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Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Sake Dean Mahomed: Why a Google Doodle is marking the man who set up the UK’s first Indian restaurant today

Sake Dean Mahomed: Why a Google Doodle is marking the man who set up the UK’s first Indian restaurant today

Sake Dean Mahomed, the man who set up the UK’s first Indian restaurant, is being honoured by Google with a commemorative Doodle today.

In a groundbreaking life, Mahomed went from being an army surgeon to massaging the heads of English kings – here is his story.

The East India Company
Sake Dean Mahomed was born in 1759 in Patna, modern day India, which was then part of the British Empire’s Bengal Presidency.

After the death of his father, an army officer in the East India Company, he was taken into the service of Captain Godfrey Baker.

Mahomed trained as a surgeon in the East India Company, serving in their conflict against the Indian Maratha caste.

He worked under Captain Baker until 1782 when he followed the officer – who had become his close friend – to Cork.

A trailblazing author
Mahomed settled in Ireland, studying English and marrying Jane Daly, an Anglo-Irish student from a wealthy family who opposed their union – they went on to have seven children.

In 1794 he published his travel memoirs, titled The Travels of Dean Mahomed. It was the first book written in English published by an Indian.

Although the British Empire had occupied India for decades, his account of the nation’s cities and wars offered readers a fresh perspective.

Mahomed moved to England, settling first in Brighton and then London, where he worked for Sir Basil Cochrane, who had opened a steam bath in his Portman Square home.

There, he is credited with introducing shampooing treatment and therapeutic massage to European bathers.

The Hindoostane Coffee House
In 1810, Mahomed established London’s – and possibly the UK’s – first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House. It was situated in central London’s George Street and offered authentic Indian dishes and traditional hookah.

He was not nearly the first to introduce ‘curry’ to Britain. The first appearance of Anglicised Indian cuisine was at the Norris Street Coffee House in Haymarket, London, in 1773.

And by 1784, curry and rice had become house specialities at some of the more fashionable restaurants in central London.

But Mahomed was the first to establish a restaurant proper, and his aim was to serve ‘Indianised British food’ in smart surroundings to the gentry and aristocracy.

He posted this note in the London press:

“Sake Dean Mahomed, manufacturer of the real currie powder, takes the earliest opportunity to inform the nobility and gentry, that he has, under the patronage of the first men of quality who have resided in India, established at his house, 34 George Street, Portman Square, the Hindoostane Dinner and Hooka Smoking Club.

“Apartments are fitted up for their entertainment in the Eastern style, where dinners, composed of genuine Hindoostane dishes, are served up at the shortest notice… Such ladies and gentlemen as may desirous of having India Dinners dressed and sent to their own houses will be punctually attended to by giving previous notice…”

Although Mahomed was forced to sell the restaurant a year later due to financial difficulties (under new ownership, it was open until around 1833), the Hindoostane Coffee House laid the groundwork for the later popularity of Indian food in the UK.

After going bankrupt, Mahomed moved back to Brighton, establishing a commercial masseur bath house which proved an immediate success.

He became known as “Dr Brighton”, counting among his illustrious clients kings George IV and William IV, and even published a book on the health benefits of his bathing technique.

Mahomed died in the city in 1851, aged around 91. Although he was largely ignored by historians, in more recent years he has inspired a biography and a Green Plaque commemorating the Hindoostane Coffee House.

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