The curry industry came together on November 30th 2015 for the 11th annual British Curry Awards and once again the event did not disappoint. The Battersea Evolution was full almost to overflowing as around 1400 people gathered to witness the presentation of these prestigious awards.
As well as owners, managers, chefs and customers from the nation’s best curry restaurants, there were a number of well-known celebrities from the worlds of TV, radio, food and politics who were in attendance to collectively pay homage to the success of the industry. Guests were treated to fine entertainment and fine food, from Madhu’s, as well as of course the sight of the brightest and best in the industry receiving their treasured awards.
Reflecting the status of the event, VIP guests included Great British Bake Off runner-up, Tamal Ray; Government Ministers Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP and Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP; actress Laila Rouass; Adil Ray of Citizen Khan fame; Eastenders actor Nitin Ganatra; celebrity restaurateur, Prue Leith; Channel 4 News presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy; TV personalities Stephen Mulhern, Lizzie Cundy and Casey Bachelor; The Apprentice contestant Sanjay Sood Smith; broadcaster Zillur Rahman; and MPs Ann Main, Sharon Hodgson and Paul Scully MP.
This year saw more nominations than ever before and the judges had a hard job picking the winners such was the quality of the entries. Members of the public put forward the name of their favourite curry restaurant and a phenomenal 218,000 public nominations were received via post, app and online, with a total 2,459 restaurants being nominated. These were whittled down to a shortlist of 100, from which the winners were chosen. Most awards were regional with restaurants honoured for being the best in their geographic area. The winners for 2015 were: Karma Restaurant, Whitburn, Scotland; Aagrah, Leeds, North East; Viceroy, Carlisle, North West; Pushkar Restaurant, Birmingham, Midlands; Sheesh Mahal Restaurant, Llanelli; Wales; Shampan at the Spinning Wheel, Westerham, South East; Spice Lodge Restaurant, Cheltenham, South West; The Cinnamon Club, London Central and City; and Green Spice Restaurant, Dartford, London Suburbs. In addition DabbawalJesmond, Newcastle, won the Best Casual Dining award, Chilli Pickle of Brighton, Best Delivery Restaurant; and Calcutta Club, Nottingham, Best Newcomer. In addition Reza Mahammad picked up a special recognition award for his contribution as a TV curry chef.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, was not able to attend this year but still sent a special video message, pointing out that, today, the industry generates £4.2 billion for the British economy, employing 100,000 people. He said, “These awards, founded by the formidable Enam Ali, celebrate the people who made that happen and they celebrate British Curry, a unique cuisine that merges western tradition with eastern flavours.” He thanked everyone present for their contribution and added, “You represent the very best of British values of family, running your restaurants with parents, children and spouses. Enterprise, starting businesses from nothing, hard work, dedicating every hour of everyday to what you do. And above all patriotism, flying a flag for British food right around the world. So congratulations to the winners and to everyone involved in this great British industry.”
The Queen also sent a personal message of support. She said she was particularly pleased to learn of the Awards continued fundraising for chosen charities. This year the event supported Global Radio’s Make Some Noise campaign, which funds very special, small projects supporting youngsters and their families living with illness, disability or lack of opportunity.
The Awards were also a platform from which the industry could highlight the issues and problems currently facing restaurants up and down the country. Many of the UK curry industry’s restaurants are affected by the ongoing and crippling shortage of chefs, which is seeing an average of two curry restaurant closures each week. The primary contributing factor to the crisis is the government’s immigration policy.
British Curry Awards founder, restaurateur and editor of trade publication, Spice Business, Enam Ali MBE, told the audience, “Staff shortages mean many of us are struggling to meet customer expectations, and it is almost impossible to expand as we would like to.” He said he had but forward to government a very constructive new visa scheme to help the industry survive in the current climate. “I believe my document will help to tighten migration to the benefit of the country while giving us access to the skilled curry chefs we need,” he said.
Enam also stressed the importance of finding a long-term solution rather than depending on foreign chefs. He revealed that he has formed the Le Raj Academy in partnership with NESCOT (North East Surrey College of Technology). “From the beginning of next year, together we will be training the chefs and front of house staff to become the stars of the future,” he said.
The main sponsors for this year’s British Curry Awards were the online curry ordering website Kukd.com. Shelim Hussain MBE, the company’s founder told the audience he was honoured to be a part of this original and benchmark award ceremony “British Curry Awards has set a precedent in the industry and we are proud of the association,” he said. Other sponsors included Kingfisher beer, Gaviscon, Euro Foods and Kansaras.
Production values for the event set a new high, and the awards were skilfully marshalled by the master of ceremonies, Jane Hill, well known as a BBC News presenter. This year the event was produced by Jeffrey Ali, who kept up the reputation for quality set by his sister Justine Ali in previous years. Everyone left feeling proud and elated after an Awards night that raised the bar still higher. No doubt everyone is now looking forward to seeing how it can be made better still in 2016!