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Boost for historic curry house ahead of crunch hotel vote

Planning chiefs to decide fate of India Club on Tuesday night as thousands back calls to save Strand restaurant from freeholder's overhaul bid

27 July, 2018 — By Richard Osley

 The India Club owner Yadgar Marker

PLANNING officials have given the campaign to save the India Club – the historic curry house in the Strand – a boost by recommending it should be saved from a hotel redevelopment scheme.

More than 20,000 fans of the restaurant have urged Westminster City Council to reject the overhaul at the six-storey building.

Councillors are due to vote on the proposals on Tuesday night, but have been advised by their own planning department that the cultural significance of the restaurant should be taken into account.

The India Club’s founding members in the 1950s included India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, independence campaigner Krishna Menon and Lady Mountbatten.

Freeholders Marston Properties submitted designs to remodel the building, already home to Strand Continental Hotel on other floors, to create a more modern offering for guests and tourists. The upper floors, where the India Club is based, will be converted into further accommodation, if consent is granted. Westminster’s planning department, however, have been deluged with letters insisting that the restaurant should be protected, and supporters are expected to attend the key planning meeting next week.

Artist Humphrey Ocean said: “I have been walking up the stairs to eat since coming to London in 1973. It is a constant, has just always been there, and it is quite distinct as an experience and quite unlike any other Indian restaurant, in that it seems to be like being in India.”

Simon Wilson, a former British Deputy High Commissioner in Calcutta, said it would be a “tragedy” if the restaurant closed, adding: “The India Club is a time warp that resonates with the atmosphere of those who forged ties of friendship between India and Britain after independence. We should be celebrating this diversity not destroying it be allowing it to fall to modern development. It deserves to be saved.”

While the club is steeped in history, it is also famous throughout London’s population of university students, who are attracted by its low- price menu. In doing so, they share the same tables as MPs, peers and journalists.

Supporters of the restaurant said they were angry that the restaurant’s history was not mentioned in paperwork filed with the council by the applicants. This has, however, helped to fuel disagreement about the history of the site, as the India Club moved into the Strand in 1964, 13 years after it was founded in Craven Street.

An attempt to have the restaurant listed was rejected in May with Marston insisting that the history behind the club is linked to its first venue.

In a report circulated ahead of next week’s meeting, the planning department said the applicants had complained that there had been “a large amount of misleading media attention” about the building’s history.

But officers recomm- ended that the scheme should refused due to the “loss of an important cultural and night-time entertainment use”.

The report – which is only guidance for elected councillors holding the final say next week – added: “Even if the India Club were not as culturally important as it is, there would still be a case for its retention as a restaurant/bar.”

Marston is running a public statement which it said was aimed at “setting the record straight”.

“We’re not demolishing the building,” it said. “If there had been any evidence that the heritage links to building were as significant as claimed, we would have been the first to look to preserve it. The original India Club began in Covent Garden, not The Strand.”

It added that building was in “poor condition” and in need of refurbishment.

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