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Owner's kitchen dream is no flash in the pan: Bilash cury house, Wolverhampton

By Heather Large | Weekend | Published:

Food was always a family affair for Sitab Khan while growing up in Bangladesh.

Sitab cooks up a curry

From the age of 16 he could be found in the kitchen guided by his talented mother Gulnehar Khanom.

As well as inspiring his love of cooking, she instilled in him a belief that serving up a home-cooked meal was the best way to look after guests.

"When you cook for your visitors, you are treating them as you would family. You want to do your best for them and give them a good meal," the 65-year-old executive chef tells us.

After moving to England from Bangladesh in 1967, he began working in restaurants starting as a waiter making his way through the ranks.

He also spent two years working with chef Mukesh Bhatt who became his mentor teaching him everything he needed to know in the kitchen.

"He was a fabulous chef, he taught me a lot while I was working with him. The experience was a huge benefit to me," says Sitab.

But while he was honing his skills, he was also dreaming of the future. "I thought to myself, one day, if I've got some money, I will open a restaurant and give people the sort of food I would have at home.

"I knew there was a market for that. I had seen my mother taking great pride in cooking for guests. I knew it's what you do when you have visitors to your home," explains Sitab.

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We are family – father and son cooking up a storm

In 1982, his long-held dream finally came true when he opened own his restaurant, The Bilash, in Wolverhampton.

From opening night Sitab has made it his mission to treat his customers in the same way as he would guests to his own home.

"It took a long time but I opened that restaurant and it's still here today. Cooking is my passion and it's a privilege to cook for my guests. I always try to be the best I can be. There is nothing better than seeing people enjoying my food," says the father of five.

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Now grandfather of six Sitab works alongside his son Mohammed, 36, and a small team of kitchen and waiting staff, at the restaurant, which seats 50 diners downstairs and a further 30 upstairs, in Cheapside.

"People enjoy what we do. We have seen three generations from the same families come here. We a lot of familiar faces.

"It's good to be able to cook fresh food and give it to your guests. It makes me happy to be able to do this.

"I'm proud that we are still here 35 years later and I'm thankful to everyone who has supported us for so many years.

"There are plenty of other restaurants to chose from but they chose to come to the Bilash and it means everything to me.

"Wolverhampton has changed a lot and has been through difficult times. People have stuck with us and for that I'm grateful. We have no plans to move out of Wolverhampton, this is our home," says Sitab.

Sitab cooks up a curry

For Mohammed, the restaurant, which was Michelin rated for the sixth consecutive year, has always been a huge part of his life.

From around the age of 14, he was lending a hand in the kitchen. "I was peeling potatoes or washing dishes. I loved it because it was something new.

"We have a lot of customers who first saw me as a boy and have watched me grow up since then.

"They have become like family. I've made a lot of friends through this business too," says the father of one.

Now Mohammed mostly works as a manager and front of house while his father is busy in the kitchen preparing signature dishes, such as Goan tiger prawn masala, laziz posliyan and mughi diya donia.

"I've had to work for it. It wasn't just gifted to me. I had start at the bottom like everyone else and prove myself. Even now I still wash a dish when needed.

"Running a family business means there are no individual duties, we get stuck in with everything.

"I also have a good team who know what needs to be done and we all work well together," adds Mohammed.

As both father and son also live together, they enjoy working together but say they are careful to ensure they still have that vital break from the business.

"Dad and I have a good understanding when it comes to the business and we agree on what we are trying to achieve and where we want to take the business.

Sitab Khan, 65, with Mohammed

"We are careful to make sure we never take it home with us, it all stops here," he says.

Like his father, he also feels it's important to make sure all of their customers 'feel at home' at the restaurant, which is also featured in the AA, Waitrose and Haden’s Good Food Guides.

"We've worked hard to create a contemporary take on traditional Bengali cooking for our customers offering the freshest ingredients we can.

"We decided to offer fine dining, taking the curry to the next level, and that is what we've become known and respected for.

"Our customers are like family because we have got to know them well over the years but we treat anyone coming through the doors for the first time in exactly the same way.

"We make them feel at home and comfortable so hopefully they will come back again. "We are careful with the number of covers and sittings so that everyone is looked after as well as they can be while they are here," says Mohammed.

Mohammed works front of house

Both father and son are proud of the city and are eager to see it thrive. "We are very much part of the business community and we work with other businesses to increase the profile of the city.

"We work with venues such as the Light House and the Grand Theatre because a lot of people go to see shows and concerts and we can offer a pre-theatre dinner.

"It's good for Wolverhampton to have businesses doing well. I wouldn't think of moving away because this restaurant and city has been our bread and butter," adds Mohammed.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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