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Who had the Lamb Bhuna?

Fancy a curry? Today you’ll be spoilt for choice, takeaways and restaurants have proliferate on our high streets for many years, but how far back would you have to go before finding it almost impossible to get your favourite dish? The answer is probably a lot earlier than you might be thinking.

34 George Street

The Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, which is near Portman Square was opened in 1810. The man famed for bringing Indian cuisine to the masses (possibly not to everyone’s tastes) was Sake Dean Mahomed. A native of Bengal who grew up in Patna. His father served in the East India Company’s Bengal Army and died in battle when Mahomed was about 11 years old. Following his father’s death, he was taken under the wing of Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, an Anglo-Irish Protestant officer. Mahomed served in the army of the East India Company as a trainee surgeon. He remained with Captain Baker until 1782, when the Captain resigned, as did Mohamed. That same year, the two men moved to Cork in Ireland.In 1786 he married a local girl, Jane Daly and had six children, Rosanna, Henry, Horatio, Frederick, Arthur and Dean, a bit more about his family life to follow.

7 Ryder Street

At the turn of the 1800s the family left Cork and established themselves at 7 Little Ryder Street (now Ryder Street) in St James. Despite his earlier career as a surgeon he doesn’t appear to have entered mainstream medicine. He found employment with Basil Cochrane a Scottish civil servant, businessman, inventor, and wealthy nabob of early-19th-century England. A nabob is a conspicuously wealthy man deriving his fortune in the east, especially in India during the 18th century with the privately held East India Company.

Basil Cochrane

Cochrane had recently installed a steam bath for public use in a house in Portman Square and it appears that Mohamed was employed as a front man to extoll it’s medical efficacy. It is thought that Mohamed is responsible for introducing the practice of champi or Indian massage at the baths, possibly the first emporium in both London and possibly Europe to offer the practice we know today as shampooing.

Why Mohamed should open a restaurant in the area is a bit of a mystery. It’s location close to fashionable St Jame’s and Mayfair, densely populated by those such as Basil Cochrane who may have hankered for dishes they would have consumed in the sub continent could have been the reason. On the 2nd February 1810 he placed the following in The Times, which also mentions another of his business interests, that of the purveyor of curry powder.

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…

  Not much is known about what was on the menu, but the business got a review in the Epicures Almanac

opened… for the purpose of giving dinners in the Hindoostanee style, with other refreshments of the same genus. All the dishes were dressed with curry powder, rice, cayenne and the best spices of Arabia.
A room was set apart for smoking from hookahs with oriental herbs. The rooms were neatly fitted up en suite, and furnished with chairs and sofas made of bamboo canes. Chinese pictures and other Asiatic embellishments, representing views in India, oriental sports, and groups of natives decorated the walls.

Mohamed also offered the rather forward thinking service of takeaway delivery. Despite having a monopoly in the metropolis the restaurant was not a success and started to loose money at an alarming rate. Mohamed decided to sell up in 1811 and was himself declared bankrupt in 1812, the restaurant continued to trade until 1833. He was faced with having to provide for his wife and children as related earlier, but also for another wife and child as he had married Jane Jefferies bigamously in 1806. He started advertising his services as a butler or valet until he was appointed as a ‘shampooing surgeon’ to King George IV and William IV.

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