers were the owner’s daughters’ idea as they wanted to have a contemporary twist to their space which reflected their love of Bollywood films. The girl behind the bar was created to tie the design together.”
It took about 100 hours to create the paintings which now also include a temple in Kolkata, a Bengali tiger, Bollywood dancing and a tea picker in India. The result is a vibrant, contemporary and inspiring space that draws on the contemporary as well as the traditional.
The Miah family was so thrilled with the results they held a relaunch of the restaurant just to showcase the artwork. “We are over the moon with Suzie’s work,” said Samia Begum, daughter of Shahrouf Miah. “The customers are really happy with it and it has made the restaurant look really homely.”

For Suzie, playing with scale and proportion and creating new ideas are the most enjoyable aspects of art. “My ethos is that paintings are for people, not just walls!” she says.

Malvern Tilla, Malvern
Atmospheric panoramic work of Jan Sedlacek

Set in the moody Malvern Hills, the Malvern Tilla Indian restaurant provides a showcase for the large format panoramic work of celebrated fine art, commercial and landscape photographer, Jan Sedlacek.

After moving from the Czech Republic to the UK, Jan was so captivated by the beautiful landscapes of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, he decided to settle in Malvern, where he formed his company digitlight.co.uk. Now his art is celebrated across the world.

Locally, Jan’s work can be seen in diverse settings ranging from Worcestershire businesses, hotels and several Indian restaurants. In the Malvern Tilla, Jan’s images provide a dramatic backdrop with their depiction of the surrounding landscape. Balanced between photography and painting, full of unusual light, they bring the untamed outdoors indoors, lead the eye and create an atmosphere of mystery.  
Memsaab, Nottingham

These quirky paintings, found in Memsaab Indian restaurant in Nottingham, provide a talking point for customers according to the restaurant’s co-owner Amita Sawnhey.  Created by an Indian artist, the works depict a range of colourful, characters: bejewelled maharajahs, fierce Sikhs and bearded warriors, adding an idiosyncratic touch of humour to the décor.

Cutler’s Spice, Sheffield

Sheffield-based artist Brian Smith had a fine time creating the mural commissioned by Allam Shah Ullah, executive chef and director of popular Cutler’s Spice Indian restaurant in Sheffield.

The brief was pilgrims doing their ablutions by the Ganges in the ancient city of Varanasi. “It turned out to be a complex composition,” explains Brian. “As far as the architecture is concerned, the client wanted a representation of the general vernacular rather than anything specific, so the mural had a design element to it which I always enjoy.”

Rendering the painting in a mixture of emulsion and acrylic paints, Brian says he used everything from paint rollers to fine brushes.

“It was very like painting oils on canvas and gave me a free rein,” commented Brian who believes the mural is one of the most exciting artistic forms. Cutler’s Spice owner, Allam Shah Ullah is equally delighted with the result. His restaurant is now not only famous for the fine food and atmosphere; it’s also remembered for its magnificent painting.

The Eastern Eye, Bath

The Eastern Eye restaurant in Bath presents a relatively modest exterior so visitors may be forgiven for doing a double take upon entering. Set in a grand, vaulted Georgian ballroom, overlooked by three glass domes, the restaurant’s most awe-inspiring feature are the massive hand painted Indian murals that line the restaurant’s three main walls. In an explosion of rich, vibrant colours, they portray scenes in a Moghul Palace with dancers, musicians and worshippers, creating a lavish and opulent atmosphere beloved by celebrities.
The Eastern Eye has been run by Mr Abdul Choudhury and his family since 1984 (in its present location from 1997). The paintings have a more recent provenance than the building’s history suggests and are the work of award-winning international artist, Apulpan Ditt, who befriended Mr Choudhury in Dubai in 2004. Mr Choudhury invited Mr Ditt to revamp the interior of his restaurant in the UK. The 42-year-old artist worked through the night for two months, to spectacular effect. “I was so pleased with the finished product,” said Mr Choudhury. “I asked my customers what they thought and everybody says it is out of this world. These paintings have changed the way people see the restaurant. They give it a truly unique aesthetic appeal.”

Raunka Punjab Divan, Southall

With a name that means ‘Glimpses of Punjab’, the Raunka Punjab Diyan in Southall offers more than a fleeting view of India. The whole interior is an artistic recreation of a rural Punjabi village, an impression further enhanced by colourful ethnic furnishings and staff dressed in traditional costumes. Restaurateur and owner Rajen Wadheran was inspired to develop the concept after previous success running themed venues. He commissioned an artist from India to paint a mural of golden, sun-warmed landscapes with villagers plying their daily tasks; fetching water, spinning or cooking.  
Another wall depicts an old-style tractor, complete with passengers and 3D effects. There are authentic Indian cooking pots and artefacts dotted around and there’s even a vintage Enfield motorbike on display. Diners love the ambiance, especially those who hail from the thriving Seikh community in Southall, many of whom describe Raunka Punjab Diyan as a home from home.

Cinnamon Kitchen, London

The collection of photographs in Cinnamon Kitchen was originally commissioned for sister restaurant the Cinnamon Club and there is more to them than meets the eye. “The idea behind the collection is tradition meets modern,” says marketing manager Helen Geach. “You will notice that a lot of the images are of very traditional Indian street scenes, however if you look closer you will see that the subject is holding a modern piece of technology such as a phone or mac book. Or perhaps they are reading a Top Gear magazine or Financial Times, or wearing shades.”

Masala Zone, London

Masala Zone, Soho
Already known for setting the standards for informal, imaginative restaurant design, the Masala Zone Restaurant Group pioneers Indian art by bringing permanent exhibitions to the UK. The Group has the whole gamut of Indian tribal and folk art in their restaurants across London. The Islington, and Soho branches lead the way, commissioning traditional tribal artists from different regions who actually painted the artwork on the walls. Bayswater has vibrant and exotic pop art blow-ups of firecracker labels from Sivakasi in South India done as a collage. Islington Masala Zone features brightly coloured murals by two painters from Gond, a forested area of Madhya Pradesh. A sister restaurant in Earls Court is covered with breath-taking, large canvases of Madhubani traditional folk art – a style of geometric painting with fingers and twigs from Bihar village in eastern India. The story, with modern resonance, tells of a tiger who wished to move to London aided by a migratory bird.
Masala Zone, Bayswater

So, whether restaurateurs are commissioning the work of local artists and photographers, or introducing the British public to aspects of Indian art and culture, restaurants offer a blank canvas with the possibility to inspire and enhance the dining experience. In a unique bonding of culture and food that appeals to all the diners’ senses as well as their palates, beautiful artwork provides food for the mind.

“I like the unexpected setting of a restaurant for art. If you're sitting beside great art, eating great food and drinking great wine, it is a voluptuous experience, and makes for a great evening.” Artist Maggi Hambling.