Happy 75th Birthday Halal Restaurant!
Asab Miah, Chef at the Halal Restaurant, has been cooking for forty-four years
We were summoned to the former Hostel for Indian Seaman, situated in an eighteenth century house on the corner of Alie St and St Mark St, at eleven thirty in the morning for a luncheon party attended by the Halal Restaurant’s most loyal customers. The early hour was because – such is the popularity of this beloved institution – there were to be two lunch sittings that day in order to fit in everyone who wanted to join the birthday celebrations.
In 1939, the Halal Restaurant was born when Mr Jafferi opened up the mess of the Indian Seamen’s Hostel to all and, even today, it is still distinguished by plain canteen decor and a small unpretentious menu of favourite dishes. Yet this has proved to be a winning combination, especially among diners from City who have made the Halal Restaurant their home from home.
We were greeted by proprietor Mahaboob Narangoli, all smiles and his eyes shining with excitement to introduce us to his father, Usman Abubacker, who began working here as a waiter back in 1970 before taking over in 1978. The whole family were gathered on this proud occasion to welcome a restaurant-full of customers, all of whom are known by their first names, twice.
Curry-hound Guy Morgan confessed he first ate here in 1965 and never looked back. He recalled those early days when customers walked through the kitchen to reach the tiny dining room. “You could see and smell the pots of curry cooking,” he told me, growing enraptured at the thought. As excited guests filled up the restaurant, all had similar stories to tell and were proud to declare how long they had been coming. For many of these workers, this has been the consistent element in their working lives as, over the decades, they have changed jobs, companies have amalgamated and the City has changed beyond recognition, yet the menu and the food at the Halal Restauarant have remained reassuringly constant.
Eager to set proceedings in motion, Mahaboob made a generous speech of welcome, greeted with affectionate applause from the hungry diners. Then the waiters leapt into action and everyone was tucking in to starters comprising samosas and chicken tikka with popadoms and chutney. Next, one of the long-term customers made a speech of appreciation which culminated in a “Hip-Hip-Hooray for the Halal Restaurant!”
A hush fell as Usman Abubacker stepped forward to give the main speech, recalling with a quiet dignity how he started there in that same room, forty-four years ago, earning thirteen pounds a week. Yet even his involvement was predated by the most senior customer, Maurice Courtnell, who has been dining there for sixty-six years. Usman Abubacker concluded his speech by inviting everyone to return for the hundredth anniversary in 2039 and I, for one, hope to be there.
In the restless city, where restaurants come and go, it is an inspiration to come upon this joyful exception where one family have cultivated an open-hearted relationship with their customers that is reciprocated and enduring – establishing the Halal Restaurant as one of London’s cherished culinary landmarks.
Usman Abubacker and his son Mahboob Narangali
Mahaboob and and his wife Shahina
Mahaboob and the waiters
Mahaboob and the cooks
Asab Miah cooks everything freshly every day
Usman Abubacker makes his speech to the assembly
Three cheers for the Halal Restaurant!
Usman Abubacker began working here as a waiter in 1970 and took over in 1978
Making naan bread
Extricating it from the clay oven
Diners tuck in
Asab Miah takes a moment to relax and enjoy a samosa before the second lunch sitting
Mahaboob and his mother, Aleema
The family behind the Halal Restaurant
Halal Restaurant, 2 St Mark St, E1 8DJ 020 7481 1700
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