On June 4, 2005, Litu Mohiuddin and his wife boarded a plane to the UK from Dhaka. When they landed in Heathrow airport, they had only £50 with them.
Litu had left behind a happening life in Khulna; his fresh start in the west had a lot of sorting out to do. One of them was getting a job.
He started working at a restaurant as a kitchen porter. Like many Bangali couples, their immigrant life was nothing short of a 'roller coaster ride', he shared with The Business Standard.
In the following decade, with hefty experience in the hospitality business, Litu became the manager of a restaurant.
"I was managing a multi-cuisine restaurant with over a million in turnover," he said about his rise from humble beginnings.
Having an entrepreneurial mind, he always wanted to do something of his own. Quitting his job, he started his own restaurant 'East India Café' in the following years with co-founders Rina and Rasle.
They formed a group called 'One more one' with a diverse interest in food and hospitality, aquaculture, and nutraceutical.
Eventually, they opened the restaurant and bar 'Memsahib Gin and Tea Bar', which claims to be the first of its kind. It is located at the heart of Cheltenham, UK.
During the British Raj period, many Anglo-Indian women had settled in Cheltenham. They had brought with them new and exciting tastes and flavours. The concept of this bar was inspired by them.
'Memsahib' was a formal term used to address women in those times, much like madam or me lady.
If there are 12,000 Bangladeshi-run restaurants in the UK, Memsahib had to stand out among them, Litu and the co-founders believed. How so? We asked him.
"Memsahib's unique offering is the special gin infused tea", Litu said. "Have you ever tasted tea infused alcoholic beverages? We serve it at Memsahib." Gin with tea, quite a first move in the British dining scene, he attributed.
"We also craft in-house gins, named after Memsahib," he added.
With a broad selection of 55 gins and an array of teas, Memsahib has a menu made with unique flavour combinations.
"We infuse 16 varieties of gin with tea, which are then paired with tonic to provide a unique experience," Litu said.
We wanted to know about Memsahib's menu, what does it offer? We asked Litu.
Memsahib offers Anglo-Indian and European infused dishes called 'Anglo India Tapas'.
"Our dining experience will remind you of the Victorian era. From oriental to world inspired foods, our wide array of menus are one of a kind," Litu said.
"At Memsahib, gin and tea are married in a unique style of mixology. Regardless of your order at our restaurant, a glass of gin tea remains at the forefront. This is why we call ourselves the 'world's first gin and tea bar'."
Does Litu have a favourite dish that he recommends for his guests? Yes, he said, "Our signature experiences are better than recommending just a dish, such as the Anglo Indian Tapas Tasting menu and the very popular Afternoon Chai."
People do not go to restaurants just to eat. Memsahib too wanted to be something more than an eatery.
Litu thinks the representation of Indian cuisine is not always done in the right way in the western diaspora. If you want to taste the foods from the British Raj era, it is hard to find.
He said, "This is why I wanted Memsahib to be the go-to destination for the forgotten recipes of the British Raj era. Besides, popularising gin tea is also important for us."
"Our Memsahibs are not always white European ladies," Litu brought strands of colonial history to the interview.
As mentioned earlier, during 19th century India, the high society Anglo-Indian women were called Memsahibs. Some of them were wives of British officials.
But the native socialite women were also among the Memsahib cohort who reside in the UK, mainly in Cheltenham. Such as Pandita Ramabhai who founded the 'Mukti Mission' and she is featured on the restaurant's wall.
"Our restaurant is a nod to those esteemed women," Litu informed us.
Besides running Memsahib with his wife and friend, Litu has started another ambitious venture.
"I have always wanted to produce spice-infused gin. Finally, the plan is coming through. We have installed a gin infusion distillery. Our guests will soon experience more gin variants from the upcoming gin and tea infusion masterclasses," he said.
Last year, the Covid-19 frenzy drove many restaurants out of business, Memsahib too fell prey to the crisis. "It was a tough time for us, but we are recovering," Litu said.
To re-open the restaurant in the post-Covid period, he has launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for it.
Due to the nature of the lockdown, the restaurant activities were reduced. Now, the 30-staff restaurant is trying to reinvent itself as the pandemic turns thinner.
Litu believes more exciting plans will be included in the Memsahib checklist once this crisis goes away. "We hope our guests will pour in to reminisce about the British Raj period while enjoying the Memsahib experience."
When a guest walks into Memsahib, s/he can try the veg or non-veg tasting menus. The restaurant also offers afternoon chai, styled after British high tea parties.
"Eating is not the only activity at Memsahib, we offer in-depth masterclasses to our guests. Our in-house experts provide insights about Memsahib's link with the British Raj's rich history of food. The hands-on experience to infuse gin with tea is unparalleled," Litu explained.
From Wednesday to Sunday, Memsahib opens its door to those who want a fine dining experience.
Litu said, "I believe it is our responsibility to educate people with the good part of the history and the learning from it by inviting them to eat and drink at the Memsahib Gin and Tea Bar."
Like the bio section of Memsahib's website reads: It is always gin o'clock somewhere!