More Than a Little Different

Posted on Front of House Aug 2008 - by Tandoori Magazine
More Than a Little Different

An English wife and a Pakistani husband, so how have they come to run a diner named Khanna with wonderful Indian and Pakistani cooking? Tandoori finds out.

You can see it from afar, the lime green canopy, the al fresco dining area, amidst a parade of shops and eateries.

Then you step inside and notice that the difference isn’t just on the outside, but with an attractive pale-hued interior, mirrors, mosaics, spotlights and Wi-Fi facilities to boot, there is a very relaxed air about the place. Besides, the owners of Khanna – husband and wife Awais Hussain and Deborah Le’cand respectively - like to define their little place as a “diner” and once you’ve seen it, you can see why.

Yet it isn’t just the look of the place. As one can guess, one name is European and the other Asian. She’s English and he’s Pakistani.

Nothing too unusual about that as we have all heard of non-Indians owning and running Indian restaurants. Only, there is oodles of passion here and interestingly, while Hussain knows his food well, it’s Le’cand who has gleaned so much of the knowledge and understanding of the cooking, mainly from Awais’s mother whom they both praise for her culinary talent.

“I was always keen to add homestyle dishes onto the menu, but then I also want to have more variety,” notes Le’cand. “There is so much in the subcontinental repertoire to explore and enjoy.”

The menu at Khanna, while short and boasting the likes of favourites such as rogan josh and jalfrezi, also showcases such Pakistani entries as khagina (scrambled egg with judicious spicing), halva puri choley (chickpeas with delicious sweet semolina halva and puri bread made with wholemeal flour), as well as freshly made pakoras, to name but a few dishes.

“When we first met, I knew next to nothing about Asian food,” admits Le’cand. “But then Hussain took me to a place called Shalimar near Brick Lane for some kebab rolls and after that over to his mother’s for some very authentic Pakistani cooking. That was it. I was hooked! Now I’ve got to know the flavours and aromas.”

Once they had got married and moved to Catford, in south-east London, Awais and Le’cand came into some funds from some property deals. That was enough for them to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes of eating and into opening Khanna late last year.

“We thought, having settled in Catford and with the likes of the Shalimar and Tayyabs becoming to far to travel, we might as well open our own place,” states Hussain. “We wanted a chilled atmosphere and a place where people could come and read newspapers with just a little something to eat without having to go the whole hog and have a three course meal. Both my wife and I don’t like fancy, expensive kind of restaurants.

That said, we don’t rule out having more elaborate and more complex dishes on the menu, but we’ll see how things develop in time. We have some way to go in shaping this Khanna to its full potential. But the reaction so far has been extremely positive and even if one half us is English, the cooking hasn’t been compromised.”

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