We interviewed Syed Hoque, the owner of Manzil Tandoori – a top-10 curry house in the UK – about his time in Southampton, why there are now two ‘Manzils’ restaurants and his favourite curries.
It has always shocked me to find people who have never been to a late night curry establishment after a night out in Portswood. It shocks me further to find that people don’t know that there are two of these said establishments. Tariq Manzils vs Manzil Tandoori is to Southampton students as Mayweather vs Pacquiao is to the boxing community, and sometimes can be just as violent.
In case you didn’t know, the Manzils student deal is any curry on the menu, plus rice, naan bread and poppadums for £6.95, and has been the staple of my post night out diet for the past 3 years. I have been to both of these establishments before, both drunk and sober; sometimes clothed, sometimes not.
One fine September evening, myself and friends were enjoying an evening meal at Manzil Tandoori when we realised that it didn’t have much of a presence within the student news, we decided this needed changing. We arranged an interview with the owner Syed Hoque to find out more and he gave us a really interesting story.
The Manzil Story
Syed was studying at Leeds University where he was working part time in an Indian restaurant and learnt to cook. In those days he was only earning £3.50 a week! He enjoyed the business and thought it was a way of contributing, by providing good food to the nation. He finished studying and opened a restaurant in Winchester for a few years before moving over to Southampton in 1978 and opening Manzil Tandoori. He ran this as the manager for 20 years before becoming unwell with back problems.
During this time his children started helping out with the business including his son in law – Tariq. Syed went abroad to get involved in politics and Tariq began to run the restaurant. Syed enjoyed this, so Tariq could get onto his feet. When Syed came back, Tariq was doing well with the restaurant, making lots of money, but he was not investing the money back into the restaurant, which along with the property above, was falling apart. He asked Tariq to use some of the money he was making to restore the building before going abroad again. Over the next six months his children informed him that he had not done anything, so Syed told him to leave the business. Syed then had to spend £1000s of pounds restoring the restaurant back to its former self.
Tariq then went about 200 yards down the road and bought the lease of a building which used to be a horrible takeaway. He did some work and turned it into a small restaurant. Surprisingly this did not irritate Syed, who said “somebody must do something to survive”, and being his own son in law, he felt this could only help out his grandchildren.
The business was not taking off well and Syed went on to say that Tariq “could not carry the business on his own back, so you know what he did? This is the cleverest thing he’s done. He took half of my name. Manzil. So he called himself Tariq Manzil, and that’s where I was a bit angry”. Syed’s son and daughters are both lawyers and solicitors and wanted to take some action, where it quickly became apparent that they had a very solid case that would cost Tariq a lot of money. Syed however realised that by taking action, it would not be Tariq who would suffer the most, it would be his grandchildren, so he instructed them not to take action.
So that is how it is, he is running that place as Tariq Manzil and he is trying to tell the student community that Tariq Manzil is the ‘original Manzil’ and telling them he was the owner of the other place. To try and convince customers, but the reality is otherwise.
“He is still going on with that place, and Manzil Tandoori is still here after nearly 40 years. There are a lot of old customers who only come to this place, and the business will always run well with its regular customer base.”
But Syed’s issue is what Tariq says to the new students: “when students have one or two drinks at Jesters or Clowns and come up, they can’t make their mind up on where to go, so they go to the first one first. They find the restaurant [Tariq Manzils] and they’re like “Oh that’s Manzils” but in reality they have to walk a few more steps up and there it is, the original Manzil Tandoori”.
“In here, everyone who comes, they are welcome as if the place is their home and our idea is to make them feel at home”
His sons and daughters are owners and directors of the place, and Syed watches over the business and gives them advice and guidance on what to do. “I hope with your help, in making Manzils as your home, you keep coming here and tell your freshers to come and be part of Manzil Tandoori”
“What he [Tariq] did wasn’t very nice. To make yourself a man, you have to be yourself and if you can continue running a business on your own initiative then that is good. However if you have to stab someone else’s back to make your business go, that is not right really.”
“Sometimes people get very confused that this is the same place, some of his staff tell customers that “this is the same place, this is the same place”, which is just not true at all. Confusing customers is just not right really”
“There was some customers last week who came in here, they had been here a couple of nights before and after a couple of nights they were coming up from Jesters, they were a bit drunk and they got pulled into Tariqs, they said “ah I don’t think we’ve been here, this is not the Manzils” “Yeah you came here a couple of days ago, you came here” They thought they were going to Manzils Tandoori, but they went to that place because they were under alcoholic influence, they didn’t really know where they were really. They came back and were like “that’s what happens”, so this is how he tried to manipulate those customers really, under false pretenses”
What made you open late?
“In Southampton, in my days, the town basically all went to sleep at 11. It was a ghost town. So I had some friends in the council and I spoke to them and I said look. Southampton must be a very bright and vibrant city, there’s a uni here there’s Solent College, in order to make the town lively I think we should look at keeping some of the restaurants in the centre open late. We lobbied the councillors and the council and they agreed. So I was the first one who opened the restaurant until 3am. In those days there was no double yellow line, just a single yellow line in Onslow Road and after 6pm, people used to park their car right from the top of Onslow Road all to the bottom of Bevois Valley just to visit Manzil Tandoori. Gradually when students increased, when Solent became a university and lots of students started coming to Southampton they had somewhere to go after the clubs. Gradually the town grows up with students, and the council tried to start thinking of ways to keep Southampton alive after 1. So they started granting clubs and pubs late night licences, so there you are, you can enjoy yourself until whatever time you want to. You can come to Manzils or anywhere else and enjoy yourself, that’s how it should be! Students must have some free time and refresh their mind. In order to do that they must have the relaxation. So that was it, it was me who initiated the late night things in Southampton.”
What’s your favourite curry on the menu?
“I used to like hot curries, but now because I’m quite old, I’m over 60, my system doesn’t like them anymore. But the Chicken Tikkas, the ones that are cooked in the clay oven, I find them very tasty. I like the Jalfrezi. Literally any dish you make with the tikka, it is very tasty. It is marinated meat and it’s cooked in a clay oven. Some people think curry is very fatty, if you eat lots of curry it will expand your cholesterol level, it doesn’t. You can keep on eating curry, I mean look at me, I’ve been eating curry for the past 60 years, it’s very nice.”
How many curries do you sell a night?
“You really can’t put a number on that, but that doesn’t worry us because in the kitchen, it’s not precooked. It’s basically cooked on the spot. To make a curry you have to prepare a base sauce, but that is the only thing, all your meats, your chickens, your tikkas you order and your chef prepares it. If there are less customers, there is no problem, if there are more customers, there is no problem.”
So there we are, Manzil Tandoori – The Original Manzil, which was mentioned as a top 10 curry house by the Guardian in 2007. Syed Hoque is the pioneer of the late night restaurants in Southampton and the owner of one of the very oldest curry houses in the city. Everyone will have their own opinion on where they want to go for a late night curry, but never let anyone tell you that both restaurants are the same place. If you haven’t been to both, try them, then make a decision. For my money though, the £6.95 student meal at Manzil Tandoori is the one!
Wessex Scene have shown the interview to Syed, who was happy for it to be published. In addition, we also have a recording of the interview.