NOT many Southend restaurants make it to their 40th anniversary, but the Polash, in Shoeburyness, is no ordinary eatery.

The business has been a fixture for 40 years, and so have many of the customers as well.

The West Road restaurant rides high in the food stakes. Patak's Curry Guide has listed it among the top 30 Indian restaurants in the entire UK. Stronger, though, than even the strongest curry, is the loyalty the this place engenders.

Some of the diners at Polash's tables were there in 1979. when it first opened. For them, the Polash experience is not just a question of an eat in, but of a love in.


One of those decades-long regulars is Adventure Island owner Philip Miller MBE, executive chairman of Stockvale.

“In fairness, I am a relative newcomer, as I have only been visiting for the past 35 years!” he says.

Mr Miller is in no doubt as to what keeps drawing him back.

He says: “The food has always been first class, but then it is in many other restaurants locally.

"It's the genuine warmth that sets it apart. It's something you can only get at the Polash and it’s a magic formula that cannot be copied.”


The special atmosphere at the Polash stems directly from the owner and founder, Sheikh Khalique, and his personal rags to riches story.

One of six brothers, Mr Khalique arrived in England from Bangladesh in 1967.

“My father wanted me to study, but I just wanted to get out and work,” he says.

At 16 he started out as a waiter at his uncle's restaurant in Wembley, and found that he had a real flair, and love for, the work.

Another brother, Harun, was separately forging a career as a skilled chef.

The brotherly network went into overtime when a third brother, Ahmed, told Sheikh and Harun about an opportunity he had spotted. Ahmed was working in Southend, and had learnt that a launderette site in West Road was about to become vacant.


“By then I had my own strong idea for running my own business,” says Mr Khalique.

The idea does not sound so radical now, but back in 1979, when restaurants from the Indian sub-continent were still labelled as “curry houses,” it was highly original. It consisted of authentic sub-continent cuisine, using locally sourced raw materials. Mr Khalique describes it as “going back to the roots”.

“When we opened, we were something special. Since then, lots of people have copied us, to be honest,” he says.

Shoebury residents bought into the Khalique brothers' culinary vision from day one. There were queues round the block on opening night.

Then came a rave review by restaurant critic Jim Worsdale in this newspaper.

“Mouthwatering” was one of the more low-key adjectives that he used. “I remember that review by heart,” says Mr Khalique. “Since then, we have never looked back.”

Over those 40 years, however, the Polash, once so innovative, has come to be known for another, quite different quality – unchanging reliability.

The world changes, but the Polash doesn't. It remains a reassuring haven. “We don't react to changes in fashion in the industry,” Mr Khalique says. “We keep things authentic and traditional.”

Not that he allows complacency to settle in. “The items on the menu, they frankly have not changed that much,” he says. “People have come to love them. But we constantly work to improve (the recipes).”


This sense of continuity clearly influences the customers. The Polash is a family run business, and the clientele are also something of an informal family.

“Nearly everyone who eats there sort of knows each other, and we greet other customers like old friends,” says Philip Miller.

Food apart, it is the warm welcome that Polash fans extol. Service values lie at the heart of Mr Khalique's philosophy.

He says that a lot of industry trainees seek out the Polash. “They know that this is a good place to learn the skills, and that time spent training at the Polash will be a good qualification for jobs elsewhere,” says Mr Khalique. “Many of my waiters have gone on to open their own businesses.” The core principles he teaches are not complex, boiling down to eight words. “Welcome with a smile. Take care of customers.”

He makes it sound almost cosy, but the road to the Polash was a tough one by any standards.

“My background was very poor,” he says. “I had to walk 10 miles to school. Across fields – there were no roads.”

At that stage, he made a resolution. “I promised myself that if ever I had the opportunity, I would help build a high school in my home village. Thankfully I had that opportunity.”

Mr Khalique kept his promise to himself. Working with local fund-raisers back in Bangladesh, he was instrumental in setting up Shahkamal High School, which opened in 1990. The school has around 600 pupils, “and they are all very appreciative”.

He is also widely involved in charities here at home. Philip Miller, also active in charities, comments: “The family have always supported local charities with curry nights at detriment to his usual trade no doubt, but that is the kind of guy he is.”

The Polash has stayed reliable and unchanging for 40 years. What about the next 40?

Regulars seem unworried. The Echo spoke to one of them, James Pearson, from Shoebury Barracks. He first came to the Polash with his father, at the age of seven. He said: “I've been coming ever since, and it's always been the same. Same smile. Same greeting. And same delicious food. The Khalique family know how much customers value that unchangeability, so I bet nothing too revolutionary will happen over the next 40 years.”

Certainly, the next generation look a safe bet.

Sheikh's son Rubel spent much of his childhood at the restaurant, studying cookery with his uncle, chef Harun. “He used to hurry home from school,” says Mr Khalique. “He just wanted to get into the kitchen.”

Rubel is now effectively in charge of the kitchen, following Harun's semi-retirement. He says that he plans to develop and improve the regular dishes. “I am very curious, and I like to experiment.” One idea he is developing is the notion of Indian-style variations on trad British dishes like turkey dinners and Beef Wellington.

“But it will still be the Polash that people know and love,” he promises.

Right now, major change seems a very remote concept. Customers are still met at the door by the boss and founder, just as they were back in 1979.

Now 67, Sheikh Khalique flirted briefly with retirement, but did not enjoy the experience. “I don't like just sitting down,” he says. He was soon back at the Polash door.

“Being here, meeting and greeting people, that's what I love,” says Mr Khalique.