ETHNIC-BASED EATING HABITS
Investigating the eating habits of any one community must surely be an extremely ambitious and complicated task – for one, it presupposes direct access to a family’s kitchen. Given such difficulties, we shall have to restrict ourselves to an investigation of the public eating habits of people residing in the locality of East Ham. Practically speaking, that would mean that we shall have to confine our present research work to an investigation of East Ham’s restaurants and other related outlets.
Writing of East Ham in The Hindu, K.S.S. Seshan makes the following observations regarding restaurants and other food outlets in the locality: “There are a large number of… restaurants here run by Asians. The well-known restaurant chain Saravana Bhavan, has a beautiful restaurant in East Ham. Anantha Puri, [Sans Thiru], run by Kerala immigrants is famous for Kerala specific dishes. Kalpana, Taj Mahal and Ann Purna [Annapurna, anglicized], are the other popular eating places. The ambience and décor of these… restaurants give an authentic regional flavour” [cf. “Asian locality in London city”, cited, inter alia, in Paper 4a, my emph.].
Such observations may be immediately verified by simply walking around East Ham’s central marketplace, sited along its well-known High Street. Most restaurants and other food outlets in the locality are run by Asian settlers and other immigrants. All or most of these eating houses are clearly characteristic of some specific ethnic culture – they naturally emanate from the “cultural clusters” that compose the locality of East Ham. Seshan is therefore quite accurate when he writes of “an authentic regional flavour” in describing the cuisine of these restaurants, or when he speaks of culturally “specific dishes” [ibid.] served in their premises.
We have been able to identify 30 eating houses [some of these are mentioned by Seshan above], all or most of which provide specific ethnic-based cuisines and are expressive of particular ethnic minority cultural practices [cf. TripAdvisor LLC [US], https://www.tripadvisor.com.gr; cf. also Zomato, https://www.zomato.com – these being our major, though not only, sources of information].
We shall here present a list of these food outlets, many of which are located near the East Ham Underground Station. The listing shall be accompanied by a variety of comments made by people who happened to have visited these outlets – it should be emphasized that whatever language errors are exclusively theirs, as quoted. We shall thereafter attempt to make some very general observations on the public eating habits of East Ham’s residents based, inter alia, on such customer comments.
- The Priya Restaurant, 209 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes include Sri Lankan, South Indian and generally Indian.
According to one patron: “Tried all the others [viz. food outlets] in the area and this is by far the best… Proper South Indian food and very reasonable prices”.
- Tippy’s Café, 291 Barking Road, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes are primarily Thailandese, though could also include English dishes such as omelettes and chips sandwiches.
One patron had this to say: “… I have eaten in dozens of Thai restaurants in the UK and the USA and this is simply the best Thai food I have ever had! It’s also very cheap…”
Yet another customer comments as follows: “Thai – as it should taste. I had the honour to eat at Tippy’s for a very very long time ago, I have now got a taste for Thai food and the flavours the food has. Thanks to Tippy’s I am still in love with the Thai foods”.
- Taste of India, 340 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Generally Indian.
Of the various comments on this restaurant made by patrons through the years, we present the following five:
First: “Nice place to have non veg of Indian style. Great place to hangout with friends on weekends. Had my 1st treat in this restaurant in London”.
Second: “They have 3 thali [or platter] options on the menu, i.e. Northern, Southern and Punjabi…”
Third: “This place serves some of the authentic Indian curries. Went there with a bunch of friends… The North Indian cuisine scores over the South Indian one… This place is always crowded and noisy…”
Fourth: “… The Taste of India… True to its name, this place does justice to the Indian Curries as well as the South Indian dishes... The place is clean and has a traditional diya [a small cup-shaped oil lamp made of baked clay] at the entrance which gives it a very Indian feeling… Best thing about this place is that it is authentically INDIAN food!”
Fifth: Regarding the restaurant’s South Indian cuisine: “No reason to go this place when you can literally cross the road and eat at best South Indian place in London. Sarvana [the reference is to the Saravana Bhavan restaurant – cf. K.S.S. Seshan, op. cit.] has to be heads and shoulders above this one”. Regarding its North Indian cuisine: “Simple fare, nothing worth mentioning. Again not comparable to Punjabs and Moti Mahals [the reference here is to other Asian restaurants in the locality]. But then again, maybe worth reckoning if you take the price points into account”.
- Ananthapuri Restaurant, 200 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are South Indian and generally Indian.
This outlet is owned by Kerala immigrants, as mentioned by K.S.S. Seshan above. Of the various comments made by customers, we present the following five:
First: “Kerala fish curry meals is awesome. Authentic Kerala food, it just close to the East Ham Tube station. The biryani chicken or fish [originating amongst Muslims of the Indian subcontinent] are worth trying too”.
Second: “Small and clean place. Authentic Kerala food”.
Third: “Wanted to try something different, been here it was empty & the most horrible customer service! Absolute disgraceful place. The man standing there was not helpful at all, we ordered the food & didn’t even finish & left as we didn’t want to be there. Horrible experience!”
Fourth: “The food was below average, but worse was that the manager cheated us on the food bill… they are dodgy and the place is unhygienic!”
Fifth: “So I went to this restaurant… to celebrate Onam [annual Hindu festival originating in the state of Kerala]… The place is humble and felt like I was back in India for a bit as I saw buckets of food coming and being served on my banana leaf [read plate]…”
- The Murugan Idli Restaurant, 315 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are Indian and generally Asiatic.
As the name of this outlet testifies, it specializes in the making of “idli”, this being a type of savoury rice cake originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is popular as a breakfast recipe in Southern India and amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka.
One patron has made the following comment: “Went to this new idli restaurant in East Ham [writing in February, 2019 – the outlet is a flagship restaurant belonging to an India-based food group]. I was through the door at 9am on Sunday. Ordered their signature idli… I must say the idli was steaming hot just out of the pot and very very soft…”
Yet another customer had this to say: “Very upset with the quality of food they delivered. I found iron wire in my idli. It looks like dish cleaning iron scrub…”
- Thayakam Restaurant, 278 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are South Indian, Sri Lankan and generally Indian.
One customer has made the following comment: “Been there many times and what attract me to this place is the Non-Vegetarian Buffet which consists of rice,… egg curry, lamb curry, chicken curry, vegetable fry… and payasam [similar to rice pudding] for a dessert. All this for just £5.99. Though the food is not very great the price you pay offsets that. My only complaint is the… smells of raw milk because milk is not cooked enough and does not integrate into payasam…”
Yet another patron has this to say: “We were wondering why the neighbour restaurant had a massive queue and Thayakam had very few. We ended up taking 5 takeaways from Thayakam. The Biryani was probably three days old or more. Curry tasted disgusting and we binned the entire takeaway. Such a shame! Not recommended, avoid at any cost or at least don’t go for takeaway!”
A third patron comments as follows: “… This restaurant ticks all the boxes for a good Malayali [Keralite] meal. We often settle in for buffet [5 pounds per person] for the spicy mutton curry that they serve. It’s brilliant… Being a Malayali restaurant they definitely do great fish. Fish curry is quite spicy… [Being a Bangalorean I obviously love it]… It’s a very basic place with no frills and fancy attachments…”
- The Gully Restaurant, 305 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are primarily South Indian, especially recipes of the Hyderabadi cuisine, this being the native cooking style of the Hyderabadi Muslims.
One patron makes the following comment: “South Indian food is very famous here, where you can enjoy the real Indian taste”.
Yet another customer comments: “It’s an authentic hyderabadi biryani and I would highly recommend this to people who miss hyderabadi/telegu food”.
- Chennai Dosa, 177 High Street North, East Ham [one of the seven branches operating in London]
Cuisine: Dishes served are Indian and South Indian.
Of the very many comments made by patrons, we present the following:
First: “… typical Tamil Nadu style breakfast…”
Second: “Went there for my lunch and opted to have a South India thali… It actually had a hint of authentic Indian flavours”.
Third: “Best thing I like here is their buffet for 6 pounds… on the whole a good place with authentic South Indian options”.
Fourth: “Me and my partner use to be regular customers, eating there up to three time per week… We never complained or gave the staff any sort of problem when suddenly one day we tried to order and a member of staff… accused us of smoking marijuana in the toilet the previous time we were there! This in front of other customers and with our total surprise as none of us smoke and we would never do it in the toilet of the restaurant where we eat so often anyway!... Thing to be mentioned we are practically the only not Asian customer I ever seen there and I connect the accusation to… that, which makes things even worst…”
Fifth: “Tonight I ordered takeaway, special chicken curry, plain rice and chapati [thin pancake of unleavened wholemeal bread], when I open the food to eat I got cold hard rice, cold chapati and smelly and too much lemon taste chicken… very very very shit food…”
Sixth: “… I wouldn’t deny that it [the restaurant] was probably a very popular choice amongst Indians around East Ham or Ilford for that matter” [this comment written 30.01.2015].
Seventh: “The ambience is poor as the place is filthy with dirty tables and food spilt on the floor and the place was overcrowded and noisy”.
Eighth: “All in all a decent South Indian restaurant in London! I would say the food is way better than the Bangladeshi owned Indian restaurants… which should be avoided at all costs which comes with highly questionable authenticity”.
Ninth: “An expanding South Indian restaurant chain in UK, they now have 7 branches in London. Mostly close to Indian localities… The best branch I came across was the Birmingham one, the one in East Ham was the worse”.
- Hyderabad Bawarchi, 135A High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are South Indian, North Indian, generally Indian and Chinese.
Of the many comments made by customers, we present the following:
First: “This restaurant is situated on a second floor of an old building. The food was very tasty. Generous portions and a great price makes it a place worth trying”.
Second: “The best biryani I had in the UK. Prices are also cheap compared to other restaurants. Must try if you love spice or Hyderabadi food”.
Third: “The best biryani I had in London from past 2 years. I strongly recommend this place if you are from Hyderabad [capital of the Indian state of Telangana] and looking for a Hyderabadi Dum biryani in London”.
Fourth: “Very very bad place for food… While you entering in to the restaurant you will see a kitchen, if you turn your head see the kitchen environment you won’t eat anything there, that worse standards are they maintaining. Owner prefer only cash to skip the paying taxes what ever he earned. He don’t have any ethics… he can’t even help the people of his state as well… he is the worse guy…”
Fifth: “Horrible place! Very bad food! Unhygienic. Had food poisoning next day! The dishes were dirty, the meat was definitely frozen! Water jug was served dirty. It was so dirty that we managed the food without a sip of water!... The biryani alone might taste a little nice close to Indian local biryani but you WILL have after effects. Beware!
Sixth: “Brilliant and authentic hyderabadi dishes. Wonderful to find such a restaurant away from Hyderabad…”
Seventh: “Awesome Hyderabadi biryani and haleem [the latter being a type of stew, popular in areas such as the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East]. Almost like eating in Hyderabad. In East Ham never trusted anything so delicious”.
- Saravana Bhavan, 300 High Street North, East Ham [there are other branches of this outlet in London; the East Ham branch is mentioned by K.S.S. Seshan above]
Cuisine: South Indian and generally Indian.
Very many reviews have been written on this restaurant by its numerous customers. We here present a mere sample of patrons’ comments:
First: “I have been this restaurant since last 9 years with my family and also the last maneger was so talented and excellents customer service… but they change the manager for last few months ago and the new maneger, he is racist… whenever I go for eat my order always go above £25… just because I am MUSLIM AND FULL RELIGIOUS BEARDED”.
Second: “Definitely the most popular South Indian restaurant in East Ham or maybe all of London! We’ve been going here regularly…”
Third: “Walking up the Sri Mahalakshmi Temple [cf. Paper 4a] on High Street North of the East Ham station, this Saravana branch has spacious modern seating along a long bright room…”
Fourth: “Went to this restaurant with a few of my London friends as they wanted to taste close to authentic South Indian Food, and I thought what could be better than Saravana Bhavan. I could not have made a more poor decision. Starting from the simple broth ‘rasam’ [South Indian spicy soup] to the dishes that followed, the food was horrible, horrible and more horrible. The paneer fry starter [made of fresh cheese, common in the Indian subcontinent] was so bad, my friend gagged… A word for the wise: avoid this restaurant like the plague. We paid for disgusting food and poor service. Waste of time and money and a bad stomach for two days”.
Fifth: “Overall the food was good but a very busy place and I hear that it can be crazy on weekends”.
Sixth: “This is a South Indian restaurant. The North Indian food here is bound to be a disaster…”
Seventh: “One of the best places for some good old South Indian food… Felt just like home and was worth it”.
Eighth: “South Indians do pilgrimage to Mahalakshmi temple and Saravana Bhavan. Ultra popular among Indian vegetarian[s]…”
Ninth: “There are couple of guys in East Ham Saravana Bhavan who don’t deal with customers in a friendly manner! It’s disgusting. Here, they give priority first to families, if a person come alone for food, he/she don’t get fair treatment as a customer”.
Tenth: “This place is truly a home away from home… East Ham is a place with lots of Indian restaurants and this place stood out!”
Eleventh: “The tables were left unclean even after the customers had left… The staff wasn’t too smiley, it looked like they were more comfortable attending to people from their own community”.
Twelfth: “… the service staff seem to favour those patrons who speak Tamil. That’s downright unprofessional”.
Thirteenth: “As its massive popularity with resident and visiting Indians suggest, Saravana Bhavan does mean South Indian food”.
Fourteenth: “Service and Décor of the restaurant is basic and simple, it is East Ham after all so don’t expect too much for the atmosphere”.
- Hyderabadi Spice, 309 High Street North, Manor Park, East Ham
Cuisine: Dishes served are mainly Indian and generally Asian, including special Halal diets.
We present some samples of the very many patrons’ comments:
First: “Smell inside the restaurant was not good. Maybe the table we got was near to washroom or maybe the people sitting next to us ordered some bad smelly food. We decided to change the table and thankfully it was not smelly. We ordered 4 items and all were very bad in taste…”
Second: “Chicken curry was terrible and the naan [a leavened, oven-baked flatbread found in the cuisines of India and generally Asia] was super dry. Staff were very rude and unfriendly upon hearing our conversation about the terrible food. Ill-mannered staff…”
Third: “Abrupt service, but if efficiency is what you’re after, this is the place for you. The curries were ok, but the naan was disappointing. A bit of crispy pitta bread is NOT naan… Clinical restaurant. Could also be cleaner. Had a sticky table…”
Fourth: “I would say they do best biryani around east London… but the staff and their service is pathetic. They don’t even have a clue about customer service. It’s like the management just picked somebody who every cost him less money and don’t have any education or any kind of skills even the guy standing behind the till… So my advice is give the staff some sort of training and make sure they don’t smell horrible when at work as it is against food and hygiene”.
Fifth: “I have been visited this place many a times… the short man with beard on the counter looks like he is from Bangladesh doesn’t know how to speak to customers. The management needs to focus more on customer friendly staff as I love the food here but I met this man for the second time, he is not well-mannered as we pay for what we order and not there to take people’s bad attitude…”
Sixth: “… Please do not go to this dirty restaurant. I ordered chicken…, they gave frozen one and smells rotten. Biryani is not authentic, service very rude…”
Seventh: “If you have good taste for biryani, this is the place… Very limited tables, do get busy during weekends. Do book a table. No restaurant parking, no alcohol. Good family environment with Bollywood music. Friendly staff except of one tall guy. I think he keeps himself high to work and didn’t understand anything. So my advice is always go for short one…”
Eighth: “Haleem [a type of stew] is prepared during the Ramadan month. We specifically planned our dinner at the Hyderabadi Spice to have Haleem and Hyderabadi Biryani… We were not disappointed at all… The owner and chef are from Hyderabad and have kept up the recipe and preparation… It is located in East Ham which has a good South Indian population. Getting to taste the authentic recipe in London, what more to ask!”
Ninth: “I think only lazy house wifes and mothers take there families there as they have no idea what good Indian food is”.
Tenth: “I have been to India couple of years ago and it [the Hyderabadi Spice restaurant] reminds me of typical Indian restaurant”.
Eleventh: “I ordered Large Chicken Biryani with Haleem… Chicken Biryani looked delicious, but when served with friends we found a snail. This spoiled our dinner mood”.
Twelfth: “Firstly, there is hardly any parking nearby… the High St. is way too busy. It [the restaurant] was reasonably busy when we went… Reasonable space and clean. Staff were friendly and polite, lovely Urdu [language spoken in Pakistan and India], mainly Indian clientele… Others around us were eating biryani, and it did look tempting”.
Thirteenth: “The restaurant is very cramped and the toilet is the smallest you would have ever seen”.
Fourteenth: “Perfectly made Biryani and massive portions… I am not a big fan of East Ham but I didn’t mind taking the tube train all the way from Central London as the biryani will get you craving all the time… If you miss biryani from back home, give this place a shot and you will not be disappointed”.
Fifteenth: “… The restaurant itself is quite small and drab which sums it all up. However, it’s quite clear their food is popular in the locality because they were very busy with takeaways”.
Sixteenth: “… We were a little disconcerted that we were the only European faces anywhere to be seen [in the locality], but taking that as a positive sign about the food we went in [the restaurant]. It was terrific… We were made very welcome by both the staff and local customers, and I just loved watching the Indian TV channel on the wall. I wondered if our football shirts would ‘put off’ the locals, but seemingly not. No… alcohol available”.
- Udaya Restaurant, 105 Katherine Road, Upton Park, East Ham
Cuisine: South Indian, generally Indian, Curry.
This apparently rather popular restaurant in East Ham promotes its services via a Facebook Page and also has its own website. Its popularity in the locality is in any case secured by what seems to be the high quality of its cuisine, which has spread by word of mouth. According to its website [cf. https://udayarestaurant.com]: “Udaya opened in September 1999 and is located in East Ham, London. Our chefs are from Kerala, a small state in Southern India and are renowned for the cooking of traditional Kerala food”. The website presents the outlet as “London’s premier Kerala restaurant”. It further notes that “Udaya is a purveyor of authentic Keralan dining!”
Some of the numerous customer reviews – but not all of which are positive – read as follows:
First: “Udaya doesn’t look like anything special – it’s the converted ground floor of a residential house, but the food is excellent!”
Second: “Such a wonderful and amazing food of Kerala in London… chef Rajeev was so amazing in his cooking… six of us along with two kids enjoyed the food like anything…”
Third: “The member of staff that was serving was very unprofessional and publicly insulted me when I asked questions about the source of food. This is not what I would expect from a UK based restaurant.”
Fourth: “Everything tasted genuine… Makes a huge change from the run of the mill Indian restaurant who all have exactly the same dishes”.
Fifth: “My husband, son and I ate at this restaurant situated between East Ham and Upton Park… The surroundings were spotless and very pleasant…”
Sixth: “The food is typical South Indian, which features a lot of interesting dishes not seen in other bland curry restaurants in the area”.
Seventh: “… Nice and peaceful. I think this is one of the oldest South Indian restaurants in East Ham.”
- Sri Rathiga Indian Vegetarian Restaurant, 233-235 High Street North, East Ham [next to the Sri Mahalakshmi Temple]
Cuisine: Primarily Indian, though also includes generally Asiatic dishes.
Customers’ comments include the following:
First: “… I left the place feeling sad at being fleeced 3 pounds off me, which didn’t feel right”.
Second: “The typical and authentic Indian veg restaurant with original flavour of Indian food…”
Third: “I will recommend this restaurant to all esp to my Gujurati community who crave for good dosas [a cooked flat thin-layered rice batter, of South Indian origin]…”
- Laziza Hut, 179 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Primarily Pakistani, but also more generally Indian and Asian.
This is an outlet owned and run by Pakistani immigrants. Some of the information presented below has been retrieved from the restaurant’s Facebook Page.
Customer reviews and comments include the following:
First: “I went few months ago with my family as usual as we have been using this restaurant for nearly 8 to 9 year but this visit was not good for us as we ordered for Magaz [‘maghaz’ or ‘magaj’ is a popular Pakistani and Bangladeshi food consisting of the brain of a cow, goat or sheep served with gravy] which was not cooked properly it was smelly and the waiter was so rude that we have decided that we will never go again I called the Restaurant and told the so called owner and he said he will look after the issue but we are still not satisfied I am Indian but use to like Pakistani food but now we have decided no more. I will not recommend any one to have food from there. Its my opinion and experience we had face on that day”.
Second: “Great location and a really warm and friendly atmosphere. Clean and tidy…”
Third: “Perfect perfect perfect. Great service. Always love their food. Oh I started getting hungry while writing their review. Love the tidy place. Right next to East Ham station…”
Fourth: “Food was OK but totally crap service. Totally backhome service… We called and booked table for 3. There were no seats available, were offered seats top floor, where it was all packed away. We were trying to eat but most men came upstairs to read namaaz [‘namaz’ refers to the ritual prayers prescribed by Islam to be observed five times a day]… it was totally embarrassing and annoying. Totally unprofessionally, the female waiter must have forgotten we were even there. Don’t ever go during Ramadan, no one care or looks after you. I’ll never go back there ever again and never recommend you guys to anyone”.
Fifth: “No work ethic. Ordered a chicken for my daughter along with other stuff. The chicken smelled foul so I complained. All they said was, we also ate it in the afternoon. It [the restaurant, presumably] used to be good. Not now”.
Sixth: “… Perfect place for party…”
Seventh: “My favorite local restaurant with over 100 dishes to choose from. The staff is very friendly and the special drink they serve… is truly thirst extinguishing”.
Eighth: “Crap, waste of time and money. Go for single dish downstairs”.
Ninth: “Went on a Sunday, we went to the buffet and was completely empty at 5.00 pm, food was cold and the actual room was very cold…”
Tenth: “We went there several time but this time they cross the limit, awful service… the last time there was even a fight outside the shop, police was there as well, simply unbelievable”.
- Vasanta Bhavan [or Vasantha Vilas Bhavan], 206 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Generally Indian and/or Asian, but especially South Indian and above all Sri Lankan, Curry.
Customers’ reviews include the following:
First: “Ideal for a cheap option to grab a quick bite. Not ideal for group of more than two. Food tastes great… Very small and cramped…”
Second: “I frequent this place for breakfast and dinner, almost 4 times a week… Would recommend this place for authentic South Indian food”.
Third: “Warning to all of you reading this. Very very bad experience. I was starving one evening and went in to this restaurant. I thought I will have a quick bite first and think of what to order meanwhile. I ordered Bonda [a typical South Indian snack, made of gram flour batter, potato or other vegetables]. Oh my God! Never again I would step into this restaurant. Bonda was little warm, brought to table after heating it in the microwave. Chutney [sauce, used in the Indian subcontinent] was cold, brought to table from fridge. And taste, stop there – don’t even imagine”.
Fourth: “The best Tamil meals in town… only if the place had more hygiene…”
Fifth: “Dirty chairs, furniture, curtains, unprofessional staff… Unhygienic kitchen”.
Sixth: “Vasanta Bhavan is a haven for any South Indian who’s having dosa and idli withdrawal symptoms. The smell of boiling Sambar [a lentil-based vegetable stew, popular in South India and Sri Lanka] envelopes your senses as soon as you enter and you feel like you’ve just walked into a quaint restaurant in the south of India”.
Seventh: “My South Indian friends got me hooked on this hole-in-the-wall place, and now I have to go whenever I am in London. According to my friends the food is perfectly authentic to what they grew up with… Prices are astoundingly low… There is no alcohol served or allowed in the restaurant. Décor is non-existent, furniture is decrepit, and big groups are seated in a back room which is even dingier and less attractive than the front room… I do have to warn fellow westerners, the restaurant looks really unclean [and trust me, the bathroom is not for the faint of heart]. However my friends assure me this is how these East Ham restaurants all are, and this one in particular is always crowded, and I have eaten there at least twenty times and never got sick. So apparently it is safe enough, and it is totally worth it for the awesome food”.
Eighth: “Have been hearing about Vasanta Bhavan, since couple of years from friends of mine, who have their Friday lunch at this restaurant. I think that says about this restaurant already and having joined them at the same work-place, I have started frequenting this place every Friday… I think they can improve their ambience, and also on the cleanliness end…”
Ninth: “… It feels like you are sitting in India…”
- The Suvai Restaurant [or Suvai Chettinaad], 207 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Sri Lankan, Tamil, South Indian and generally Indian.
This outlet makes use of Facebook to promote itself; not too many customer reviews are available regarding its services – on the other hand, there are a couple of websites referring to this restaurant which may give us some idea of how it operates.
Of the few reviews accessible, one patron had this to say: “Visited several times already. Just opposite East Ham tube station. Looks unassuming from the outside but the food is amazing. Very reasonably priced. Authentic South Indian cuisine. Very welcoming and helpful staff…”
According to one website [cf. https://access-eat.blogspot.com, 21.03.2009]: “You would struggle to spend more than £15 per head in this restaurant and you can probably eat quite well for £10… English can be a little difficult… it’s worth it despite occasional disorganization”.
Yet another website [cf. https://tripulous.com, 08.04.2012] notes: “As long as you don’t mind the chipped tables and tired décor, this super-basic South Indian café [its focus, the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu] serves knockout food at crazily low prices…” The suggestion that this outlet’s “focus” is the Chettinad region simply tells us that its core cuisine is of that area.
- Nalas Aappakadai, 354 High Street North, Manor Park, East Ham
There are a number of customers’ reviews on this outlet’s operation [cf. also https://youtube.com, “Nolas Appa Kadai Restaurant East Ham”, 02.11.2013]. Comments include the following:
First: “Had the misfortune of visiting this place on weekend for dinner. Ordered chicken… and fish fry and both were burnt beyond recognition. The chicken Chettinad gravy was so spicy and my stomach burn until the next morning. The prices are very low but I guess you get what you pay for…”
Second: “Good food!!! Recreate the feeling of Chennai [or Madras, capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu] in London. Amazing appam [a type of pancake, originating from the Indian subcontinent] and South Indian curries…”
Third: “Went to this place with lots of doubt... had a series of disappointments with the restaurants at East Ham. This one was different, the taste was authentic…”
Fourth: “I would recommend this to Asians and those who prefer authentic South Indian [Tamil, Telugu] dishes. If you are not Asian or dislike spicy food, I am not sure you would like the authentic South Indian taste. The restaurant is in the far end of the High Street – away from the leading restaurants. The staff are pleasant, much better than Saravana Bhavan”.
- Ananthapuram Restaurant, 241A High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Kerala, South Indian.
Some customer reviews are as follows:
First: “We have been to this restaurant many times since we live closeby. The restaurant is quite basic in terms of décor but very clean. The food here is really good. Would recommend the seafood and Kerala specialty dishes!”
Second: “Very nice South Indian food. Staff are very friendly. Menu prices are reasonable. We always go there for weekends and special occasions. Kerala lunch was excellent”.
Third: “It is a couple of minutes away from East Ham underground station and is two doors away from the famous Mahalakshmi temple… Overall the food was ok but ambience could have been better. The lady who was serving was very friendly and quick”.
Fourth: “Lots of Keralites were eating here, so Ananthapuram are clearly getting something right!”
Fifth: “I travelled to London as a tourist and wanted to experience the taste of South Indian food other than the usual and generic Indian restaurant menus. And being a Keralite, I ditched the idea of going to the Saravana Bhavans and Udupis [outlets serving Udupi food, originating from the south western Indian state of Karnataka] to get a taste of the authentic Kerala food and I wasn’t disappointed by choosing Ananthapuram! The food is good and comes cheap and I am sure the folks from Kerala will find it a blessing to have one of these restaurants out there… Overall, I would say that the restaurant is worth a try if you want to taste some part of Kerala and especially folks from south of Kerala [?]”.
Sixth: “Went there for tea and cutlets, something we would have in Kerala in our college days if we have more than Rs. 30 [Rs. = rupees] in our pocket… After this we see that garbage was being moved in bin bags right through the front, now that can’t be right. And then we have the cashier and the chef arguing about dirt under the chef’s feet. Oh well!... The… restaurant looks worn down… go figure!”
Seventh: “We have been to this restaurant twice now. We are from Kent but visit the Murugan temple in East Ham [cf. Paper 4a] and always wanted to find somewhere to eat in the area. The restaurant is quite basic in terms of décor but very clean… Great variety of Kerala feasts, seafood is the regions speciality so go for them. Portions are very generous and the value is awesome”.
Eighth: “Beware, is authentic cuisine, so it can be a bit hot. They have a small selection of beers and spirits”.
- Thattukada Kerala Restaurant, 229 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: South Indian, Indian, Curry.
Customer reviews include the following:
First: “Typical Kerala style restaurant… Nice to have Kerala style food in London”.
Second: “I have been to Kerala and honestly the food here is done better, I don’t know how!”
Third: “… The toilets both gents and ladies were in a horrible state. In both the toilets there was only one toilet roll which was found soaking in a mug full of water in the wash basin. And the toilet door locks broken and a door that would not move. The foul smell from the toilet comes into the eating area”.
Fourth: “More of a café than a restaurant, it’s so informal that when the beer ran out the waiter fetched a few bottles from the offie a few doors away [the “offie” being a convenience store that sells alcohol, to be consumed off its premises]. There are groups of people sitting around, chatting, eating, drinking, all very friendly. One of these chaps is the manager. Various of the men seem to wander into and out of the kitchen or simply stare up at the Bollywood videos on the screen. What does emerge from the kitchen is really spicy, tasty food, all with the strong earthy spices of Kerala. It’s all very relaxed, especially the waiter who may look like a South Indian equivalent of Boycie from Only Fools and Horses [British TV sitcom], but who does things entirely at his own pace”.
Fifth: “Indian restaurant which streams Indian songs from YouTube on repeat”.
Sixth: “… the service is very bad… main thing I feel like our Kerala restaurant in my home town that kind of service I was get there… please improve the service”.
The London food blog, London Eater, has published an article on the Thattukada Kerala restaurant – we present parts of this more or less useful text below [cf. Shekha Vyas, “What to order at Thattukada, London’s best Keralan restaurant”, https://www.london.eater.com, 18.02.2019]:
Firstly, and by way of an introduction, Vyas writes: “At this East Ham institution, find incredible parotta [a layered flatbread, originating from the Indian subcontinent], appam, vegetable thali, and south Indian fry dishes”.
Secondly, Vyas tells us that the Thattukada Kerala Restaurant places great emphasis on the serving of homely Keralan food: “Sitting inconspicuously among the hustle and bustle of East Ham’s high street is one of the quietest heroes in London’s restaurant scene. Championing proper homestyle cooking, Thattukada has been serving some of the best Keralan food in the country from its unfussy premises for almost a decade. Run by husband and wife duo Biju and Preeti Gopinath [the latter does all the cooking], the restaurant is regularly packed with diners who are willing to travel for Thuttukada’s very special brand of comforting hospitality”.
Thirdly, the writer goes on to compare the specifically Keralan cuisine with that of North Indian cooking, and explains how the former is itself becoming more popular in London – we read: “Keralan food is gaining momentum in London but still remains comparatively obscure in the mainstream. Although Indian cuisine is ubiquitous in the city and ‘curry’ has repeatedly gained so-called ‘national dish’ status in Britain, this is more commonly associated with… North Indian cooking. An influx of restaurants serving regional Indian dishes in the past few years has gone some way towards showcasing the wonderful patchwork of flavours, culinary traditions, and spices that make up the vast subcontinent. Keralan cuisine, wildly popular across India for its liberal use of coconut, curry leaves, tamarind, and delicate spice combinations, has benefited from this exposure”.
Fourthly, the writer quotes Biju Gopinath, who tells us that all of the basic ingredients of their cuisine are imported directly from their homeland: “In Kerala, we all live to eat. But the spices Preeti uses at Thattukada make a real difference… They all come from Kerala and we blend the mixes in-house so they are all unique to our restaurant”.
Fifthly, Vyas further quotes Biju, who wishes to stress the “authenticity” of their cuisine: “The main thing about the restaurant is that we don’t cook commercial food. We cook exactly how Keralan people do for their families. People come here for the taste of home”.
Sixthly, and very interestingly, Vyas points to the wider role of the Gopinath couple in helping new migrants from India settle in their locality: “The pair are also known in the community for their willingness to help newcomers settle, whether that’s assisting with housing, travel, or even student meal plans”.
Seventhly, the text gives us some picture of the type of people who usually visit the outlet, as also of the atmosphere therein – we read: “At least seventy percent of Thattukada’s customers are from Kerala, either people who make up East Ham’s large Malayali community or those who have heard of the restaurant through word of mouth. Many are students or young families who miss dishes they would readily find back in cities like Trivandrum or Kottayam, where Biju and Preeti’s own families are based. The place itself has a warm family feel; on weekends the couple’s young son can be found playing behind the counter. And the restaurant is decorated with colourful photos of vallam kali, the state’s annual snake boat race, a famous scene that inspires pride in every Keralan”.
Eighthly, Biju himself explains that – apart from those of Keralan origin frequenting Thattukada – there are other groups of London’s wider Indian “cultural cluster” that also visit the outlet, given the wider appeal of its cuisine. Biju is quoted as follows: “Apart from Keralan people, other Indians visit and so do many Bengalis, who also use lots of fish in their cooking… Our cuisine has flavours that appeal to everyone. Thattukada refers to the hot food made fresh on the streets [presumably of Kerala] and people know that it will be fresh and piping hot, even though it may take a bit longer to cook”.
Ninthly, the text suggests that the growing popularity of Keralan food in East Ham is in some manner directly related to the promotion of such cuisine by the Indian state of Kerala – Vyas writes: “Biju adds that while the restaurant doesn’t do much self-promotion…, the recent push by Kerala’s Department of Tourism has put the cuisine on the map…”
Finally, the text notes that the restaurant’s cuisine also abides by the red-letter days expressive of the Keralan tradition – we read: “Another meal that brings the crowds [to Thattukada] is the Kerala sadhya, an elaborate banquet of about 20 different vegetarian courses, which the restaurant only serves during the harvest festival of Onam in August or at the Malayali new year, in mid-April…”
- Pepe’s Piri Piri, 135 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Halal, chicken, piri piri.
This outlet belongs to what is said to be the largest Pakistani-based franchise brand in the UK – viz. Piri Piri, with headquarters in Islamabad. Franchise stores are found in very many areas of the UK, such as Bedford, Birmingham, Blackburn, Croydon and, of course, East Ham. There are 160 UK outlets in all.
The East Ham outlet is one of the many “Certified Halal Restaurants” [and therefore belongs to the London-based Halal Monitoring Committee]. No alcohol is permitted on the premises.
One customer has this to say regarding Pepe’s Piri Piri: “We can actually get a hint of Pakistani taste in their food, specially in their peri wings”.
- Chan’s Restaurant, 321 High Street North, Manor Park, East Ham
Cuisine: Primarily Chinese, Cantonese.
This is one of the oldest restaurants in the locality, dating back to the 1940’s. It is also very popular with most of its visitors – we shall here present a very small sample of customer reviews retrieved from a variety of sources:
First: “Chan’s is definitely the best Chinese restaurant and takeaway in East Ham. They have great chow mein [Chinese stir-fried noodles, popular throughout the Chinese diaspora; popular also in India and Nepal], shredded chicken and their duck is the best. Clean place, just a bit small but comfortable”.
Second: “I have been coming here since at least 1958. No other Chinese restaurant can compare to the good, tasty and authentic cuisine available. Although I moved 35 miles away many years ago, I still enjoy a takeaway from Chan’s whenever possible”.
Third: “We have been going to this restaurant since 1962 and been served by 4 different generations of the same family who still own it [writing in November 2014]… We have never been disappointed with any meal there over the past 52 years”.
Fourth: “Have been eating here for over 20 years as near my place of business… Must have eaten here over the years on a couple of hundred occasions… There are a shortage of good places to eat in East Ham and Manor Park and this is about the best in the area. All the others I would give a miss and if you want something better you will need to go about 3 miles to Stratford”.
Fifth: “I have been there many times with my family, the staff are polite, helpful, and the food is fresh and tasty, everything you would expect when you go out to eat with your family…”
Sixth: “I have been going to Chan’s since I was a child and having long moved out of East Ham, the visits are now few and far between… Took my four year old son with us for his first real trip [was too young to remember the last time] to Chan’s and it was fantastic… Lots of attention to our son who had a visit to remember and has been asking when we are going back. Looks like every trip to visit his grandparents may have to include a detour into Chan’s!...”
Seventh: “A favourite restaurant of ours for over 20 years. The waiter told us once he seated us that the owners have now changed [writing in May 2019]. The food was completely different… service was extremely poor! Where’s the old owners gone?”
Eighth: “Nice little Chinese restaurant, reasonably priced and very popular with regular local customers…”
Ninth: “Staff were friendly and the food was good. I can’t ask for anything more and the prices are reasonable. Recommend if you fancy Chinese food in an area full of Indian food”.
Tenth: “Unless you are a regular then you’ll be left unattended for long whilst staff chat with regulars…”
Eleventh: “Chan’s is an icon restaurant in Manor Park, Greater London, I actually was introduced by Philip Chan the son of the owner as we went to school together [Cornwall College] every time I go to visit the UK, I go there, the Shredded Chicken Chow Mein, covered in their delicious curry sauce is unbeatable” [writing in April 2016].
Twelfth: “This was always regarded as the best Chinese restaurant in East London when I started to use it in 1967. However since Peter [owner] retired the standards have dropped dramatically… They have a waitress who seems to think that everything within the restaurant revolves around her and she is quite the worst waitress I have seen in some time… Should really think about shutting down before it does any more damage to a brand that should be revered” [writing in August 2016].
Thirteenth: “I have been going to Chan’s since 1960 when I was 9. I love it… it has never changed… long may it reign… I used to get my curry sauce in a milk bottle and chow mein in newspaper… that thank goodness has changed”.
Fourteenth: “Visited this restaurant with a group of people who have eaten at this restaurant over the last 30 plus year… Unfortunately I must have visited on the chef’s day off. My first impression of Chan’s wasn’t great when they seated me at a table design for 2 people but as there were 3 in my group crammed in another chair. So now I am sitting the direct path to the bar and toilets. So found my self being bash left right and centre by takeaway customers, customer using the toilets and serving staff. So not a great start… I then had to use the toilet which was smelly and slippery not clean. I can normally judge a venue on how clean the toilet are and my gut feeling didn’t let me down…”
Fifteenth: “While staying with my grandparents for a few weeks in East Ham, I got tired of eating at home. My aunt is obsessed with Chan’s and sings its praises whenever she gets a chance [for a short time, she used to frequent this place almost every week]… I walked to Chan’s as it was getting dark, slightly nervous that I wasn’t going the right way. When I entered, I saw a tiny [really] restaurant with plenty of tables full of people eating happily. It’s a good sign when the type of food served in a restaurant is being devoured by people of the same ethnic group, it gives you a feeling that you can trust the place… I got my food to go. A heaping vegetarian dish and rice. The prices were fair and everything was packed perfectly. I relished it at home that night and the next. Everything was excellent… What got me was the service. Although the man taking my order had never met me, he was concerned about my walk home and offered to call me a cab. He advised me [since as an American I was clearly out of my element] that the area wasn’t great to be alone at night and wanted to make sure I got home safely. Since I didn’t know my address [by] heart, I didn’t have a chance to take him up on the offer and walked home… Chan’s isn’t the type of restaurant that stuns you with high ceilings or décor or exciting lighting. They focus on the food and their customers. It is a restaurant of people who come with their families continually. I will be back the next time I am in East Ham”.
The fact that the functioning of this restaurant has been closely intertwined with the local history of East Ham has been noted by a number of UK-based websites. One such [cf. https://www.eastblam.com.uk] writes: “Chan’s Chinese: a piece of East Ham’s history… Chan’s Chinese Restaurant is a little piece of east end history and has been feeding East Hammers chicken chow mien since 1941…”
Yet another website has this to say [cf. https://www.foodieexplorers.co.uk]: “When in the East End of London and immersed in a sea of South Indian restaurants where should we go? Well, we decided to visit Chan’s Restaurant for Peking and Cantonese cuisine… This may seem like a strange choice but we were drawn in by its old school neighbourhood look… Chan’s has actually been part of the fabric of East Ham since 1941!... It was like stepping back in time to somewhere that has been a long-standing family favourite restaurant…”
We may also note, finally, that Chan’s Restaurant maintains a fairly close relationship with some of its clients through its own Facebook Page.
- Mangal Bhavan or Mangal’s Puttukada, 241B High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: A South Indian restaurant, but serves Chinese, Indian, Asian and Sri Lankan dishes.
According to this restaurant’s Facebook Page: “Mangal Bhavan has now reopened as Mangal’s Puttukada” [post dated 23.05.2015].
Of the few reviews available on this outlet, some read as follows:
First: “Food was really good. Relishing Kerala food. Loved it… simple shop but quality food”.
Second: “… well kept interiors… Prices might be a bit on the higher side compared to other South Indian restaurants…”
Third: “… Indian taste and spices are actually present in the taste…!!”
- Balii Maamala’s Restaurant, 264 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: South Indian, generally Indian, Curry.
Not much information is available on this outlet, which nonetheless has its own Facebook Page. One guest had this to say: “Probably the best pick in East Ham if you are looking for affordable authentic Indian food…”
- Nalukettu Restaurant/Kerala Spice, 407 Barking Road, East Ham
Cuisine: South Indian, generally Indian, Curry.
One customer had this to say regarding the outlet: “Best South Indian ever. If you want tandoori [marinated chicken] MacDonald’s don’t come. If you want authentic food in a eclectic environment with pretty much only… Indian men then come”.
In 2018, The Newham Mag would publish a short text regarding the unhygienic conditions of the Nalukettu Restaurant. The text reads as follows: “The inspectors [viz. Newham Council’s food safety team] were extremely concerned to find mouse droppings, poor hygiene, the building in a poor physical state, a lack of training for staff and no food safety management system… The officers raised concerns with the owners, and after a discussion, the business was voluntarily and immediately closed… The restaurant was awarded a zero food hygiene rating and remains closed. It is currently under investigation, following an outbreak of suspected food poisoning… Councillor Pat Murphy, mayoral adviser for environment, said: ‘It should be compulsory for businesses to display the results of their food standards rating. I would urge Newham residents to look for a displayed rating before eating at any food outlet. If a business isn’t proudly displaying its food rating you have to ask yourself why’…” [cf. The Newham Mag, Issue 382, January 26 – February 08, 2018, https://www.issuu.com/newhammag/docs/nm382/21].
- Al Khayma Restaurant, 251 Cranbrook Road, Ilford
Cuisine: Primarily Lebanese and Middle Eastern foods – though may also serve “international” dishes.
Some customer reviews read as follows:
First: “We drove 2hrs from the other side of London to visit this restaurant. The food was incredible, service was spot on and the ambience was great. We will definitely return and highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is looking for authentic Lebanese food! We had the mixed grill and the quality of the meat was excellent. The kids loved the milkshakes!”
Second: “… Having read previous reviews I was dreading my dad’s surprise birthday meal. The family chose this restaurant due to location & by recommendation. All my dread turned to complete happiness by the end of the evening. The staff made our meal so pleasant. Special mention to Sheriff who was very accommodating but also to Bella, who truly looked after the party of 30 people… They allowed us to decorate upstairs and gave us access to their audio system. We were made to feel very welcome and any request we made was met with a smile. I highly recommend this venue for large parties…”
Third: “The food was below standard. There was no real taste and was not value for money as the portion side does not match the price. The décor was tacky and when we visited the restaurant was pretty much empty which says a lot!”
Fourth: “We have had a very bad experience at this restaurant. Food was not fresh at all maybe from the night before and it had no taste and it was too overpriced, the service was terrible. We are just so disappointed…”
Fifth: “Freezing cold! You can’t sit anywhere without freezing it’s that cold inside the restaurant! Food is horrible too…”
As an “authentic halal Lebanese restaurant” [the London Mayor, Sajid Khan, is said to have been present at its official opening in 2018], the outlet serves special Ramadan dishes [cf. https://www.alkhayma.co.uk]. We may also note that the restaurant, like many others, provides a special “prayer space” for its Muslim customers [cf. https://www.halalfoodlondon.org].
- Aunt Sally’s, 14 Pilgrims Way, East Ham
Cuisine: Cafe; British.
Not too many reviews are available on this outlet – two of these read as follows:
First: “What a fabulous spot in East Ham!... While visiting relatives in East Ham, we always love walking to Aunt Sally’s – opposite the entrance to East Ham Market. This place is absolutely spotless with a huge menu. The coffee is the best I have ever had in London. The variety of food is amazing and the roast dinners are great. The owners and servers are wonderfully polite and kind, and the tiny place is always full with locals enjoying their full English breakfasts, or their huge lunches or dinners… The place is small, and well used by locals, but if you are ever in the neighbourhood make sure you find it to have a great meal at a great price. East Ham is a tough London neighbourhood, so to find such a clean and friendly spot is always a treat” [written April 2013].
Second: “It’s just been refurbished and looks modern and extremely fresh and clean…” [written March 2019].
- German Doner Kebab, 111 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: German, European, Grill, Fusion – specializes in Halal diets.
Reviews include the following:
First: “Toilets out of order with faeces still there’s… Staff speaking in their own language whilst we eat… and they are not from the Netherlands if anybody is wondering. They also seem to sit on the side and eat away instead of managing shop floor. They can’t seem to recall basic orders or even have the common sense to provide sauces and tissues with the meal. Ridiculous”.
Second: “… All the staff is Romanian but they also swearing in they’re language witch I funded very unprofessional”.
Third: “I am a regular customer coz of chicken donor quality. But today was my last day coz of the staff. Very bad service, staff is kinda prejudice/racist towards Asians. They have problem with Asian face. They start talking in their language something about Asian customers followed by misbehave by all of them, so I am stopping to go there. Ambience is nice, food is brilliant but attitude of white/European staff is unacceptable. Need to change the staff if they want succeed”.
- Mamma Mia Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, 264 [?] High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: Italian pizza.
We should first of all note that some of the information regarding this outlet seems to be contradictory. First, its street location clashes with that of Balii Maamala’s [op. cit.], also said to be situated along 264 High Street North [although this may simply mean that both outlets have occupied the same venue in different periods of time]. Secondly, some of the information seems to suggest that the landlord of the premises housing Mamma Mia had, by 2016, asked the owners to evacuate the building for some reason or other – and yet, one may come across customer’s reviews of the restaurant dated as late as 2019. We do not intend to iron out such factual problems – we shall nonetheless present some information on this restaurant, if only so as to merely register the presence of an Italian-owned shop right in the heart of East Ham’s High Street.
Some of the available customer reviews read as follows:
First: “Had a fabulous lunch here with my son James Isgoed Williams. A true slice of Italy comes to East Ham. Pizza as it should be, beautifully serviced and presented. The staff were real Italians… If you want a real taste of Italy that is reasonably priced…, head to Mamma Mia, East Ham” [written February 2016].
Second: “Very good pizza cooked in an authentic wood burning oven brought from Naples. It was nice to find Italians running an Italian restaurant for a change rather than people who think they know what to do”.
Third: “Until 20 November  everything inside the Mamma Mia Italian restaurant and pizzeria is fake or frozen nothing from Italy nothing from Italian supplier because the land lord is very wrong people because push out us after we renew all reataurant and put inside the wood oven pizza now the pizza is not Italian not cocked in wood oven pizza anybody can help us for anything contact me please” [most probably written by the owner-manager of the outlet in October 2016].
Fourth: “We went to the restaurant for a dinner with friends while on vacation in London, we ordered good Italian food but at some point mice appeared under the tables. It was terrible because we got up and left the table without finishing” [written November 2019].
- The Grill Restaurant, 392 High Street North, Manor Park, East Ham
Cuisine: Steakhouse, Grill, Barbecue – also serves Halal special diets.
There are very many customer reviews on this outlet – some of these include the following:
First: “Very average food, spicy rice was terrible. Would not try again. Grill was bland”.
Second: “Me and my wife visit The Grill very frequently, they have private rooms downstairs for sisters who wear the niqab…”
Third: “I always go to the grill when it isn’t busy and I enjoy the food. But yesterday it was the first time I went when it was busy. The service was extremely poor. Considering we kept a 19 hour fast and got there early you would expect the food to come on time. The food came 1.10 hour late. That was purely because I went up to them 3 times. And got really angry the last time and that’s when my food came. It was not just me but all of the other families that attended around 5 other groups that experienced the same problem. I wouldn’t mind if we got our starters. But fasting and waiting over an hour for food is ridiculous…”
Fourth: “Visited here with my hubby and as a niqaabi I am sometimes hesitant to eat with no private areas. However as soon as I walked into the restaurant I straight away realized the respect level of the waiter. They showed us to a private room for just hubby and I which I was delighted with… Mains I got was T-bone steak which was done perfectly and so tastey… I’ve been on the search for a good halal steak and have had a few now but nothin has topped this… My husband had lamb steak and he loved it… I have no conplaints at all… The food is just so tastey… And I have to say best steak/food I’ve ever had MashaAllah [“God has willed it”]… Will defo be goin again”.
- The Overdraft Tavern, 200-202 High Street North, East Ham
Cuisine: This outlet is essentially an English-type traditional pub – it presently only serves drinks, especially different brands of draught beer; it may also serve bar snacks.
This rather well-known pub [also referred to in Paper 4a] is now owned and run by a Sri Lankan couple. It mainly attracts Asian regulars, though not only – it can also be frequented by East Europeans and others.
Customer reviews include the following:
First: “Average pub in East Ham, directly next to underground station. Good selection of beers, average prices. Staff don’t talk much or are drunk”.
Second: “Nice customer service. Your worker make a physical relationship customer. Sirin offer me for money. I know she doing sex pub people”.
Third: “Nothing wrong with this pub at all. Cheap, clean and tidy and next to East Ham station. Service was excellent and friendly when I was there”.
Fourth: “Poor management… Went to this pub Saturday night, while there a drunk patron continued to harass a female companion who was with us, we called the onsite security who kicked the man out after police were called. Later on the pub management came to us to say that the reason why the man should not have been evicted is because when we entered the pub the female companion engaged with the drunk man for a couple of minutes. Hence the drunk was entitled to be unreasonably aggressive, stupid claim. Bar maid was also terribly drunk” [this event was recorded in December 2017].
The Overdraft Tavern also has its own Facebook Page – one entry regarding the outlet’s service [dated May 13, 2015] – reads as follows: “Propa shithole with the dirtiest glasses n beer pipes ever… AVOID”.
The above constitutes a fairly detailed presentation of a sample of 30 food/beverage outlets operating in East Ham [or that have at some period of time operated in the area]. Such presentation provides us with some idea of the public eating habits of East Ham’s residents [though also those of visitors to the locality]. We shall now attempt to make some general observations regarding such eating practices, based on our available data.
- East Ham’s restaurants generally
As is obvious from the information at hand, it is above all East Ham’s High Street North that presents the highest concentration of the “leading” restaurants in the locality. The vast majority of these are ethnic-based outlets, clearly expressive of the phenomenon of “cultural clustering” we have been exploring throughout this project. The ethnic “cultural cluster” dominating in the field of eating habits in the locality – as in other dimensions of everyday life – is that of the South Indians.
The domination of such ethnic “cultural cluster” is evident in much of what has been written by people who have commented on East Ham’s food outlets. The locality, it is said, is “an area full of Indian food”. Yet another comment verifying this reality is that the locality and its environs [the East End generally] is “immersed in a sea of South Indian restaurants”.
Generally speaking, and despite the so-called ethno-cultural ambience of these restaurants, most are described as being rather bleak and dreary in their physical environment, customer service and cuisine [there are nonetheless – and as we have seen – important exceptions to this]. For instance, one commentator would write of “run of the mill Indian restaurants” all of which serve “the exact same dishes”. Similarly, yet another writes of “bland curry restaurants in the area”. A third notes: “There are a [sic] shortage of good places to eat in East Ham and Manor Park… I would give [most such places] a miss”. It may be the case that such relatively generalized sleaziness is simply characteristic of a fairly slummy locality as is East Ham to a large extent [at least in comparison with London’s more expensive areas such as Highgate]. Thus, a visitor to one East Ham restaurant explains away his disappointment by simply writing: “… it is East Ham after all so don’t expect too much for [sic] the atmosphere”. A similar attitude is adopted by a non-Asian customer – he writes: “I do have to warn fellow westerners, the restaurant looks really unclean… this is how these East Ham restaurants all are”.
And yet, and regardless of such reality, we have seen that quite a number of non-locals choose to travel from Central London to East Ham simply so as to enjoy the Asian cuisine of some or other of the area’s outlets. Some explain that they choose to do this without necessarily being “fans” of the East Ham locality as such.
It should also be mentioned that some of these restaurants – the older, more established ones – constitute “a piece of East Ham’s history”. This is one reason why White Britons who had been involved in the waves of “White flight” or “decamping” [as discussed in Paper 2b] often return to East Ham and visit what they see as their old haunts.
- East Ham’s restaurants as socializing centers
Many of East Ham’s restaurants function as weekend joints for the locals. One commentator, confirmed by as many others, writes that so many people flock to these outlets especially on non-working days that “it can be crazy on weekends”.
As weekend joints, the restaurants function as socializing centers for family and friends – many commentators point to the “good family environment” prevailing in many outlets.
We have noted many cases where the restaurants are used by locals for purposes of partying. One commentator writes of an East Ham restaurant as a “perfect place for [a] party”, while another tells us that the restaurants are especially appropriate “for special occasions”. Similarly, one East Ham resident organized a large party of thirty people at the Al Khayma Restaurant for “dad’s surprise birthday meal”.
This is not to suggest, however, that East Ham restaurants are not busy on weekdays. Many operate as joints for working people, where they have their lunch during rest breaks.
Apart from functioning as centers for secular-based celebrations and as routine eating joints in the course of the week, the restaurants are as frequently used to celebrate ethnic religious festivals. For instance, one occasion that brings locals to the restaurants is Onam, the annual harvest festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala and associated with Hinduism. Ramadan-related outings to the restaurants are also popular amongst Muslim locals [the question of the relationship between East Ham’s restaurants and ethnic-based religious practices will be further examined below].
Restaurant meal prices [in their socio-economic context]
Discussing the meal prices of the average East Ham restaurant would not really make much sense unless placed within the context of the buying power of the different economic strata constituting East Ham’s residents, and which would presuppose some understanding of the so-called class profile of such residents.
While we do have some understanding of the general social stratification of East Ham’s population [to be examined elsewhere], it has proven beyond our means to undertake whatever rigorous analysis of the specific class profile of East Ham’s restaurant patrons in particular. Based simply on empirical observation, however, we could state that the vast majority of East Ham’s food outlets cater to the needs of Asian settlers belonging to the lower-middle classes and/or working classes.
This seems to be reflected in the fact that the vast majority of restaurant meal prices are – as so many patrons point out – “very reasonable”. Commentators inform us that, for instance, one may indulge in a South Indian buffet “for just £5.99”. Alternatively, one may pay £5 “for a good Malayali [Keralite] meal”.
While not all meals are necessarily that cheap, average prices seem to be well within the consumer buying power of the common East Ham resident – and that, at least as regards those belonging to the lower-middle class or even working class category [as to the latter, we should remember that the UK minimum hourly wage comes to approximately £8 for people aged 25 and over in 2019]. Average meal prices in the area seem to range from £10 to £15 per head. We may here reiterate the following quite representative observation made by a UK website referred to above: “You would struggle to spend more than £15 per head in this restaurant [in this case East Ham’s Suvai Restaurant] and you can probably eat quite well for £10…”
- Immigrant-owned and/or immigrant-run restaurants
It is absolutely important to observe that the vast majority of East Ham’s restaurants are either owned or run [or both] by settler immigrants, most of these being of South Asian origin.
For instance, we have noted that the owners of Ananthapuri Restaurant are Kerala immigrants. The chefs of the Udaya Restaurant are themselves Keralites. We have also seen that the Thattukada Restaurant is run by a couple whose family is based in Kerala’s Kottayam district.
The Laziza Hut, also by way of an example, is both owned and run by Pakistani immigrants. Likewise, the owner and the chef of the Hyderabadi Spice Restaurant come from Hyderabad, a province of Pakistan. We have further seen how Pepe’s Piri Piri Restaurant belongs to a Pakistani-based franchise brand, with headquarters in Islamabad.
Even an English-type traditional pub – the Overdraft Tavern – is owned and run by a Sri Lankan couple.
While the vast majority of East Ham’s food/beverage outlets belong to South Asian settlers, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. Of the thirty samples we have presented, one outlet [the German Doner Kebab] is/was run by Romanians. A second outlet [the Mamma Mia] is/was run by Italians. Finally, a British-style café [Aunt Sally’s] is/was presumably run by a White Briton. Based on the commentary of patrons, most outlets not owned or run by immigrants have nonetheless adapted their cuisines to serve the tastes of the ethnic clusters located in East Ham.
- The predominance of culturally-specific dishes
As is obvious with the overwhelming majority of cuisines described above, it is the culturally-specific dish that predominates in East Ham’s food outlets.
The “idli”, for instance – which as we have seen is a South Indian recipe very popular amongst the Tamils of Sri Lanka – is as popular in East Ham itself. The exact same applies to Tamil Nadu “typical” dishes.
In fact, it seems that the locality of East Ham is characterized by a preponderance of the South Indian cuisine vis-à-vis that of the North Indian. Quite a number of commentators explain that the outlet they have visited in the locality had been a specifically South Indian restaurant and that “The North Indian food here is bound to be a disaster…” One of the many representative examples verifying this reality is that of the Thattukada Kerala Restaurant, which concentrates on serving exclusively South Indian Keralan dishes as opposed to North Indian cooking. Thus, while the Indian-related “mainstream” foods generally consumed in the UK have been of the North Indian “curry” variety, it is the South Indian type that is most popular in a locality such as East Ham [and it is said that this type still remains “comparatively obscure” within the so-called “mainstream” tastes]. We have noted above that the growing popularity of Keralan food in East Ham is more or less directly related to the promotion of such cuisine by the Indian state of Kerala, and more specifically by that state’s Department of Tourism. This naturally indicates the tight entanglement between, on the one hand, the eating habits of East Ham’s South Indian “cultural cluster” and, on the other, the conscious policies of that cluster’s original homeland.
The preponderance of the culturally-specific cuisine in East Ham is also evident in the fact that most food outlets in the locality belong to the “Certified Halal Restaurants” category – most such outlets do not allow alcohol on their premises.
Despite the near-ubiquity of the South Indian and Halal-certified cuisine in East Ham, there is yet still a category of outlets – albeit restricted in number – that offer a more or less mixed cuisine. One such example is that of the Mangal Bhavan – we have seen that this is a South Indian restaurant which, while mainly serving Sri Lankan and generally Indian dishes, it also has Chinese dishes on its menu. A similar case is that of the Al Khayma Restaurant – while it primarily serves Lebanese and Middle Eastern foods, it may also offer what it is said to be “international” dishes. Yet another case belonging to this more restricted category of East Ham outlets is the German Doner Kebab Restaurant. This outlet is said to serve German and other “European” dishes – at the same time, however, it does specialize in Halal diets [and has thereby also adapted to the needs of the locality’s “cultural clusters”].
It is quite obvious that the locality of East Ham is literally flooded with outlets serving culturally-specific foods, and especially so as regards the South Indian variety. There are very few cases of outlets that have not much adapted to such ethnic minority consumer demands. We may say that such notable exceptions include Aunt Sally’s insistence on serving the full English breakfast; the Overdraft pub’s focus on serving traditional, English-style draught beer; and the Mamma Mia’s exclusive Italian pizza specialty. The implication is obvious: no locally-based “cultural cluster” can possibly function as a hermetically sealed social structure impervious to the realities of a country’s “global” cultural practices. That, however, would not at all compromise the fact that most locally-based “cultural clusters” are characterized by their own dominant cultural practices within their own parameters – and that would apply to eating habits as well. East Ham is a case in point.
- The “authenticity” of regional flavours
The patrons of East Ham’s restaurants are not merely attracted to these outlets for the culturally-specific cuisines that they are said to offer. Commentators grade all such places in terms of the ethnic-based “authenticity” of their food.
One commentator places great emphasis on the “proper South Indian food” that he usually savours in one of the locality’s outlets. Yet another expresses his appreciation for the “authentic Indian curries” and a third writes of “authentic Kerala food”.
What both locals and non-locals seem to prize above all else is a cuisine’s “real Indian taste”. One patron writes: “Getting to taste the authentic recipe in London, what more to ask!” Of course, we have seen that not all outlets meet such standards of “authenticity”, in which case these are unconditionally rejected by customers.
“Authenticity” is above all measured in terms of the extent to which a dish reflects the flavours of one’s homeland and the culinary experiences one may have had there – viz. in specific regions of South India. Certain East Ham outlets may even outshine homeland cuisines in terms of “authenticity” – in such cases, Newham’s “Little India” turns out to be more “Indian” than India itself. Thus, one patron writes as follows with respect to one East Ham restaurant: “I have been to Kerala and honestly the food here [in East Ham] is done better”. “Authenticity” may also be measured in terms of one’s ethnic-based culinary experiences during childhood – another commentator puts this as follows regarding the outlet he has visited: “… the food is perfectly authentic to what they [the locals] grew up with…”
The “authenticity” of the dish is guaranteed in a number of ways – one such way is to ensure that the ingredients originate from the homeland itself. Here, the case of the Thattukada Kerala Restaurant is once more quite representative of those outlets that are said to serve “authentic” dishes – it is asserted by the owners of the outlet that “all of the basic ingredients of their cuisine are imported directly from their homeland [Kerala]”.
- The cultural environment of East Ham’s restaurants
East Ham’s restaurants are a physical manifestation of the existence of ethnic-based “cultural clusters” in the locality in a variety of ways – one such is the cultural atmosphere that infuses their physical environment.
This specific ethnic-based cultural atmosphere is verified by most of the customer comments we have presented above. Here, we may simply reiterate some such commentary. One patron writes of “a very Indian feeling” that he has on visiting a particular outlet. Another tells us that he “felt like [he] was back in India for a bit”. And a third customer notes that “It feels like you are sitting in India”. Some other patron encapsulates his experience of visiting an East Ham restaurant by telling us that it is “Almost like eating in Hyderabad”. Further, we are told that an outlet “reminds me of [a] typical Indian restaurant”. Visiting such outlets allows you to “taste”, not just the culturally-specific cuisine, but the very homeland from which such cuisine originates – a patron puts this as follows: “the restaurant is worth a try if you want to taste some part of Kerala”.
We may present three further quotes that very neatly sum up the manner in which patrons experience the cultural ambience of East Ham’s restaurants and how such ambience is an extension of a “cultural cluster’s” South Indian homeland: [i] Visiting an outlet “Felt just like home”; [ii] “This place is truly a home away from home”; and [iii] The outlet “Recreate[s] the feeling of Chennai in London”.
The ethnic-based cultural environment within restaurants is often described quite concretely by patrons. One tells us that the restaurant he usually visits entertains its patrons by playing Bollywood music. Another commentator writes of an “Indian restaurant which streams Indian songs from YouTube on repeat”. A third tells us that customers at one East Ham restaurant “stare up at Bollywood videos on the screen”. Finally, a fourth patron writes that one local outlet has an “Indian TV channel on the wall”.
- A culturally-specific clientele
Commentators provide ample testimony to the effect that those who frequent East Ham’s restaurants belong primarily to ethnic-based, culturally-specific categories. We may here consider the following anecdotal evidence: [i] With respect to one East Ham outlet, a customer tells us that it is “mainly Indian clientele” that frequent it; [ii] Another writes thus of a restaurant that he had visited: “Lots of Keralites were eating there”; [iii] Regarding the Thattukada Kerala Restaurant, it is said that “At least seventy percent of Thattukada’s customers are from Kerala…”; [iv] Another patron of a local restaurant writes of “a[n] eclectic environment with pretty much only… Indian men…” [The latter comment, by the way, may also provide us with some picture of the gender-based clientele in at least some of the outlets]; finally [v] It should be noted that even an English-type traditional pub as is the Overdraft Tavern mainly attracts Asian regulars [though with an occasional sprinkling of East Europeans].
While it seems accurate to state that very many restaurant patrons belong to some culturally-specific category, in the sense that these belong to a particular “cultural cluster”, this would not mean that people belonging to a different “cluster” would necessarily avoid a particular outlet not expressive of their own ethnic group – it is self-evident that culinary tastes can transcend one’s ethnic roots. Thus, we find a commentator stating that “I am Indian but use [sic] to like Pakistani food…”
On the other hand, we have noteworthy cases where White British patrons had found themselves sticking out like a sore thumb in certain East Ham restaurants – for instance, one commentator notes: “We were a little disconcerted that we were the only European faces” within a particular outlet [it should also be noted that, on visiting the UK, we too had frequently faced similar circumstances while visiting East Ham outlets – though bar whatever sense of disconcertedness].
It is natural that the vast majority of people visiting East Ham’s outlets are non-White; it is as natural that individuals belonging to a particular ethnic-based “cultural cluster” be attracted to outlets expressive of their own ethnic-based culinary tastes and the concomitant ethnic-based cultural environment. We thus have various commentators belonging to ethnic “cultural clusters” encouraging their compatriots to visit outlets owned or run by immigrant settlers. One such commentator writes: “I strongly recommend this place if you are from Hyderabad…” Yet another sample reads as follows: “I will recommend this restaurant to all esp[ecially] to my Gujurati community who crave for good dosas”. A third sample similarly invites compatriots to visit a particular outlet but gently forewarns non-Asians: “I would recommend this [restaurant] to Asians and those who prefer authentic South Indian [Tamil, Telugu] dishes. If you are not Asian…, I am not sure you would like the authentic South Indian taste”.
Locals belonging to a particular “cultural cluster” and frequenting restaurants related to such “cluster” often express emotional attitudes that may be said to reveal a distinct predilection for such outlets. Ethnic-based emotional attitudes are clearly evident in the following three samples:
[i] An emotional attitude of “love”: “Being a Bangalorean I obviously love it [i.e. loves an outlet frequented by setters from Bangalore]”.
[ii] Outlets viewed as a “blessing”: “… I am sure the folks from Kerala will find it a blessing to have one of these restaurants out here”.
[iii] An emotional attitude of ethnic-based “trust”: “It’s a good sign when the type of food served in a restaurant is being devoured by people of the same ethnic group, it gives you a feeling that you can trust the place” [presumably with respect to the quality or “authenticity” of the outlet’s food].
- Popularity of the outlets amongst East Ham’s ethnic locals
Based on what has been recorded above regarding the profiles and sentiments of East Ham’s restaurant clientele, one may fairly accurately speak of a culturally-specific clientele – on the other hand, it remains an open question as to how much the locality’s ethnic locals actually frequent these outlets. Statistics would in this case serve us well, but these are impossible to come by – we shall therefore have to rely on the anecdotal evidence of commentators.
One patron writes: “I wouldn’t deny that it [a particular restaurant] was probably a very popular choice amongst Indians around East Ham or Ilford…” With reference to another local restaurant, a commentator speaks of that outlet’s “massive popularity with resident… Indians…” A third commentator, writing of his own experience at some other outlet, observes: “… their food is popular in the locality because they were very busy with takeaways”. Speaking generally of East Ham, yet another patron notes that “South Indian food is very famous here”. We even read of an East Ham ethnic local who is “obsessed with” a particular outlet and often “sings its praises”.
Despite such stated popularity of East Ham’s outlets amongst the ethnic locals, there must be some segment of the locality’s residents – the percentage is impossible to gauge – that look down on eating out, at least on a regular basis. We have one testimony which could perhaps be said to be a representative sample suggesting such reaction – a commentator puts it as follows: “I think only lazy house wifes [sic] and mothers take [their] families there as they have no idea what good Indian food is”. Naturally, this commentator – and there must be very many such cases – prefers homemade food [a dimension that remains outside the bounds of our research].
- Evidence of ethnic-based service bias
There is some evidence indicating that a certain degree of service bias is being practiced in the restaurants of the locality – by this we mean that waiters and other restaurant staff seem to indulge in some form of favouritism in serving their various customers. The latter are prioritized in terms of their ethnic origins, and thereby served accordingly.
Such an observation is not meant to be judgmental regarding the personnel manning East Ham’s outlets – further, it is not meant to describe behaviour across the board [there is in any case no evidence to support this].
On the other hand, ethnic-based service bias could be said to be an almost inevitable phenomenon, given the specific circumstances of East Ham outlets described above. Generally speaking, a restaurateur running an outlet which is overwhelmingly frequented by a culturally-specific clientele can only but give precedence to that category of patrons. Thus, one customer tells us that the staff of an East Ham restaurant “looked like they were more comfortable attending to people from their own community”. A second commentator writes: “… the service staff seem to favour those patrons who speak Tamil”. A third could be alluding to the same phenomenon when he makes the following observation: “Unless you are a regular then you’ll be left unattended for long whilst staff chat with regulars”. Some commentators have also observed that service staff seem to give priority to families rather than to single patrons – this may or may not verify an ethnic-based bias with respect to service.
- Evidence of racial polarization within the outlets
The ethnic-based favouritism said to be practiced in East Ham’s restaurants may at times assume rather more extreme manifestations. There is some evidence that there is a certain degree of racial tension prevailing in at least some of the outlets.
One commentator, a Muslim, overtly tells us that the South Indian manager of a local restaurant is “racist” towards people of his own religious persuasion. He supports his accusation by writing that “whenever I go for eat [sic] my order always go [sic] above £25… just because I am MUSLIM AND FULL RELIGIOUS BEARDED” [sic].
We have seen in our commentator’s notes above that in yet another South Indian outlet a couple of non-Asian customers had felt “victimized” after being accused by staff of smoking marijuana in the toilets. The patrons put this down to racial prejudice – we read: “Thing to be mentioned [is that] we are practically the only no[n] Asian customer[s] I [have] ever seen there and I connect the accusation to… that, which makes things even wors[e]”.
In a final sample we read of a Romanian-run outlet where a certain racial tension is also evident. Asian patrons tell us that the owners are prone to be racially prejudiced – we read: “staff is kinda prejudice[d]/racist towards Asians. They have a problem with Asian face[s]… [The] attitude of white/European staff is unacceptable”.
- The relationship between outlet owners and their local compatriots
The popularity of East Ham’s restaurants amongst ethnic locals, the ethnic-based service bias often practiced in some of these outlets, and so on, seem to indicate that there is some sort of ethnic-based “solidarity” that holds between outlet owners and local compatriots frequenting these socializing centers.
An obvious example of such “solidarity” has been noted above in the case of the Gopinath couple, who run the Thattukada Kerala Restaurant. We have noted their wider role – viz. beyond that of their function as restaurateurs – in helping new migrants from India settle in their locality. We reiterate: “The pair are also known in the community for their willingness to help newcomers settle, whether that’s assisting with housing, travel, or even student meal plans”.
It seems that such show of “solidarity” – which often takes the form of practical help offered to newcomers in the locality – constitutes a standard code of behaviour that is expected of the more well-established settlers by the rest of the “cultural cluster”. It may be said that the owners of East Ham’s restaurants [and as in the case of other shop owners and different types of professionals] occupy a double social position within the community: they are both members of the middle classes and, at the same time, members of their “cultural cluster” as a whole [we shall be exploring this further elsewhere]. As the more well-off members of the community and in combination with their networked connections within it, they are expected to help those that struggle to root themselves as new settlers. There are of course cases where the restaurateur fails to show such “solidarity” – in such cases, one risks incurring the wrath of one’s compatriots. In one such case, a commentator writes: “… he can’t even help the people of his state as well [viz. some state of India]… he is the worse guy…”
- Ethnic-based religious practices intersecting with the service of East Ham’s restaurants
One may detect at least four ways in which local ethnic-based religious practices [discussed in Paper 4a] intersect with practices and policies characteristic of many East Ham restaurants.
Firstly, and as has been highlighted throughout this paper, local cuisines are such as to respond to the religious needs of locals. Thus, special dishes are prepared for the month of Ramadan. Likewise, special dishes are served during the harvest festival of Onam or to mark the Malayali New Year, itself a religious event.
Secondly, and definitely of much interest for the social researcher, many East Ham restaurants provide special spaces within their venues for the purposes of prayer – commentators quoted above write of outlets that provide what they term “prayer space” for customers. For the uninitiated patron who happens to visit such outlets, the experience can turn out to be rather unsettling – consider the following case: “We were trying to eat but most men came upstairs to read namaaz [an Islamic ritual prayer]… it was totally embarrassing and annoying”.
Thirdly, and as interesting for the social researcher, many East Ham outlets provide private spaces for Muslim females wearing the niqab. One commentator observes: “They have private rooms downstairs for [Muslim] sisters who wear the niqab”. This commentator, who made use of such room with his companion, describes the event in some detail above.
The final observation we may make here does not refer to people residing in East Ham – there are cases of non-locals who visit the area so as to combine their visit to some local restaurant with the undertaking of a “pilgrimage” to one of East Ham’s many religious temples. We note two such samples: [i] A commentator tells us that “South Indians do pilgrimage to Mahalakshmi temple and Saravana Bhavan [viz. the restaurant discussed above]”; [ii] Yet another commentator explains: “We are from Kent but visit the Murugan temple in East Ham and always wanted to find somewhere to eat in the area”. The couple chose the Ananthapuram Restaurant [mentioned above] as their joint.
- Some final, general observations on East Ham’s restaurants
We shall complete this section on East Ham’s public eating habits – as manifested in the functioning of the locality’s restaurants – by making some final observations of general interest. We shall simply note some facts and impressions regarding the venues themselves, the staff service and the social environment within which the outlets are located. Most of the observations are purely descriptive and therefore difficult – though not wholly impossible – to draw any serious sociological implications from them.
In our introduction to East Ham’s restaurants above, we had noted that the venues are generally bleak and sleazy, with some exceptions. The reality is somewhat more complex. Quite a number are described as “small clean place[s]” or even “clean and tidy”. Many only seem to have a problem with space, providing “very limited tables”. We are told that one such restaurant is “very cramped and the toilet is the smallest you would have ever seen”. Some outlets, it is observed, are “converted residential houses” – this could suggest that their premises do not meet London’s Building Control standard regulations for restaurants.
There is a sizeable number of East Ham’s restaurants that certainly do have a rather serious problem with hygiene. Perhaps the worst case here is that of the Nalukettu Restaurant which, as we have seen, was given a “zero food hygiene rating”, and was finally closed down by Newham Council’s food safety inspectors. With respect to yet another local restaurant, a commentator notes: “Had food poisoning [the] next day!” Commentators often describe restaurants as being “filthy” with “dirty tables”; one writes of “a sticky table”; yet another tells us that “The dishes were dirty”.
The temperature inside some of the restaurants was found to be uncomfortably chilly. One patron writes of his experience thus: “The actual room was very cold”. Another tells us that the restaurant he visited was “freezing cold”.
A very common impression amongst patrons is the unpleasant smell that pervades many outlets. One commentator tells us of a restaurant that “smells of raw milk”. Another writes: “Smell inside the restaurant was not good”. A third observes that “The foul smell from the toilet comes into the eating area”.
Finally, we also have many commentators complaining about the state of the toilets in various outlets. We merely present one sample regarding this issue: “the toilets… were in a horrible state”.
Commentators’ impressions regarding the quality of staff service at the outlets can often be contradictory, though such inconsistencies could – at least in some cases – relate to what we have referred to above as ethnic-based service bias.
There are patrons who have a very positive impression of staff service. One writes: “Staff were friendly and polite, lovely Urdu”. This patron, himself belonging to East Ham’s Urdu-speaking ethnic minority, naturally appreciates the use of his native language on the part of the outlet’s staff. Another commentator writes: “… a really warm and friendly atmosphere”. And a third describes the friendly informality that one would expect of an outlet’s regulars, who also happen to be compatriots – we read: “it’s so informal… all very friendly… It’s all very relaxed…”
In the absence of ethnic-based camaraderie, relations between patrons and staff are not always that “friendly” and/or “relaxed”. Often enough, one may detect varying degrees of tension between patrons and members of staff given the language barrier between them. One commentator euphemistically tells us that “English can be a little difficult” when it comes to communicating with waiters.
Beyond the possibly ethnic-based or language-based tensions, there are other factors that may explain patrons’ negative impressions regarding staff service. One such factor is that staff can often be “uneducated” and “unskilled” in the work that they do as waiters – at least one commentator explains this in terms of proprietors’ preferences for cheap labour. Not at all euphemistically, one patron writes that staff “smell horrible when at work”. Others write that “the staff and their service is [sic] pathetic”.
As to the social environment within which East Ham’s restaurants are located, we may observe that quite a number of commentators point to an underlying sense of insecurity that seems to prevail in the area. On the other hand, and as has been noted elsewhere, our personal experience tells us that East Ham’s High Street North can in no way be reduced to a “no-go zone” beset with rampant criminality. We shall nonetheless present here four different samples which could help us form some tentative picture of the locality’s social environment.
Firstly, one commentator observes: “East Ham is a tough London neighbourhood, so to find such a… friendly spot is always a treat” [my emph.]. According to this commentator, the exceptionally “friendly spot” – in the sense of a “safe” oasis – happens to be Aunt Sally’s British-style café [cf. above].
A second commentator’s experience in the neighbourhoods of East Ham suggests a definite sense of insecurity, especially at night – we read: “Although the man taking my order had never met me, he was concerned about my walk home and offered to call me a cab. He advised me… that the area wasn’t great to be alone at night and wanted to make sure I got home safely” [my emph.].
The third sample further indicates a certain degree of street violence: “… the last time there was even a fight outside the shop, the police was there as well”.
Finally, we may cite the case of the Overdraft Tavern [op. cit.], which is said to show signs of a certain social roughness once in a while – for instance, patrons [but also members of staff] may be in an aggressively drunken state; there may be a certain level of on-going prostitutional activity; the outlet’s onsite security guards may often find themselves having to intervene in the case of brawls; the police may at times have to intervene in the case of a patron’s harassment, etc. [We nonetheless need to point out here that our personal experience of this particular pub does not verify some of the more extreme manifestations of criminality and/or anti-social behaviour suggested by commentators].