Drummond Street, a sleepy side-street just by Euston station, has long had a special place in my affections. When I was little, my father, as a special treat, would bring the family here for a meal at the original Shah restaurant – he still reminisces fondly about The Shah’s onion bhajis. Later on, as a university student, I came to Drummond Street to eat bargain-priced dosai at Diwana and to shop at Ambala to satisfy my craving for cardamom-fragrant burfi and freshly-cooked, spicy samosas.
The Indian Spice Shop on Drummond Street has long been another favourite food shop of mine, a place at which to stock up with Indian ingredients, from Bengali panch phoran spice mix to Alfonso mangoes. Stepping inside this shop, the smell of asafoetida hits you, a smell so pungent and tangible that you feel you could almost slice the air and eat it. Living up to its name, this unpretentious shop has always impressed me with the range of spices it stocks. Neatly arranged on its shelves are packets of everything from ajwain seeds to smoked Spanish paprika. For decades Drummond Street and its Indian restaurants and food shops has remained unchanged. It was with real shock, therefore, that I discovered that the Drummond Street community is under threat from the High Speed 2 railway project.
Quietly-spoken and courteous, Harish Bagauty, the Indian Spice Shop’s Goanese owner is very worried indeed about what the future holds for Drummond Street. “The thing is, we don’t know the exact plan yet,” he sighs. “It’s a worrying time. What we do know is they will put in a dead end, so we won’t have road access to Euston Station. We don’t know whether there’ll be pedestrian access. A lot of customers come from the station, buy stuff and go out. If there’s no parking, we’ll have problems with the customers. It will be a nightmare and business will run down. ”
Harish is proud of the fact that his shop is a Drummond Street institution. “I worked here for the people before me and took over this shop 16 years ago. We are family basically. Me, my brother, my brother in law my sister in law – we all come here 9.30am-9pm. People know if they come they get everything from vegetables to rice and spices, toiletries, groceries. We get all kinds of customers. People come in and say I’ve been coming here for 40 years. English people go to India, taste Indian food and they love it. Sometimes they ask me for spices even I don’t know! It’s amazing. We try new spices and new blends. We sell a lot of mangoes in season – very popular now. The English people love these mangoes, they wait for the whole year; when mango season come, I see them here every other day.”
As he talks, I can hear the anxiety in Harish’s voice, his sense of frustration. “It is hard to find out information. There were meetings, but they have no answers for our questions. They say, they don’t know yet, so what’s the point of having meetings? A waste of time.” I can also hear Harish’s sadness at what’s being planned for his local community and his disbelief that a street which means so much to so many people should be destroyed. “There is a lot of opposition to HS2. Camden Council is opposing. People have lived here their whole life – they’re now in their seventies, eighties, nineties – where are they going to move them? There won’t be the same community where they move them. Same for businesses. They say they’ll move them – it’s not going to work. Drummond St is known by everybody – if only me, then nobody is going to come. I heard that Diwana Bhel Puri and Patak, they were the beginning of this street. These restaurants are very famous – any time when you come, they’re always busy. We run an off-license because of them only –they don’t sell alcohol, so people buy their drink here and take it to them.”
“People are upset – all the flats are going. We’re the local shop, specialising in Indian food. In here, you get personal service, family atmosphere, we know them by name or by face. It’s a friendly atmosphere so people love to come here, we give them the best service. When they say it’s going, we feel bad, what are we going to do? It takes such a long time to build up this business.”
The Indian Spice Shop, 115-119 Drummond Street, NW1 2HL, 020 7916 1831
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