Yet the word ‘Indian’ is so frequently misleading. Much of the British curry industry has been built on the hard work and dedication of the ex-pat Bangladeshi community, which has helped to build a multi-billion industry in the UK.
Those who moved to the UK in the 1970s and carved out a new niche in the restaurant sector had the hardest of times. Sometimes facing resistance, they toiled for long hours on Fridays and Saturdays, seldom getting the praise they deserved.
Yet all too often, such restaurants were at the heart of communities. Sponsoring local football teams, providing employment for locals and being the glue that bound towns and villages, they provided cohesion and a sense of place across this region, as well as the wider UK.
A second generation of British-Bangladeshi restaurateurs took on the responsibility to grow the industry further, continuing to support local communities, rarely getting the praise or encouragement deserved and providing affordable food for locals as a part of the deal.
Fast forward to the present day and such restaurants have faced considerable challenges. Closures during Covid, a fall in trade due to the cost of living crisis and difficulties retaining staff have given owners headaches that will take far more than a couple of paracetamol to solve.
And yet the little-heralded Bangladeshi restaurants continue to thrive. Offering great value for money, impeccable service and delicious food, their tenacity and ability to keep going is an inspiration.
At Little Bangla, near Oldbury, national colours are worn loud and proud. And so they should be. “We’re going for a Bangladeshi” is a more accurate refrain among its customer base, with plenty of customers ordering take-outs or filling the restaurant’s capacious seating areas, particularly at weekends.
The award-winning Little Bangla is among the best child-friendly Bangladeshi or Indian restaurants in the West Midlands and works closely with its local council, local community and primary schools in the area.
Offering Bangladeshi and Indian food, its chefs are familiar with regional cuisine, which gives customers a wider choice than they might expect elsewhere.
In recent years, Little Bangla has been a multiple winner of awards from the Mayor of Sandwell for excellent food and dedicated work for the local community and nearby schools.
On a rainy Monday evening, its brightly-lit interior was a beacon for my partner and I as we sat down to sample its regional cuisine.
There was no need to book a table. Mondays are the graveyard shift after a busy weekend and there was ample room to pull up outside and walk in. We were greeted with a warm smile and ample bonhomie from the restaurant manager as we were seated near to the window and given menus to peruse.
The Little Bangla doesn’t have its own alcohol offering – making it all the more difficult to make ends meet. Yet it’s become so embedded in the local community during the past 10 years that it received ample support from locals.
Across the past decade, the restaurant has provided cooking masterclasses to primary and secondary schools, as well as youth groups. That’s helped to educate youngsters about the hospitality sector as they’ve learned to cook healthy Bangladeshi and Indian food. The restaurant has helped raise money for a range of charities while teaching locals about Asian culture and the importance of good attitude, best behaviour and offering respect for elders. What’s not to like? Sponsorships have also been provided for Little Albion Football Club and Brabdol Hall Colts, among others.
Of course, such good intentions need to be matched by good service, a hospitable dining room and good food, which, happily, they are.
Little Bangla has few airs or graces. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant with an unprepossessing exterior and with bright, colourful lights and inexpensive artwork.
The seating area is comfortable but there’s thankfully no pretence that this is ‘fine dining’ or anything other than a workaday eaterie.
Service was exceptional throughout the evening. The restaurant manager was polite, engaged and warm-hearted.
Eager to please and demonstrating considerable skill, he put us at ease and added to the experience as we enjoyed a pleasant and informal evening out.
I began with a simple dish of chicken tikka. Pieces of chicken that had been cooked a little too long were dressed in a fabulously aromatic and fragrant tikka sauce. A dainty salad, all thinly sliced lettuce and onion, and a wedge of lemon, which added a citrus hit, completed a delightful first course.
My partner began with a delicately spiced sea bass. Small fillets of bass were sufficiently robust and flavoursome to stand up to the heat and had been cooked accurately, so they remained moist and tender.
Our mains were a delight. I enjoyed a chicken ashami, featuring small pieces of tender tandoori chicken, off the bone, with a warming sauce of red onion and red and green pepper. The heat was gentle, like a warm breeze across a beach, rather than anything too fiery. Served with a star-shaped portion of basmati rice, it was delicious.
My partner turned up the heat with a chicken madras, enjoying its chilli-infused sauce with a sweet and coconut-ey peshwari naan bread. The honey-drizzled naan was a perfect accompaniment and the so-hot-it’ll-make-your-tongue-tingle sauce was heavenly.
We skipped the unappetising array of brought-in, frozen desserts and left a decent tip in lieu of good food, good service and a pleasant night out. Restaurants such as Little Bangla are the lifeblood of local communities and deserve their hour in the sun. Providing affordable, good quality food and high levels of service, they give us all something to smile about in troubled times.