Has the great British curry house finally had its chips?

BALTI BLUES have hit the great British curry house. After 20 years of spectacular growth, a cold wind is blowing through the world of hot food and forcing restaurants out of business at the rate of three a week.

Those in the curry trade blame increasingly sophisticated competition from supermarkets, poor service and a reluctance among second-generation Anglo-Asians to run family businesses.

The popularity of travel to the Indian subcontinent is also thought to be partly responsible. People are no longer satisfied with "Anglicised" ultra-hot curries and want to enjoy the more subtle and authentic flavours from coastal regions such as Kerala and Goa, or southern Indian vegetarian fare.

The number of Indian restaurants, which grew from around 100 in the early 1960s to 8,000 in 1997, has hit its peak. Balti restaurants, which have been at the heart of the boom in Indian food since they opened their doors in the West Midlands in 1974, are now the first to feel the squeeze.

"For the first time, the number of restaurants didn't go up last year. It has hit a plateau," said Iqbal Wahheb, a restaurateur and former editor of Tandoori, the trade journal of the curry industry. "It's a sign for restaurateurs to move on."

Indian restaurants are struggling to match the convenience that supermarkets can offer. Working professionals - for so long the typical curry-house customer - can now buy cheap, high-standard, ready-made curries from supermarkets on their way home, so avoiding driving into the less salubrious areas of towns where curry houses are often concentrated. "Supermarkets realise they can reproduce the same dishes at a more reasonable price and are making millions out of selling sauces, spices and pastes," said Mr Wahheb, who once sparked outrage when, writing in Tandoori, he lambasted Indian waiters as "miserable gits" who made eating out akin to attending a funeral.

Yet new restaurants could thrive if they diversified, according to Mr Wahheb. "The new generation of Indian restaurateur is emerging and they'll need to give people more of a taste of the different regions of the subcontinent. People travel a lot more now and want to taste the food from Goa and Kerala.

"If curry houses just go on selling the same stuff you can get in the supermarket, they will close down and we don't want to see that because the curry- house experience is now a part of the British social fabric. They have to come up with the next big thing after balti and try to be one step ahead of the supermarkets."

Baltis and other Indian restaurants can still be big business, involving average turnovers of pounds 500,000 a year. In the Birmingham suburb of Sparkbrook, 70 restaurants generate pounds 10m a year. In Birmingham, the city's 350 curry houses bring in pounds 175m annually. Across Britain, ethnic restaurants bring in pounds 1.7bn and employ 75,000.

But there are serious economic implications for the communities where balti and curry houses are based. Many of the restaurants are in less prosperous parts of Britain's cities and are seen as a vital source of income for the surrounding communities, creating secondary employment in off-licences, pubs and shops.

"Some of the first Indian restaurants opened because Asians faced discrimination in other jobs. These restaurants are often in deprived areas. The environment has to be improved to encourage people to eat in the Balti zone," said Tariq Chaudhry, business development manager of Birmingham Asian Business Association.

The Asian Balti Restaurants Association, which represents 59 restaurants in Birmingham, has sought funding for better street-lighting and to generally improve the environment in the areas around balti houses. "The interest is still there. The cheapness of a balti used to be a selling point but a lot of restaurants are now focusing on quality and improving their environment," said the association's Erfan Hussein.

Poor hygiene and service have been pinpointed as major factors in the failures, but a cultural change is also taking place within the Bangladeshi and Kashmiri communities which run most Indian restaurants. "They are family-run and passed down from father to son. But the young find their fathers' lifestyle very tough so they're going into higher education instead," said Mr Chaudhry.

It is a view echoed by Manish Sood, business development manager for the Academy of Asian Culinary Arts at Thames Valley University. "Second- generation Asians aren't going into the business and it's harder to get chefs because immigration laws now mean you can't bring them in from the subcontinent. The demand for good chefs is exceeding supply."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road