The government’s post-Brexit immigration plans will turn Britain’s curry houses into little more than “Indian themed English cafés” serving bland, anglicised dishes like spicy beans on toast, industry leaders have warned.
Asad Khan, the CEO of restaurant support service Offie, said stricter laws will mean Indian and Bangladeshi chefs are replaced by untrained British cooks with no experience of authentic south Asian cuisine.
British waiters and kitchen staff, meanwhile, will fill the role of non-English speaking support staff from India and other countries outside of the EU.
This will lead to the western homogenisation of Indian restaurants and the cultural misappropriation of recipes and traditional culinary techniques, he added.
It will also result in technically challenging dishes like paturi, chicken momo and Kashmiri harissa disappearing from the high street altogether.
Instead, he said diners should expect hybrid ‘Brindish’ menus – English café staples with “added curry powder”.
These might include spicy beans on toast, naan bread with coronation chicken, and jacket potatoes with korma sauce.
Khan, whose company works with 500 restaurants across the UK, is now calling for the Home Office to rethink its “hostile” new immigration policy, which aims to reduce overall migration to the UK.
He fears that two-thirds of the UK’s 17,000 restaurants could close down or lose their cultural identity within a decade unless the plans are relaxed.
Khan, a second-generation Anglo-Indian whose family moved to the UK from Bangladesh in the 1960s, said: “The government’s new immigration rules will make it almost impossible for curry houses to bring trained foreign chefs to the UK.
“Without those chefs and vital support staff, restaurants will have no choice but to turn to British cooks, waiters and kitchen helpers who have little or no experience of south Asian cuisine – or of south Asia itself.
“Over time, this will in our view have a devastating effect on the industry as a whole and will heavily influence the type of dishes that restaurants have to offer.”
The grim forecast follows ongoing warnings of a national curry crisis fuelled in part by the retirement of the original wave of immigrants who set up curry houses in the 70s.
With second-generation migrants increasingly unwilling to enter the family trade, restaurants have been reliant on sourcing skilled labour from back home.
But Britain’s departure from the European Union has made this significantly more difficult because of tighter visa restrictions and new salary and skill level thresholds.
Under the new rules, unveiled yesterday (19 February), skilled overseas workers who want to come to the UK, which include trained curry chefs, must be able to speak English and earn minimum annual salary of £25,600.
Many Indian restaurants have two or more trained curry chefs.
For most restaurateurs with marginal profits, this is simply not realistic.
Until now, an increasing number of EU nationals – many of south Asian origin – were happy to fill waiting and front-of-house roles.
But under the new system, low-skilled migrant workers in the restaurant sector will not receive a visa.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new system would mean “the brightest and the best will be able to come to the United Kingdom”.
The £4billion curry industry, which employs an estimated 100,000 people nationwide, is already under financial pressure from fast food apps that are said to be eating into revenue and swallowing up profits.
There are now “very real” fears that the majority of Indian restaurants and takeaways will be left without both trained and south Asian staff.
Owners will have no option but to turn to untrained British cooks and to local waiters, bar staff and kitchen helpers to replace foreign employees.
Ash Balakrishnan, the founder of Nation, Europe’s largest networking group which supports more than 2,000 south Asians in the restaurant sector, said: “This is an impossible situation for most restaurants which are already struggling financially.
“They cannot afford to employ skilled overseas curry chefs, they cannot employ second-generation Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Bangladeshis because they don’t want to follow their parents into the restaurant sector, and they can no longer employ EU migrant workers to fill those roles because their skill levels are said to be too low.”
If the new system remains, Khan believes two-thirds of UK restaurants and takeaways could be staffed entirely by Britons within 10 years.
Whilst positive for local employment, he said a workforce made up of people with no Indian or Bangladeshi heritage is unlikely to impress paying diners who expect authenticity.
Khan, a widely respected figure in the industry and the owner of celebrity haunt India Dining, an award-winning restaurant in Warlingham, Surrey, said the cultural and culinary skills of first and second generation immigrants deserved protection.
He is now working with restaurant owners and with key industry leaders to reduce restaurants’ overheads and increase revenue. His advisers include Ash Ali, the former marketing director of Just Eat.
But he said: “A traditional curry has become as synonymous with British culture as fish and chips, and we want it to stay that way for generations to come.“This can only be achieved if the government recognises the long-term damage and implications that these new immigration rules will have on the UK’s most beloved adopted dish.”