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Published: 24 April 2008
Farjad Raihan with Shahbhag staff Azizur Rahman, Shira Miah, Abbas Ali, and Raju Ahmed
Farjad Raihan with Shahbhag staff Azizur Rahman, Shira Miah, Abbas Ali, and Raju Ahmed
Still one of our hottest Indians

Shahbhag owner Farjad Raihan remains fiercely committed to the
authentic tastes his family brought from Bangladesh in the 1950s,
writes Peter Gruner

IT’S the oldest Indian restaurant in Hampstead and one of the oldest in the capital.
For more than 50 years a Bangladeshi family have managed to stay one step ahead of the forbidding opposition by continuing to provide good, wholesome Indian food to a vast army of loyal customers.
When the Shahbhag started out in what was then a small and humble shop in Rosslyn Hill, curry was a novelty and spices something you tried on holiday.
Today, curry is recognised as part of the British national diet – like fish and chips – only there are more Indian restaurants per head of the population than there are chippies.
Owner Farjad Raihan is just 34 and is too young to remember the struggles and the culture shock experienced by his distant relatives when they first arrived in London in the 1950s.
He was born and brought up in Golders Green and attended Hendon comprehensive school before going on to college.
Now responsible for eight staff and a busy restaurant with many famous customers, including boxer Lennox Lewis and Oasis star Liam Gallagher, Farjad looks back with quiet pride at the sacrifices made by his family.    
“The secret of our success is never resting on our laurels,” he says. “Indian food is highly competitive and you must be ahead of the game.
“We only use fresh produce and authentic flavours. We use no artificial colours and we are relatively light on spice compared with other restaurants. Our food is delicately spiced rather than heavily spiced.”
The restaurant is popular for its marinated grilled Bengal “boal” fish, king prawns cooked in garlic and ginger, and chicken cooked with mango. It uses tamarind and lemon sauces on many dishes.
“I regularly return to Bangladesh, where the family has a house, to pick up new recipes,” says Farjad.
When he’s not supervising the restaurant, Farjad, who lives above the premises, goes walking across Hampstead Heath to relax and contemplate business.
“I love Hampstead,” he says.
“It’s a very friendly place and we have so many wonderful customers. Many are second or third generations of families who have been coming for as long as we have been here.”
As the Indian sub-continent becomes more prosperous, so some of Farjad’s customers will visit Bangladesh to discover for themselves the flavours introduced here by the Raihan family.
“People’s impression was that Bangladesh was a third-world country,” he says. “But it does have wonderful, unspoilt beaches and restaurants that use organic produce and fresh chicken.
“The difference is that in the UK eating is a social thing while in Bangladesh people eat and go.”
Farjad loves cooking but prefers to take his time over a dish.
“I’d love to do a book of my favourite recipes,” he admits.
My friend and I shared a lunch of Bengal king prawns, which were exquisite, an excellent plate of Tandoori chicken, and various lightly cooked fresh vegetable dishes along with mint tea.
• Shahbhag, 70 Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, NW3.
020 7794 9959

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