Hard times for Preston's curry houses as city's oldest closes down

The Bangladeshi restaurant at the top of Friargate - later renamed the Spice of Bengal - helped re-programme the citys tastebuds from fish and chips to chicken madras and lamb bhuna.
The Bangladeshi restaurant at the top of Friargate - later renamed the Spice of Bengal - helped re-programme the citys tastebuds from fish and chips to chicken madras and lamb bhuna.
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As one of Lancashire’s very first curry houses, the Bengal was responsible for spicing up the lives of thousands of folk in Preston.

The Bangladeshi restaurant at the top of Friargate - later renamed the Spice of Bengal - helped re-programme the city’s tastebuds from fish and chips to chicken madras and lamb bhuna.

But after something like 57 years of putting the heat into nights out, the traditional curry joint has finally closed its doors, seemingly unable to survive another seismic shift in eating habits.

A handwritten note in the window said simply: “We are very sorry to tell you that the Spice of Bengal will no longer be open. We would like to thank you for your custom over the years. Due to family circumstances, we decided to totally close the business. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”

Whatever was behind the decision to pull down the shutters on - pubs apart - possibly Friargate’s longest-serving business, many say the closure comes as no real surprise.

The days of the traditional city centre curry house are starting to appear numbered as the changing shape of nights out, coupled with a plentiful supply of Asian food in supermarkets and takeaways, mean seven pints and a late night rogan josh are things of a bygone age.

The closure of the Spice of Bengal comes less than three months after another once-popular Indian restaurant, the Naaz in Bamber Bridge, shut up shop after 27 years serving up a taste of the East.

At the time, its chef Dilshad Miah told the Post: “We all feel very sad. It was a hard decision to make. But people aren’t going out as much as they used to because money is tight.

“Also it is getting harder to find the right kitchen staff.

“We’ve been looking for someone to rent the premises, but no-one seems to want to open an Indian restaurant right now.

“It’s been really hard to keep it going of late. But the trade isn’t there and neither are the skilled staff.

Oli Khan, senior vice-president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, said the decline of the industry was as a result of multiple factors.

He said: “There are so many issues including Brexit and immigration. There is so much food coming from all over the world. Twenty years ago there were only four popular food industries - Indian, Chinese, Italian and fast food - now there are so many different foods.”

Florist Margaret Mason has run her shop opposite the Bengal since 1961. She said: “I thought it came after me, but my friends say it was there before I opened.

“A chap called Bengal Jack owned it in the mid-60s. It always seemed to be a popular restaurant.”

Rob Taylor, whose laptop repair shop has been opposite the curry house for 28 years, said: “It’s a shame. I remember going in there when I was young. It has been a landmark around here for so long.”

Readers reacted to the closure of Spice of Bangal on social media, many saying they were disppointed to see it close.

Stephen Robinson wrote: “Had some great food in there from the ‘70s upwards. We used to call the old guy in there grandad. Good times, such a pity.”

Valerie Hunt said: “First went there 50 years ago. Very sad.”

Julie Gardner added: “Oh no, shame that. Great times in that place. Happy memories.”

And Jessica Horn said: “We used to go in there with our kids. On one occasion the owner took them into the kitchen to show them how their curry was made.”

Despite efforts to contact them, the owners of Spice of Bengal were unavailable for comment.