The great British tradition of going for a curry on a Friday night appears to be dropping by the wayside, with an estimated 12,000 curry houses disappearing. As Joel Flynn reports, culture, not just cuisine, might be to blame.
It's lunchtime in the Bengal Clipper kitchen, and chicken tikka masala - a British favourite - is being prepared. This isn't the busiest time of day, but that's not slowing down head chef Mohammed Asrar, from the Bihar region of India. He's worked for years to be able to blend spices, but when it comes to customers, the Clipper and its curry competition are facing slimmer pickings than ever. Business is down - and changing tastes are to blame, according to owner Mukit Choudhury. SOUNDBITE: Bengal Clipper owner, Mukit Choudhury, saying (English): "The old generation, they've gone back behind and the new generation took over the place, and since then I find the Indian restaurant is slowly, slowly - the customer base is slowly, slowly coming down." Costs too are a big problem. While the price of a curry might barely have changed in the last few years or even decades, the weakness of the pound and the rising price of spices is hitting the bottom line. Rents - in the capital in particular - have also risen, but it's staffing that's the biggest worry. SOUNDBITE: Reuters Reporter, Joel Flynn, saying (English): "Much is at stake - and not just for the industry itself. Curry houses employ 100,000 people in Britain, many of them famously here on Brick Lane in London, and as far as sales are concerned, according to a government committee on curry, it's worth more than 4.2 billion pounds a year." If current trends continue, the Bangladeshi Caterers' Association expect up to a third of curry houses to go bust. But while many might publicly lament the dying off of a great British institution, restaurant footfall suggests curry might not be on the menu much longer.