A candle on the plate

I first visited India 25 years ago, arriving in January 1994. On the day before we left to return to the UK, my wife took me to Shezan, a restaurant in Bangalore’s Lavelle Road. This pleasant thoroughfare is named after a Mr Lavelle, who made his fortune at the (now disused) Kolar gold fields east of Bangalore.

My wife said to me that brilliant biryani, which I ought to try, was served at Shezan. We arrived at the restaurant, which was then housed in a picturesque colonial era bungalow.

Where this bungalow used to stand, there is now a modern office building called Shezan Lavelle. Since this was built, the restaurant has been situated at various other locations in Lavelle Road. Recently in late 2018, the Lavelle Road branch of this eatery has been discontinued. Shezan continues to operate in Cunningham Road, where there has been a branch for many years.

Back in 1994, I looked at the menu at Shezan and noticed that Chateaubriand beef steaks were being offered for the Rupee equivalent of 2 Pounds Sterling. I told my wife that I would have a steak rather than a biryani. After all, good biryanis were available in London, where a Chateaubriand used to cost eight to ten times the price at Shezan. The steak at Shezan was first class, and it continues to be so 25 years later.

Shezan used to be run by a man, who died in late 2018, and his elderly father. When we began bringing our young daughter to Bangalore in the late 1990s, we took her for meals at Shezan. Whatever was ordered for her arrived with a small candle flickering on her plate. The candle was placed in a hollowed out tomato that served as a shade.

In early January 2019, we visited the Shezan in Cunningham Road with our daughter, by now a young lady. The branch is run superbly by Aftab, a son of the recently deceased former owner.

Our daughter ordered a portion of Sholay Kebab, a slightly spicy chicken dish cooked with curry leaves. It arrived with a small candle flickering under a hollowed out tomato shell. Remarkably, the kindly Aftab had remembered our daughter after not having seen her since she was a small child.

Wandering along Warren Street

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Warren Street is a station on the Northern and Victoria Lines of London’s Underground network. Situated at the intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, both important arteries, Warren Street itself is comparatively small and of minor significance in the greater scheme of things. Be that as it may, this short street, which runs south of and parallel to Euston Road, has had some importance in my life.

 

When the Underground Station was opened in 1907, it was named ‘Euston Road’. In 1908, it acquired the present name.  By the time that I began using the station regularly (in 1970), the Victoria Line had been serving the station for two years. Warren Street itself was built in the late 18th century as part of the Fitzroy Estate. It was named after Anne Warren (1737–1807), who married Charles Fitzroy (1737-1797), First Baron Southampton.

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In the early 1970s, when I was studying at University College London (‘UCL’), one of my fellow students on my BSc course in physiology was a young Indian girl, Lopa, who is now my wife. She spent a couple of years living at the International Students House (‘ISH’) which faces Great Portland Street Underground Station. She and other Indian students introduced me to really good Indian food. This was served at the now no longer existent Diwan-i-am restaurant on Warren Street. It was here and at other nearby restaurants, such as Diwan-i-khas, Lal Qila, and Agra, that food was cooked by Indians and Pakistanis rather than by Bangladeshis, who operated the majority of so-called Indian restaurants in the UK. While Bangladeshi cuisine might be excellent, much of the ‘Indian’ food cooked by Bangladeshis is less satisfactory.

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When the Diwan-i-am was in business, so were many car dealers who had their premises on Warren Street. These have long since disappeared. One business that still exists and predates the Diwan-i-am is Tiranti, an important supplier of, to quote their website: “…materials, equipment and tools to sculptors, modelmakers, mouldmakers, designers, prototypers, woodcarvers, stonecarvers, specialist plasterers, building picture and furniture restorers, potters and ceramicists.” Giovanni Tiranti started this enterprise in High Holborn in 1895. The company first began using premises near Warren Street in 1945. I am not sure when the Warren Street shop opened, but it was about 20 years ago at least. I never purchased anything there but my late uncle S, an engineer by profession and a keen sculptor in his spare time, was a regular customer.

 

I studied at UCL for twelve years. During the last five of these, I was studying dental surgery at the now, sadly, no longer existing Dental Hospital. Warren Street Station was the most convenient place from which to reach the Dental School from my home in Golders Green. It was a few yards from the station to the passage that led from Tottenham Court Road into Mortimer Market, where one part of the Dental Hospital was housed. In those days, the passageway was flanked by an official Iraqi Tourist Office. I used to visit this occasionally to look at the fine exhibitions of photographs shown there. The staff, no doubt agents of the late Saddam Hussein, were friendly. Once, they gave me a gift of four LPs of Iraqi folk music. Many of the ancient sights in the photographs might well now have suffered damage during the troubles that afflicted Iraq long after I had become qualified as a dentist.

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There were several photography suppliers’ shops on the stretch of Tottenham Court Road near Warren Street. Their windows displayed a huge range of camera bodies and lenses. I bought my first SLR camera at one of these shops. They have mostly gone now. So also has Sterns. This electrical shop was well-known for its superb stock of African music LPs. Some years after I had left UCL finally (in 1982), Sterns, which opened in the early 1950s, moved from its somewhat aged premises on Tottenham Court Road to a newer shop around the corner on Euston Road. This has also disappeared, but Sterns still goes on in the form of an on-line firm.

 

One rainy early Monday morning, I emerged from Warren Street Station, and walked to the Dental School. The streets seemed emptier than usual. When I arrived at the school, the doors were locked closed. I was puzzled. Then, I bumped into another student, also soaking because of the weather. Shamefacedly, we realised that we had turned up on a bank holiday.

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Some time during the mid to late 1970s, a branch of McDonalds opened on the corner of Warren Street and Tottenham Court Road. Occasionally, I used to pop in there for a snack on my way home. Now, some decades later, Warren street is lined with ‘trendy’ eateries, one of which is housed in an old dairy on the corner of Conway Street. Much of the original tilework of the former dairy of J Evans has been preserved. Although there are many newer buildings on Warren Street, a few of the original late 18th century structures have survived.

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While Warren Street is not worthy of a long detour, it provides much more than a name for an Underground Station.