When Mohammad Tayyab heard about the sale of the cafe where he breakfasted daily on tea and toast before beginning work in a sweatshop in London's East End, the recently-arrived migrant seized the opportunity to do something about his yearning for the food of his native Pakistan.
The son of a headteacher bought the former greasy spoon in Whitechapel in 1975. Ever since, Mr Tayyab and his family have served daals, masalas and meats grilled in a tandoor oven to a steady stream of customers seeking an authentic taste of Punjab at bargain basement prices, starting at 90p for a spicy minced lamb kebab.
But the extent to which Mr Tayyab and his family have succeeded in creating a unique dining experience was only confirmed yesterday, when the curry house was named by a leading restaurant guide as serving food comparable in quality to that in such temples of haute cuisine as Petrus and Gordon Ramsay's flagship eatery, 68 Hospital Road.
New Tayyabs, the name given to Mr Tayyab's restaurant, is ranked seventh in the top 10 for food in the Zagat London Restaurant Guide 2009, beating Raymond Blanc's Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, and only one place behind Petrus, owned by Ramsay's one-time protégé and now outspoken critic, Marcus Wareing.
It is the first time that New Tayyabs has featured in the top food rankings for a restaurant guide. Indeed, it is also the first time that a king prawn curry made in Whitechapel has been held up as being on a par with foie gras served in Mayfair.
The rating places the Pakistani restaurant, where the average price of a meal is £18 and diners can bring their own alcohol, ahead of the legendary Le Gavroche and Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, where the tasting menu costs £125, excluding wine. New Tayyabs was given a rating of 28 out of 30 for food, exceeded only by Gordon Ramsay and Chez Bruce, which got 29.
Wasim Tayyab, 33, who is Mohammad's eldest son and head chef at the restaurant, said: "It is fantastic to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gordon Ramsay. My dad always wanted to produce very basic but very fresh and very good food. It was what he dreamed of doing all those years ago.
"He scraped together the cash and opened up the restaurant for people in the community. It became like the local canteen for Asians and then more people came from further afield."
The restaurant, which is run as a family business with eight members of the Tayyab clan, relies on a daily treadmill of freshly-produced marinades for its trademark grilled meats. The recipe for its garam masala spice mix is known only to Mohammad, now in his 70s, Wasim and one of his two brothers.
Expansion from the single-room cafe has been via neighbouring properties, including a former pub and a newspaper shop, which the family continued to run until realising it could be more usefully incorporated into the restaurant.
The result has been a boom in popularity for the restaurant which does not take reservations and often has a queue of diners snaking out into the street.
Tim Zagat, of the Zagat guides, said: "It is the pick of a long list of unsung restaurants offering a great bargain. Every time Gordon Ramsay blows his nose it gets a story. But a restaurant like Tayyabs is much more exciting."Reuse content