In 1935, a young man from Jalandhar reached British shores. All he had were the clothes on his back. He didn’t speak a word of English, let alone read or write. But he dreamed of owning a restaurant. So he became a door-to-door salesman. Obviously.
It took years of hard graft and penny pinching, but Khushi finally opened his first restaurant in 1947, on Potterow – and called it the Lothian Restaurant, imaginatively. Being next to the university, it was ideally placed for all the homesick Indian students a wee taste of home. As the Indian community in Edinburgh grew, so did the restaurant’s popularity – and soon all sorts of the city’s residents were popping in for their dinner.
Pssssst. Wanna buy some coriander?
When Khushi arrived in Scotland, you didn’t find many Indian ingredients in the supermarkets. (Actually, back then you didn’t find many supermarkets either, but that’s not the point.) From chilli and cumin to coriander and ginger, a lot of the bits so vital for great tasting curry were hard to come by. Of course, Khushi did what any normal restaurateur would do. He became a spice-smuggler, using students as mules. So, whenever one of his customers was popping back to India for a visit, he’d make sure they returned with a few key ingredients.
As international smuggling rings go, this was tastier than most – but short-lived, as the growing recognition of Indian cuisine meant the vital spices were soon imported by actual importers. Finding halal meat also presented its challenges. Khushi’s most loyal customers will remember that he used to keep chickens in his basement. Let’s just say running a restaurant in the days before strict health and safety laws was a cut throat business…
Becoming an icon
From opening in 1947, it didn’t take long for Khushi to become one of the Southside’s more recognise faces. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, the restaurant’s (and the owner’s) popularity grew beyond the Indian community – and regular customers soon included Edinburgers or all walks of life. Back then, the menu might have been simple by today’s standards, but the spice and flavour of the food made visiting the Lothian Restaurant an exotic experience with a universal appeal. The great long benches of the original restaurants would hold students and street sweepers, office workers and policemen, builders and businessmen – often all at the same time.
A family business
As you’d expect, much has changed for the restaurant over the years. For starters, The Lothian Restaurant became Khushi’s in 1974. And only a few years later, tragedy struck the family. In 1977, while on pilgrimage, Khushi died – and his family had to pick up the reins. Much like her husband, Khushi’s wife had little English, but plenty of determination – and took over the restaurant, while raising seven kids. Now, it’s the sons that grew up in the kitchens of the first restaurants that run the show. Scotland’s a lot more used to the cuisine, so you’ll find a lot more than you used to on our menus. But some things don’t change – like the bring-your-own-booze policy, the great atmosphere and the dedication to the very best ingredients.
A moving story
While it might seem to some that Khushi’s has been a fixture in Edinburgh for years, the reality is that Khushi was a restless soul. From the first premises in Potterow, the restaurant moved several times – first, to an old car showroom on Lothian Street, then to Candlemaker Row, then to Drummond Street and then to Victoria Street. It’s there that Khushi’s story almost came to an end. Not long after opening the fantastic new restaurant off George IV Bridge, disaster struck – and the kitchen got even hotter than usual. The fire that night, just before Christmas 2008, utterly destroyed the restaurant. It seemed like Edinburgh might be denied the Khushi’s personality and experience for ever. But, after three years’ hard work, it’s back – in Antigua Street.
An Edinburgh institution makes its way to Leith
It’s not just the history, the food and the experience that makes Khushi’s such an iconic part of the capital’s landscape. Anyone who’s anyone has suffered a big fire. Look at the Festival Theatre (burnt down in 1911), Jenner’s (seriously singed in 1892) or the Gilded Balloon (which perished in 2002). And, while the restaurant might have a proud history of feeding Edinburgh, it’s never managed to get further north than the mound. Well, it’s finally putting its southside sensibilities to rest. It’s Leith’s turn for a good feed. It might have take 65 years and a huge blaze, but it’s finally here. Better late than never, eh?