A family-run York restaurant has won a national award after just one year of full trading – thanks to dishes from their ‘Mad Chef’!
“We were confident – and nervous at the same time as well, because you don’t know if you’ve won it or not,” said owner Syed Ali.
“Then somebody came over, tapped on my shoulder and said, you’re next to go on stage. I said, hold on a second, go on stage for what?
“They said, you’ve won the Best Restaurant Award. That’s when it hits you!
“I was overwhelmed. To have one year of full trading and to come this far – it’s an achievement and a half for me, for my staff, and especially for my local people who nominated and voted for us.”
Several members of his family are part of the team, and that is a key reason why the Bengal Lounge is so special, Syed said.
“The best thing about our food is it’s all home-ground spices. Our chef, he makes his own spices.
“Everything is made from scratch, which gives you that unique, traditional taste.”
The chef is Rofiq Islam.
“We call him the mad chef!” Syed laughs. “In the sense that he comes up with some mind-boggling dishes.”
He said diners come in and leave the decision on their main dish to the chef, and in a matter of minutes he creates something amazing.
“We now have five signature dishes, called Mad Chef numbers 1 to 5. There’s no names to them, customers come in and order one to five.
“At the moment the one that’s selling the best is Mad Chef Number 4 – which is either chicken or lamb created by chef himself with his own herbs and spices.
Watch: The moment the Bengal Lounge took the trophy
“And he does a poached egg on top of it. When customers break into that egg and the yolk goes down the dish, it’s beautiful – topped with fried onions.”
Another signature dish is the Syed Eur Special. Chicken, lamb or prawns are cooked in chef’s unique spices, with garlic, lemon, ginger, coriander, tandoori paste and more. “It’s really nice served medium or hot.”
Locals are ecstatic
What became the Bengal Lounge was run for nearly 17 years as the Saffron Takeaway.
Syed worked there for several years – and he spotted the potential to convert it into a restaurant.
When the owners decided to sell-up, Syed took over and transformed the business into a 32-cover restaurant.
That was at the end of 2019 – just months before the first Covid lockdown. They switched to takeaway only, then started fully trading as a restaurant a little over a year ago – making Sunday’s award even more remarkable.
News of the win has delighted the regulars. “My locals are ecstatic about it. I’ve been overwhelmed with flowers, balloons, cards. Everyone was really excited.”
The trophy plate will be displayed prominently near the bar. And Syed is making a big banner to go next to the restaurant sign outside.
There’s no scope to expand in the current premises. “If the opportunity arises, and there’s a bigger place available, why not? We will look to expand.
“It’s nice, it’s small but it’s paying the bills, and in that sense we are really happy.”