A pioneering restaurant in curry curating within the Kashmiri cuisine, Aagrah is celebrating 45 years within the curry industry.
The family-run business was first established in Westgate Shipley in 1977, by Mohammed Sabir, alongside his wife, as the women in the family were the curators behind the recipes of what has become one of the most well-established curry houses in West Yorkshire.
Since those early days, Aagrah has expanded and created a niche amongst those who appreciate good Asian food served in sumptuous surroundings, primarily across the Yorkshire region.
Specialising in Kashmiri food with influences from Punjab, the Western frontier and other areas of the Indian subcontinent, Aagrah is known for its high standards of service and rich quality of foods.
The Aagrah Group of Restaurants thrives on their award-winning menu, as the 12 restaurants have featured on and off in the Michelin star guide over the years.
In 2006, the Pudsey branch was redeveloped and now includes a 250-seat restaurant and a purpose-built conference and banqueting centre.
A hotspot for Asian weddings, the Midpoint Suite has 450 capacity seating and an outdoor catering unit, as the expansion of the restaurants brought on new business ventures for the family-run business.
Asian Sunday spoke to the current Managing Director of Aagrah, who started off humbly, as an unpaid waiter.
“I never thought we would be in this stage, 45 years ago, as it was started by my elder brother and his wife Mr and Mrs Shabir and the biggest thing, we had was a clean sheet of paper, we didn’t know how to cook,” says Mr Aslam.
Sharing the secret behind the success of the Aagrah Group, he said:
“The main thing is the basic recipe, which developed our home-style cooking, using chemical engineering, to make it into a commercial environment so the taste stays the same, although it is difficult, I would call that chef a very successful chef if you can take home cooking to commercial cooking in the same taste”.
In the past 15 or 20 years, it has been passed down through generations, where Mr Aslam, of the second generation, is the youngest who was present when the restaurant first started, he started as an unpaid waiter at the home, ‘like any Asian family’.
In representing Bradford and West Yorkshire, he says “I used to go to London when it was the curry capital of the UK, at that stage, I was trying to tell them there is a life outside M25, London has more chefs and we have more cooks, we need to develop, which is developing nicely, than what was happening 15 or 20 years ago.
“But there is a difference between a cook and a chef, chef has to create something, cook just cooks it”.
He adds “The food quality is better in Bradford than in London. They need to learn a lot from Bradford, we have come a long way, 45 years, we couldn’t imagine doing something like that 40 or 30 years ago”.
The Aagrah franchise became a social place to eat and drink with comrades and family members, rather than having a cheap meal after a drink, as Mr Aslam reflects on this, he says “There was a time going for a curry, a hot one, was just trying to impress your colleagues after pub trade, I said no, subcontinent Indian food is not that cheap.
“They need to dress up, come to the restaurants with good ambience, having a drink, rather than coming after the pub, have a drink, have a complete night out, bring the families out and dress up for the occasion, was always my aim, which we started right from Pudsey, well from 77’ onwards”.
Aagrah having won many accolades over the years, had the highest accolade to date, when Mr Aslam was awarded, for his services to the Hospitality Industry, an MBE, Special Recognition Award, presented by David Cameron, at the British Curry Awards 2013, for which he received a standing ovation.
Reflecting on this, he said, “Every accolade we have won, it had made me and my team work harder to prove that we are doing the right thing and we deserve it”.
The Managing Director says being awarded the MBE, was unexpected, “When I was going to the table, I looked at David Cameron, and I said what is the prime minister doing here, must be a look-alike.
“I was completely unaware of it when it was announced, I could sense it when it was announced, we got a standing ovation from the audience, it was absolutely unbelievable, I didn’t dream of something like that”.
Being the youngest brother in the family, Mr Aslam talked about how he was the type of person who didn’t know “how to boil an egg”.
Like many families 45 years ago, Mr Aslam said “we never used to go out or get a takeaway”, as he shares his favourite food is fish and chips “because when you’re into spicy food most of the time, you need something plain, but appealing”.
Moving to London to pursue his studies, he began cooking for himself, and realised it was for him.
“I started to look at other chefs, reading about the cuisine and history, because you’ve got to know the history and understand the regions when it comes to the cuisine, it’s a vast area to cover” he added.
In 1978, he began taking interest in watching the chefs preparing, “I got up one day when I had the idea and I spent all day on my own, doing the preparation, what usually takes the chef an hour, and when he came in the evening, he asked who did that, and when he tried it he replied, it’s okay and I thought it must be brilliant because you have to understand, it is a chef talking”.
His advice to those wanting to start their own business in the hospitality sector was “Never give up, you must have a vision of what you want to achieve, you must make a decision about what you want to learn, it’s not easy, but in simple words, your staff, people working with you have to respect them and deal with them with dignity, so they feel they are part of you”.
Congratulations on celebrating 45 years, a huge milestone for the curry kings of Yorkshire.