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Nepalese Restaurants in the UK

Nabin Pokhrel

Nepalese Restaurants in the UK – Promoting Friendship

Whether it is mouth-watering Momo (dumplings) or Newari food ‘chhoyela,’ a wide range of Nepalese food is becoming popular among the British food lovers in the UK. From parliamentarians to ordinary British citizens, Nepalese food is becoming quite popular, which they regularly enjoy with their friends and family.
According to Bijay Thapa, chair of the Nepalese Caterers Association, UK, there are around 250 Nepalese restaurants all over the UK. These restaurans are not only introducing Nepalese cuisine, they are also promoting Nepalese identity and culture among the British population thousands of miles away from home.
Nepalese started coming to the United Kingdom in the 1960s as staff in the Indian-owned restaurants. Kalu Ram Tamang, Krishna Bahadur Thapa, Shyam Maharjan and Ishwor Manandhar are considered as pioneers among the Nepalese restaurateurs in the UK.
Tamang, Thapa and Maharjan arrived Lonodn in 1968. An Indian businessman, Rijumal Bhavanani, had gone to Kathmandu looking for Chefs. He met them and persuaded them to come over to UK to work as Chefs at the Quality Restaurant in the UK. Late K B Thapa is considered to be the first Nepali to arrive in the UK with a work permit to work in a restaurant.
Late Ishwor Manandhar used to describe himself as the second Nepali to arrive in the UK with a work permit. Indian Restaurant owners provided them free air ticket, free accomodation etc.
Kaluram Tamang recalls that he was given a three-year-contract to work at the Quality Restaurant. Together with his friends Laxman Thapa nad Jaya Krishna Tamang, Kaluram Tamang took over the management of the restaurant in 1973. After running the restaurant for around five years, they bought the ‘Light of Nepal’ restaurant at Hammersmith joining hands with two more partners, Madan Thapa and Dhruba KC.
In 1975, Ishwor Manandhar, raised his 15 percent equity in the Natraj Restaurant to 100 percent and became its sole owner. A former Chef at the Quality Restaurant, Hari Bibhor Karki, launched the Johnnuy Gorkha restaurant at Aldershot outside Londn. Similarly, Krishna Bahadur Thapa acquired full ownership of the Ealing Tandoori around same time.
‘The Golden Period’
1980 till 2000 is considered the golden period for Nepali restaurateurs in the UK. Many Nepalese chefs working at various Indianrestaurants either bought the restaurants they were working in or launched their own restaurants. Says Bijaya Thapa of the Nepalese Caterers Association UK, “There used to be long queues in front of Nepalese restaurants in those times.” According to him, Indian businessmen had decided to sell their restaurants as they didn’t have ‘work force’ and that new generation of Indians did not want to give continuity t the business of their parents.
Hari Singh Thapa, who launched the Monty’s Nepalese Cuisine at South Ealing, London, in 1980, says that secret of success of Nepalese restaurateurs is their skill to produe tasty, healthy foods to the taste British palate and wonderful interpersonal relations with their customers. “Honesty is our greatest asset,” he added.
A leading British newspaper, The Guardian, once commented that the reason of success of Nepalese restaurants in the UK is ‘tasty food, friendly and hearty service and competitive menu.’
Challenges Ahead
Many Nepalese restaurants have closed down over the last couple of decades. “Those who had launched their restaurants without proper market research or knowhow could not succeed in the competitive marketplace. Otherwise, most of the Nepalese restaurants are doing well,” said Surya Gurung, owner of Gurkha Palace Restaurant at Farnborough.
According to the Nepalese Caterers Association (UK), most of the Nepalese restaurants are facing the shortage of manpower. Despite that some 2,000 people are believed to have been employed by Nepalese restaurants in the UK—majority of them are Nepalese residing in the UK.
According to Thapa of the NCA UK, one needs to invest GBP 100,000.00 to 200,000.00 to buy a restaurant on property investment basis. An average restaurant on a leasehold basis would require an investment of up to GBP 70,000. On this basis, it is estimated that Nepalese entrepreneurs have invested over 15 million people in their restaurants.
Besides catering to the taste of their customers, Nepalese restaurants have been promoting Nepalese culture, music and tourism in different ways. They have also been supporting different charitable activities both in the UK and Nepal by hosting charity dinner events.
Catering to the British Palate
In July 2013, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown inaugurated the Shimala Palace restaurant launched by Kashi Ram Bhandari and Arjun Bhandari in Scotland. It was a major achievement for Bhandari Brothers from Gulmi in west Nepal to launch an upmarket restaurant in Soctland. Mr Brown, a connoisseur of Nepalese food, also asked Bhandari Brothers to open a branch of their restaurant in his constituency, Kirkaldy.
The Everest Inn Group of Restaurants, including their outlets at Blackheath and Ashford , have hosted a number of celebrities including Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumle and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Many British MPs have endorsed local Nepalese restaurants in their constituencies. The Everest Inn has bagged ‘the best Nepalese Restaurant in the UK’ award continuously for three years setting a record.
In 2013, the Holy Cow group bagged the prestigious ‘Tiffin Cup Award.’ MP from Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth, Ms Jane Ellison, had asked her constituents to vote for the restaurant.
Four Nepalese restaurants including the Gurkha Palace Farnborough, Gurkha Palace Folkestone, Everest Spice Redhill and The Ganges and Gurkha Plymouth secured their place among top 100 restaurants in the prestigious British Curry Awards in 2013. The Cornwall-based Kathmandu Palace Restaurant was able to secure 16th position among the top 50 restaurants in a survey conducted by The Independent newspaper.
These are but few examples of achievement s of the Nepalese restaurants in the UK. In the highly competitive British curry industry earlier dominated by the Bengalis and Indian restaurants, Nepalese restaurants too are making their mark. “Nepalese food slightly modified from the Indian recipe are quite popular among the British customers,” said Kul Acharya, proprietor of the Holy Cow group of takeaways. “Most of our customers appreciate the hospitality and professionalism of Nepalese staff. But, most of our restaurants identify themselves as Nepalese and Indian restaurants in order to compete in the crowded market,” he added.
The catering industry in the UK is a major taxpayer and employs thousands of people across the country. Moreover, it is also promoting people-to-people level interaction between the British citizens and people from different countries. The NCA UK has called upon the British government to relax immigration rules so as to allow trained chefs from Nepal and other South Asian countries to come and work in the UK. “It is time for the British government to recognize and honour the contributions made by the catering industry in the UK and we hope the government will take concrete measures to address our problems,” said Bijaya Thapa, Chair of the NCA UK.