Sake Dean Mahomed, a visionary Bengali traveler, businessman, surgeon, and captain in the British East India Company, owned Hindoostane Coffee House. Besides, he was the first Indian to write books in English.
Hindoostane Coffee House was situated between Gloucester Place and Baker Street. At 34 George Street — now renumbered as 102 George Street — in Marylebone. The City of Westminster revealed a Green Plaque on the building in 2005 to commemorate the event.
The collapse of the restaurant
Apparently, the restaurant did not succeed. It had to close a year later because eating out was not expected at the time. The majority of Indians in London ate their home-cooked meals with a family member. However, the restaurant remained open until 1833, when a new owner took it over.
Following HCH’s collapse, the spice trade went silent for a century before resuming to serve the Indian and Bangladeshi populations. Salut e Hind first opened its doors in Holborn in 1911. Other entrepreneurs arrived with their recipe books later to help create London as a Curry Capital. In the 1920s, the Curry Cafe on Commercial Street opened, followed by The Shafi on Gerard Street. Veeraswamy, one of the most famous Indian restaurants, opened in Piccadilly Circus in 1926.
Hindoostane – Little Bit Of Background
In the nineteenth century, Indian curry was already well-known in England. Since the Crusades in the late 11th century, spices have been used in English cuisine. One of the first cookbooks to include recipes for curries and pilaus was Hannah Glasse’s The Art Of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, which was first published in 1747.
Early British curries and pilaus had a mild flavor, with more herbs than spices. They added salt, lemon juice, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. Caraway seeds, fenugreek, cumin, ginger, cayenne, and turmeric had all been added by the 19th century. There were also different cooking methods. For example, the British resisted cooking meat in ghee or fat rather than baste it in stock.
Sake Dean Mahomed’s Hindoostane Coffee House was not the first restaurant to serve ‘Indian’ food, but it was the first to be managed by an Indian.
Curry made its first appearance on a menu in 1773 at the Norris Street Coffee House in Haymarket, London.
Certainly, the Norris Street Coffee House’s Mistress, Haymarket, on December 6, 1773, announced in the Public Advertiser that she not only sold “real Indian curry paste,” but would also “deliver curry and rice, as well as India pilaus, to any part of the town” at “the shortest notice.” This had to be the first home delivery service in India.
Around 1784, curry and rice had become restaurant specialties in some trendy Piccadilly restaurants.
As a result, coffee shops and inns offered curries with their daily menus for quite some time, some as far back as the 18th century. Furthermore, the British, who would have loved spicy food in India in the nineteenth century, tried to replicate their kitchens’ recipes when they came back.
The Industrious Restaurateur
By opening an Indian restaurant, Sake Dean Mohamed hoped to capitalize on the success of spicy food.
Born as Sheikh Din Muhammad in 1759 in Bihar, then part of India’s Bengal Presidency, Sake Dean was looked after by Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, an Anglo-Irish Protestant soldier, after his father’s died. He was a trainee surgeon in the British East India Company army and stayed with Captain Baker’s unit until 1782. After that, they both quit their jobs and moved to Cork, Ireland.
Mohamed studied English and married an Irish woman called Jane Daly while he was there. They relocated to London and settled in Portman Square. A trendy neighborhood frequented by colonial returnees and affluent former East India Company workers associated as ‘nabobs.’
Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club
In 1810, he established the Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club, also recognized as the Hindoostane Coffee House, with this target group in mind. Although HCH was not a coffee house in the modern sense, serving hot beverages. However, it was an idea adopted by many eateries at the time as coffee drinking had become popular. He wanted to serve ‘Indianized British cuisine’ in a sophisticated environment.
Sake Dean Mahomed, a producer of the ‘real’ curry powder, took the most unexpected opportunity to notify the nobility and gentry. He has founded at his house, the Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club at 34 George Street, Portman Square.
Dinners consisting of basic Hindoostane dishes are presented at the shortest notice in apartments built in the Eastern style. Ladies and gentlemen who wish to have Indian Dinners dressed and sent to their homes will be promptly attended to by providing advance notice. As a result, his restaurant offered home delivery services.
Unfortunately, Mahomed was forced to sell it a year later, in 1811, because it was not profitable enough. The reason for this could be that, at the time, there wasn’t much of an eating-out culture. His target audiences were either preparing more “authentic” meals at their homes or hiring private chefs to do so. After declaring bankruptcy a year later, he began advertising his services as a valet or butler, eventually becoming King George IV and William IV’s “shampooing surgeon.”
Sake Dean Mahomed expired in 1851. His name was almost forgotten until the 1970s and 1980s, when a few writers started to draw attention to Mahomed’s work.
About the Hindoostane Coffee House
Sadly, not much is known as the only documents available are newspaper advertisements put by Mahomed himself and details found in The Epicure’s Almanack.
The first advertisement for the restaurant appeared in The Times on March 27 in 1811. It stated that Mahomed, a surgeon in East-Indian, and an Indian origin, has neatly and elegantly established a place for the Nobility and Gentry. There they can enjoy the Hooka, with real Chilm tobacco, and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection.
The Epicure’s Almanack was published as London’s first restaurant guide. It was written by poet and playwright Ralph Rylance and came out in the year 1815. The British Library reissued and republished it in 2012. It is a prime source of knowledge about London eateries during the Regency era.
That being said, Rylance does not have much detail about HCH’s food since he wrote his book after the business had shut. He addresses Mahomed as ‘Sidi Mohammed’ and reports that the restaurant “opened… to offer Hindoostanee dinners, with many other snacks and drinks of the same category.” All of the dishes were seasoned with the finest Arabian spices, cayenne pepper, rice, and curry powder.
“Space was set aside for hookah smoking with exotic herbs. The rooms were neatly outfitted in the suite and decorated with cane sofas and tables and chairs. The walls were adorned with Chinese paintings and other Asian embellishments depicting views of India, groups of natives, and oriental sports.”
So that’s all we know about the Hindoostane Coffee House. It was a comfortable and informal place, furnished in colonial style, and serving probably slightly spiced Indian curries.
Sake Dean Mahomed was a man who was well ahead of his time as he introduced Indian cuisine, which made a place in the British people’s hearts. Not to forget, although this love took several years to rise again, Queen Victoria was a huge fan of it during the Victorian era.