Search

Covid pandemic has left Brick Lane ‘a curry ghost town with three months left’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 August 2020

Spiced up... putting the heat on Brick Lane curry houses like the kitchen at City Spice eatery. Picture: Mike Brooke

Spiced up... putting the heat on Brick Lane curry houses like the kitchen at City Spice eatery. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Most Brick Lane curry houses facing “a devastating impact” from Covid-19 probably have just three months to survive, leading figures in the restaurant trade itself fear.

Happier days... curry festival before Brick Lane became a 'ghost town'. Picture: Mike BrookeHappier days... curry festival before Brick Lane became a 'ghost town'. Picture: Mike Brooke

London’s world-renowned curry capital is fast becoming “a ghost town” and could be facing the wall, a top economics study has found.

Leading up to the pandemic crisis has been a massive 62 per cent decline in Brick Lane’s Asian-owned restaurants and cafés in just 15 years, according to the Runnymede Trust.

There were 60 outlets a decade ago, compared to just 23 today which are in retreat from newcomers like hipster cafés, vintage clothes shops, delicatessens and boutique chocolatiers.

Monsoon owner Shams Uddin... 'Chancellor can cut VAT and have voucher schemes, but what’s the point if you don’t have customers?' Picture: Mike BrookeMonsoon owner Shams Uddin... 'Chancellor can cut VAT and have voucher schemes, but what’s the point if you don’t have customers?' Picture: Mike Brooke

Shams Uddin, who runs the Monsoon on Brick Lane, fears the Chancellor’s “eat out to help out” promotion that began yesterday won’t be enough.

“He can cut VAT and have as many voucher schemes as he likes,” Shams told the East London Advertiser. “But what’s the point if you don’t have any customers?

“The City people go on holiday normally in August and we get the tourists. This time we’ve got hardly anyone because of coronavirus.”

Decline and fall of Brick Lane... famed Cafe Naz closed down three years ago. Picture: Mike BrookeDecline and fall of Brick Lane... famed Cafe Naz closed down three years ago. Picture: Mike Brooke

Shams had only seven customers on one of his normally-busy days — but had none all day last Wednesday.

“The landlord still wants the rent,” he adds. “Most restaurants in Brick Lane will only survive another three or four months.”

The two-year study identified rising rents and business rates leading to the decline, along with visa restrictions on recruiting chefs from abroad leaving Brick Lane with a shortage of trained staff and a retracting night-time economy by Tower Hamlets Council restricting licensing hours.

Up for sale... the curry capital of London facing the wall. Picture: Mike BrookeUp for sale... the curry capital of London facing the wall. Picture: Mike Brooke

Restaurateur Bashir Ahmed, the British Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce president, said: “To tell the truth, I can’t see Brick Lane surviving much longer as the curry capital — it’s dying. That’s sad.”

The study calls for a government cash injection to help survive the Covid crisis, extending licensing hours, rent capping, more secure social housing for low-paid workers and more affordable work space.

Runnymede’s Dr Zubaida Haque said: “Covid has severely hit Brick Lane’s curry businesses, which have already been decimated by restrictive visa requirements to recruit chefs from Asia. The pandemic shutdown has turned into an economic crisis.”

Once the flame of success... Brick Lane now facing crisis after pandemic. Picture: Mike BrookeOnce the flame of success... Brick Lane now facing crisis after pandemic. Picture: Mike Brooke

Runnymede is urging the government and Mayor of London to step in with business and financial support “to help weather this harsh economic storm”.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East London Advertiser. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the East London Advertiser