If you’re looking to eat delicious quality food, in rich, sophisticated surroundings, Chutney Ivy is the place to be.
Having sat proudly in the city’s cultural quarter for over a decade now, the restaurant and its popular downstairs lounge bar are a cornerstone of Leicester’s thriving curry scene, and a culinary destination not to be missed.
Owner Shaf Islam sat down with Pukaar to reflect on over 10 years in business, plus his passion for food and sparkling hospitality, which has led to his restaurant securing a string of awards over the years, including the coveted ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the Leicester Curry Awards.
Since opening in October 2010, Chutney Ivy has enjoyed huge success – awards, accolades, and even several appearances in the UK restaurant industry’s prestigious Michelin guide.
Over the years, dozens of high profile stars have walked through the doors; Louis Walsh, Alexandra Burke, and Jason Donovan to name but a few, thanks to the venue’s reputation and its ideal location, which is just a stone’s throw away from the city’s iconic Curve Theatre.
However, for owner Shaf Islam, the real heroes are the loyal customers who grace Chutney Ivy time and again, choosing to spend their hard-earned cash at the restaurant to which he has given his heart and soul.
When he first opened Chutney Ivy, Shaf admits that it was a gamble and a ‘leap of faith’ – but luckily one which has paid off – and then some.
The restaurant arrived on the scene at the height of the worldwide financial crash. Plus the Cultural Quarter was still in its infancy at the time, he explained.
However, the area is now a thriving destination for people looking for an evening of high-quality entertainment and sophisticated dining – something just a little bit special. And that is exactly what Chutney Ivy provides.
“My vision was to have a really beautiful, contemporary modern looking restaurant, which happens to serve great quality Indian food”, Shaf told Pukaar.
“It doesn’t have to be overly fancy, but very heartwarming home-cooked style of food is what we aim to provide, served with great classic Indian style hospitality”.
Before opening Chutney Ivy, Shaf had worked in the restaurant business for over 30 years, starting at his family’s Shireen Tandoori, and later as a franchisee at Shimla Pinks.
He credits his Mum and Indian heritage for instilling the warm, sparkling hospitality, which stands at the heart of his restaurant today.
Originally from Bangladesh, Shaf moved to the UK with his family when he was nine years old.
“As a child, I made friends quite easily because when my friends used to come over from school, the first thing Mum did was present them with a plate of Samosas”, he revealed.
“I think I got more friends than I needed initially because I think they only came round for the food!
“Indian hospitality is renowned around the world”, Shaf continued.
“There’s this Indian saying which says ‘the guest is our God’, and you’ll find that reflected in any Indian household. The first thing you will be is bombarded with food!
“I tell my staff ‘this is your living room’ and the customers are your guests”, he says. “The only difference is that they are paying for the privilege”.
At Chutney Ivy, Shaf prides himself on his signature ‘Crispy Duck Samosas’ as well as his special ‘Chilli Butter Prawns’.
He is passionate about people, great quality customer service and ensuring that his restaurant is the best that it can be.
However, Shaf is also driven to ensure that the Indian restaurant industry as a whole continues to receive the respect and the success that it deserves – something which he feels has been amiss in times gone by.
“Going out for a curry in the mid-80s was all about downing ten pints of lager and the food was an afterthought”, he said.
“To me and other restaurant owners, it was always a bit of a slap in the face and although most people were appreciative, there was an element of prejudice which you couldn’t ignore.
“Back then, curry houses, bought in around £2-3 billion for the British economy, but we were never respected as an industry that contributed so much”, he added.
“However, I’m glad to see that people’s eating habits have changed, and their thoughts about their neighbours – their fellow human beings have come a long way since then”.
The curry industry now contributes over £5 billion to the UK economy, and Leicester itself has the highest number of Indian restaurants per capita outside London and Birmingham, the nation’s two most populated cities.
Shaf feels that the level of competition in Leicester is something that has helped push Chutney Ivy to the level of success it has achieved.
The restaurant was awarded the coveted title ‘Restaurant of the Year’ back at the 2017 Leicester Curry Awards and it has even made it to the national finals.
“Competition always creates quality”, he says.
“It raises everybody’s game and you end up with great products being served to the public”.
Asked about his chances of reclaiming the crown at this year’s Leicester Curry Awards, Shaf said that although winning would be great, he was just happy to be there celebrating his industry alongside his (highly respected) peers.
“Being recognised by your local people, who are literally your nan and makhnee, has been one of the real highlights of my career”, he said of the accolade.
“But whoever wins on the night, they truly deserve it as I know from personal experience what they have sacrificed and how hard they have worked to achieve such a prestigious accolade.”
To find out more about Chutney Ivy, which is available to cater to a variety of events, including corporate parties and weddings, visit: www.chutneyivy.com
By Louise Steel