Lawyers spice up campaign to save iconic London curry house

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Oct 10, 2017
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A High Court judge and senior barristers have joined a litany of the great and the good who want to save the India Club restaurant and hotel in London.
As curry houses go, the India Club’s menu is not extensive or elaborate.

However, the venue played a unique role in Indian independence.
Seventy years after independence and partition, the freeholder for the club in The Strand has applied to Westminster Council to demolish the seven storey building and potentially redevelop it as a boutique luxury hotel.

But the India Club – and its affiliated Continental Strand Hotel – is not going quietly. Long a favourite of politicians, senior lawyers and journalists, the management has rallied a list of establishment celebrities in an attempt to block the wrecking ball.

They have until October 20 to compile evidence to sway development and planning officials away from the modernisation plan.

Key to their defence is a report compiled by William Gould, a professor of Indian history at Leeds University. Professor Gould points out that the club and restaurant, which is near the north side of Waterloo Bridge, was the meeting place of the India League in the two-year run up to independence in 1947.

Organising the meetings at the club was VK Krishna Menon, whom the report describes as “one of the most powerful men in India, and an intimate friend to Jawaharlal Nehru”.

Today’s supporters of the club argue that it played a crucial role as a venue for debate and strategy sessions for the league, which was “the most important organisation campaigning for India’s independence in the UK”. The club’s fans also claim that it continued to play an important role after 1947 as a meeting place for those “campaigning against colonial violence and repression globally, in states such as Malay, South Africa, Kenya and Indonesia”.

Rallying to save the India Club is a catalogue of the great and good, including the Labour peer and renowned economist, Lord Desai, Anish Kapoor, the Turner Prize-winning sculptor, and the novelist Will Self.

Also going into bat are lawyers as the club is on the fringes of the heart of legal London and the Inns of Court. Mr Justice Jay, who as Robert Jay, QC, was counsel to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics,  told The Times that the club’s “closure would be a sad loss. The India club harks back to an earlier age and is part of the historical fabric of the area”.

Practising barristers are on board. “I have been enjoying the India Club and Restaurant for more than 40 years,” said Peter Irvin, a senior commercial barrister at Brick Court Chambers, which is just down the road in the Temple. “I even have a life membership card which cost me a pound many years back. It is one of the few time warp restaurant and bars still surviving in central London.”

Irvin claims that he has “never taken anyone in there who did not enjoy it. Being childish, I have always found it amusing to tell guests that they need to be very smartly dressed, only for them to climb up the Soho style lino staircase and enter what sometimes appears to be mostly a canteen for the Indian Embassy and King's College staff and students”.

A clubbable lapse of memory

When the new lord chief justice, Sir Ian Burnett, was sworn in last week, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, told the assembled legal throng: “Sir Ian was certainly not a typical conventional establishment figure. It appears that the only club of which our new LCJ is or has been a member is the Pizza Express Club. He tells me that when he included it in his Who’s Who return, they replied that it was not the type of club they had in mind.”

However, while Sir Ian may well be the youngest lord chief for half a century, he is just as vulnerable to lapses of memory as the rest of us. Entries in Who’s Who show that he was a member of the Carlton Club, which is renowned for being “the original home of the Conservative Party”, before the days of Conservative Central Office. 

Along with the Carlton listing, the 2003 edition of Who’s Who has Sir Ian, then a QC of five years, citing his interests as history, music, silver and wine. He had left the club by the time he became a High Court judge in 2008.

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