It is often said that the Veerraswamy is the oldest Indian restaurant in Britain. Well, Yes. Up to a Point, Lord Copper. It's the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Britain. But it is thought that the very first Indian restaurant in Britain- and possibly the Western World- was the splendid Hindostanee Coffee House, opened by Sake Dean Mahomed in George Street, London, in 1810.
Mahomed was an extraordinary character: the son of an official of the British East India Company, but adopted at an early age by an Anglo-Irish army officer. He served in the army of the East India Company as a surgeon, and later emigrated to Cork where he converted to Anglicanism, and subsequently eloped with a pretty Irish girl.
The Hindoostanee Coffee House opened in 1810 in George Street, near Portman Square:
Hindostanee Coffee-House, No. 34 George-street, Portman square-Mahomed, East-Indian, informs the Nobility and Gentry, he has fitted up the above house, neatly and elegantly, for the entertainment of Indian gentlemen, where they may enjoy the Hoakha, with real Chilm tobacco, and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection, and allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England with choice wines, and every accommodation, and now looks up to them for their future patronage and support, and gratefully acknowledges himself indebted for their former favours, and trusts it will merit the highest satisfaction when made known to the public
Mahomed sold Indian take away-too:
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…
I would give my teeth to have an original recipe from the Hindoostanee coffee house, but as far as I am aware none survive. So I turned to David Burton’s The Raj at Table which gives, at least, an impression of similar dishes that might have been served at the Hindoostanee Coffee House. Here’s a simple recipe for Country Captain, which was one of the most famous dishes in the Anglo-Indian repertoire:
Cut a roasting chicken into eight pieces, trim off the fat and fry in ghee until browned. Remove and set aside. To the remaining ghee add two sliced onions and fry for a few minutes along with five crushed cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated root ginger. Then add 1 teaspoon of turmeric, freshly chopped green chillies (to taste), 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper and two bruised cloves. Cook for a minute or two.
In goes the chicken pieces and some stock. Cover the pan and simmer at a lowish heat until the meat is tender. Top up with more stock or water, if neccessary. Finish off with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Serve with fried onion rings and chopped red and green chilis.
It’s a pretty simple curry, but sometimes simplicity is the way forward. The sauce is going to be fairly thin, so watch the reduction with care until you get the consistancy you want. Adding freshly chopped coriander to the chili garnish at the end might also be a good plan.