Coronavirus claims life of man serving Lahori breakfast in UK for last 50 years

LONDON: A chef and entrepreneur from Lahore who served authentic Lahori breakfast in London for more than 50 years has lost his life to the coronavirus.

Iftikhar Hussain owned Nagina restaurant on Ilford Lane. He passed away within days of falling ill. 

Hussain was isolating at home after developing symptoms around two weeks ago. A family member confirmed Hussain had closed his restaurant around a month ago after the UK government announced the second phase of a complete lockdown – which ended on December 2.

He had not even met anyone, but developed symptoms, the family member said.

Hussain interviewed with The News three months ago where he had shared his unusual life story.

Hussain came to the United Kingdom around 53 years ago and started working at a restaurant – cleaning tables and washing dishes.

He opened his first restaurant near Mile End over 50 years ago and started serving Lahori chaana, halwa puri, murgh channay, nihari, haleem, sheermal, jalebi, hareesa, gol gappay and doodh patti

At the time, most of his clientele was limited to Pakistani minicab drivers – mainly the first generation Pakistanis who had moved to London and longed for Pakistani food.

As the community grew and more Pakistanis started settling in areas around Ilford, Hussain moved his restaurant there. “My customers moved with me because they were in love with Lahori naashta,” he had said.

Hussain started getting customers from European countries too. It soon became a struggle to get a table at his restaurant on weekend mornings when families made bookings in advance to secure seats for a juicy Lahori breakfast. 

During his last interview, he had said he never took time off work. “The only times when I didn’t work in more than 50 years is the time when I visited Pakistan to meet relatives. I have always felt that I should prepare food for my customers myself or be present in the kitchen and at the front so the customers are fed well and there’s no lapse,” he had said.

A diminutive figure, Hussain greeted everyone with a smile and boasted about his skills in preparing Lahori naashta. “I have always ordered my spices from Lahore.”

Local MP Sam Terry joined Pakistanis in paying tribute to the well-known face of the British Pakistani community. 

“So sad to hear of the passing of Iftikhar Hussain. He was a popular member of Ilford South. Whenever I popped into Nagina, Mr Iftikhar Hussain always greeted me with a smile and asked after my family. My thoughts go out to his loved ones and colleagues – he will be dearly missed,” MP Terry said.

Hussain’s restaurant is closed with a notice that reads: Haji Sahib (Iftikhar Hussain) has passed away. Please remember him in your prayers. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayah Rajioun.