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Toast of tennis

It is not a chic West End restaurant serving fusion cuisine. Nor does it boast a Michelin star or two. It is not even an overpriced haunt of celebrity A-listers like The Ivy in London. And yet, surprisingly, this small Indian restaurant has managed to become the favourite of top tennis players who flock to Wimbledon every year.

The Rajdoot in Wimbledon Village, a stone’s throw from The All England Lawn Tennis Club, is like any one of the 15,000 Indian restaurants and takeaways found all over Britain. But this is the place that tennis superstars like Roger Federer, Dinara Safina, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters Serena and Venus, Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras and many others gravitate to when they are in the mood for a curry.”

All these tennis stars either come to the restaurant or they send someone for a takeaway. But most of them eat our food at least three times a week,” says Minhaaz Choudhury, one of the two managers of Rajdoot.

The Rajdoot is a small, nondescript restaurant situated on a roundabout in the smart little village of Wimbledon where all the international tennis players rent homes during the tennis season. The only Indian eatery in Wimbledon, the 60-cover restaurant is fully booked during the two weeks of the tennis championship. “At this time of the year, tables are hard to get in the evenings and if patrons book we expect them to come on time or else they lose their place,” says Choudhury.

Rajdoot’s décor is not gaudy like some of the other Indian restaurants in the UK. The low ceilings give a cosy, homey feel. Plain green carpets are complemented with light wooden tables and chairs. There is a small bar just as you enter, with a bench in front where customers can wait for a table or a takeaway. The tables are placed close together so there is no question of a private dinner conversation unless you are the only guests in the place. “We have a lot of famous regulars, apart from the tennis players. Pierce Brosnan, the former James Bond, often comes here with his wife, as does the Fulham football team manager,” Choudhury adds proudly.

Rajdoot was set up by Gayasuddin Choudhary, a Bangladeshi from Sylhet, in 1984. Since then he has been running it with the help of Bangladeshi staff brought from his hometown. Today Choudhary, 70, doesn’t keep too well and has handed over the running of the restaurant to his managers. “He is really unwell. Otherwise he simply wouldn’t miss the tennis season,” says his manager Minhaaz Choudhury.

So are the tennis aces partial to any particular dish on the menu? “Ninety per cent of them only order mild Indian food. It is always non-vegetarian, mostly chicken. They never order alcohol and always drink mineral water,” says Choudhury.

Rajdoot serves all the dishes typical to Indian restaurants in England — from tandoori to baltis, from kormas to dopiazas. And they say “any dish can be made to your required strength” — mild, medium, fairly hot or very hot. “The tennis stars mostly stick to mild or medium — they never order hot,” says Belaluddin, one of the waiters. “Also, they never eat our food the night before a game. They will come in or order only after a match and only if they are not playing the next day.”

Says Rajdoot’s head chef Khalid Mian, “The tennis players never make any special demands, they are ideal patrons. In fact, it is some of our Indian customers who put in requests for dishes that are not on the menu, or order items to their specifications.” “The tennis players are wonderful customers. They are never arrogant or rude. They always leave generous tips for the staff,” adds Choudhury.

Though beloved of international sports icons, somehow, Rajdoot does not seem to have hit it off with Indian tennis players who come to Wimbledon every year. “There are a few Indian players like Sania Mirza or Mahesh Bhupathi who come to Wimbledon each year, but unfortunately they don’t come to our restaurant,” says Choudhury.

But the people at Rajdoot are not complaining. Not as long as the likes of five-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer comes calling every other day. Though Rajdoot has a policy of not delivering food, they don’t mind bending the rules a little when it comes to Federer. “Roger Federer is a regular customer and his wife is pregnant, so they have been ordering food from here practically every day this year. One of us goes and delivers to his place. We don’t do it for anyone else,” says Choudhury, pulling out a signed photo of Federer from behind the bar.

So what are the top seed’s favourite dishes? “Well, last night they asked for seven butter chickens, eight naan breads, seven cheese naans, and seven coconut rice,” Belaluddin rattles off. The bill came to £127.80, reveals Choudhury, but the restaurant was overpaid by pounds 100. “You see, Federer’s wife Mirka is Swiss, so she doesn’t really understand the pound sterling currency. But we promptly gave her the money back along with a 10 per cent discount for being a loyal customer,” says Choudhury.

Clearly, it’s Advantage Rajdoot when it comes to Indian cuisine in Wimbledon.

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