Mother India has become a byword for Scottish Indian cuisine.

When Monir and Smeena Mohammed opened their first restaurant in Glasgow in 1990, it was a boom time for curries in the city, but there was a narrow focus on dishes. “I remember going out at that time, I used to really enjoy some of the restaurants, even though I thought it wasn’t authentic cooking” Monir says. “It was the whole atmosphere. There was Shish Mahal and then Crème de la Crème was seating up to a thousand people. I knew I couldn’t compete with them.

“When people saw a busy restaurant they would just take their menu and it would be a hit. I didn’t have much experience in the hospitality business. I’d jumped from running a grocery shop. I just knew I wanted to do something different.”

Monir set out to move Indian cooking in Scotland forward with dishes that he recognised from the Punjabi tradition.

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“It was stuck in a place for a long time. If you look at Indian restaurants in Scotland nowadays, we are going down a better road. Authentic, healthier, better presentation.”

A turning point came with a positive restaurant review from Raymond Gardner in The Herald a few months after Mother India opened.

“Within a few hours of that being published, people were queuing at the door. Then they came back with their pals or their family and it grew from there. The paper came out Friday morning and by the afternoon it was a different restaurant,” Monir says.

There have been many reviews since then and celebrity visitors including Billy Connolly and Glenn Close. Star chef Anthony Bourdain turned up with a big production crew to film for his travel series. Steven Spielberg once arrived and wasn’t recognised by any of the staff. It was only later they realised he had been in for dinner.

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There are four different versions of Mother India in Glasgow, although Monir says he is reopening slowly, concentrating staff at their flagship location on Westminster Terrace in Finnieston and Mother India Café across from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Edinburgh also has it’s own version of Mother India Café with its small plate dining concept based around “trying a little and tasting a lot”.

It was a gradual expansion. “I remember I mentioned to one of my friends, Alan Mawn, I had started to think about opening up a second restaurant and he asked me if we were jam-packed on a Monday night. I said we weren’t so he suggested we were not ready for another place. That focused our attention on building things up. You have to juggle a lot of things to run a restaurant; it’s hard work. We’re lucky that we are now full on a Monday night.”

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Monir has been part of the ebb and flow of the dining scene for a generation and written his own chapter in the story of Glasgow West End hospitality. What are some of the changes he has seen along the way? “As the journey goes on, your life circumstances change, and you have to adjust the way you work. I can’t work from 10 in the morning till 10 at night anymore. I haven’t got it in me. You’ve got to be happy in what you do.”

“When I took over the place that was the first Mother India, round the corner was a second-hand furniture shop that is now The Gannet restaurant. There’s been an amazing transformation in Finnieston and fantastic operators have moved in. We were one of the first ones here. If I look down Argyle Street, I would never have imagined 30 years ago that this was going to happen. It’s a pleasure to be part of it.”

www.motherindia.co.uk