Leicester’s Thriving Curry Pub Scene

James Latham takes you on a tour around some of the city’s most buzzing curry pubs

In June 2024, Leicester was named Curry Capital of England after the competition returned following an eight year hiatus. It’s a worthy winner! Leicester has the highest number of South Asian restaurants per capita in the UK with nearly 50 restaurants per 100,000 people. With representation from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Leicester has definitely become the place to visit for South Asian cuisine.

Romail Gulzar, founder of the Leicestershire Curry Awards and owner of Geoffrey’s Restaurant in Leicester, reflected: “The city’s passion for curry, plus the quality and diversity of its dishes is unrivalled”.

But it’s not just about traditional Indian restaurants in Leicester, there’s also a number of ‘curry pubs’ that are thriving around the city. And actually the whole UK scene started in Leicester in 1962, when Soham Singh took over the Durham Ox on Leicester’s Birstall Street.

These aren’t just regular pubs that serve one Indian dish among fish and chips or burgers, they are much more than that. They are generally owned by people of South Asian descent mixing their food heritage with British pub culture. In many cases these were pubs that were battling to stay afloat, and struggling for relevance in a changing hospitality environment. New ownership retained the essence of what makes pubs so important to Britain; but breathed new life into them too.

Just a beer and a natter with family and friends? No problem!

A wonderful home-cooked curry as well? Even better!

So we thought it was time someone embarked on a ‘curry pub crawl’ around some of Leicester’s finest.

Gurkha Curry – at The Durham Ox and The Wyvern

We start our tour at Britain’s original curry pub, The Durham Ox. It’s located on Birstall Street, just north-east of the city centre. Hari Maharjan who runs Gurkha Curry at The Wyvern has added the Ox to his portfolio. Both venues specialise in Indian and Nepalese cuisine in relaxed and casual settings.

Hari prides himself as the creator of authentic dishes using the freshest ingredients. Crowd pleasers include a range of Tandoori sizzlers, traditional curries as well as Nepalese specials such as the Himalaya King Prawn, Gurkhali Lamb or Jomsom Karahi.

A curry pub still thriving after over 60 years! Credit to Hari and team for continuing Soham Singh’s legacy!

Paddy’s Marten Inn

Ten minutes walk up Catherine Street takes you to Paddy’s Marten Inn on Martin Street. The Martin Inn was a traditional Irish pub that was bought by Pradip and Amita Mashru in 1996. They had no plans to convert it into a restaurant initially; but once locals started tasting some of their homemade snacks, it was inevitable!

Fast forward over quarter of a decade and Paddy’s is now a Leicester institution! With over 170 dishes on the menu there is a huge choice, from sizzling lamb chops to a wide variety of dhaba-style vegetarian dishes. Look out for vibrantly spiced fish fillets too such as Kathiawadi Masala from Gujarat. The menu takes influences from across India and further afield such as East Africa and China.

Pradip and Amita Mashru

Bold flavours, generous portions, terrific atmosphere and great value – it’s no surprise it goes from strength to strength!

A Paddy’s Biryani

The Woolpack

Back on to Catherine Street and a short walk north you’ll find The Woolpack. An imposing two-storey brick building belies the relaxed and friendly environment inside. This is a traditional drinker’s pub for sure, but the food is great too. In 2023, it was a finalist in the Best Pub category in the Leicestershire Curry Awards. Understandably so. It combines friendly staff with a wide-ranging menu of delicious homemade Indian dishes. The tandoori chicken, fish sizzler and Haryali chicken curry are all well rated, but the dish people keep coming back for is the mixed grill platter — substantial and delicious!

The Woolpack also has regular sports events on TV such as Premier League or the T20 cricket for those winter nights. But as the weather warms up, the beers start flowing and the hidden beer garden fills up with locals!

Royal Leicesters

Head north across Rushey Fields onto Lockerbie Walk and you’ll reach Royal Leicesters, built in 1972. Another big pub with an imposing white rendered frontage. Its signage promises cask ales, pool and darts, great food and Sky Sports. But it’s the tiger statue that gives you a clue to its heritage.

The menu consists of staples such as Rogan Josh, Bhuna, Jalfrezi and sizzlers, but also Indian authentics like as Tawa and Karahi. They also have some clever snack options like Mogo as well as a few Indo-Chinese alternatives.  

When you mix a well-stocked bar with some decent cocktails and some wonderful home-cooked food, it’s no wonder that Royal Leicesters is thriving!

Owl & Pussycat

A short walk round the block onto Melton Road and you’ll find the Owl and The Pussycat. It’s a big sprawling venue with plenty of parking and has a real community pub feel. There are regular music nights featuring South Asian artists as well as sports on TV. It’s a place that prides itself on a quiet afternoon drink, a family celebration or a corporate function.

When current Gurkha owner Hari Maharjan ran the kitchen here, it built its reputation as one of the pre-eminent curry pubs in Leicester. Under the new ownership of Jay Panchal it’s still up there. It was highly commended in the 2023 Leicestershire Curry Awards after all!

The menu is broad and includes many different Indian curries and sizzlers! If you’re there in a group with hungry friends, you’re going for the Owl Mega Sizzler! Alternatively the special curry pots are definitely worth a try. A great venue for excellent homemade food at a good price.

The Broadway

Travel further west to the corner of Beaumont Leys Lane and Abbey Road, you’ll find our final stop, The Broadway. It’s another imposing red brick pub on a main road. Inside, there’s a big bar and plenty of screens for afternoons in front of the football or evenings of boxing.

But the food is a big draw at The Broadway too. Chef and owner Samir Desai, a former journalist and bus driver, opened The Broadway in 2018. He takes his menu extremely seriously and specials include butter chicken on the bone, Tawa and Paneer Bhurji. There are plenty of options for vegetarians or carnivores alike and all very reasonably priced. It’s all cooked on the premises using fresh ingredients and extremely tasty. And in 2023 The Broadway won Best Pub in the Leicestershire Curry Awards.

Many congratulations Samir and team!

What’s great about the Leicester curry pub scene is that many of the owners could probably increase the number of restaurant covers. It would probably increase their profits in the short term; but many of these owners realise how pubs can really unite and anchor a local community. Sometimes a three-course meal is what you want of course, but on a midweek evening or a sunny afternoon, sometimes you just like to meet up with friends or family and put the world to rights over a couple of beers. These curry pubs are carrying on a great British tradition, but with some added South Asian flair!

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