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Another 'Grand Tour' of the Potteries
- David Proudlove & Steve Birks -

buildings in Burslem

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previous: Burslem - Vale Park
contents: index of buildings in Burslem

No 10 -  Burslem 
1/1a Queen Street
Kismet, the Potteries first Indian Restaurant

[ location map






1/1a Queen Street: Bennett’s ‘Steam Printing Works’, 
and home of the Kismet, the Potteries’ first Indian restaurant



In 1962, there was revolution in the air. Post-war paranoia and anti-communist sentiments in the west manifested itself in the Caribbean, where Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro took the world to the brink of Nuclear War as the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened to plunge the Northern Hemisphere into Armageddon. The whole world held its breath as the three men played Russian Roulette.


Crisis in Cuba – the Washington Post view
Crisis in Cuba – the Washington Post view 





At the same time in Sleepy London Town, another revolution was in the making. A bunch of young urchins in the capital who were getting their kicks listening to American blues, R ‘n B, and rock ‘n roll got together to form their own band. Thrashing out numbers by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elmore James, and rocking audiences in clubs such as the Crawdaddy in the capital, the Rolling Stones soon gathered a loyal following, and hooked-up with an ambitious young entrepreneur, Andrew Loog Oldham, who cast an admiring eye north to Liverpool and what Brian Epstein was achieving with the Beatles. 

Within 12 months, the Stones were the greasy, long-haired antithesis of the funny, mop-topped Beatles, an image cultivated by Oldham (“would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?”), with early hits such as the Lennon/McCartney-penned 
'I Wanna Be Your Man'. Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts turned on a generation, and enraged their parents and the Establishment.


An early incarnation of the Rolling Stones
An early incarnation of the Rolling Stones





As the world stared down the barrel of a gun whilst wigging out to the Beatles and the Stones, another sort of revolution was taking place in the Potteries, and in particular Burslem. 

The Mother Town and the city were undergoing change. Post-war modernisation had seen changes to the city’s traditional industries, and successive Governments encouraged immigration from the British Empire, which saw arrivals from far flung places such as Jamaica, Pakistan, and India. 

This led to a culinary revolution in the Potteries: 

the Ahmed family arrived in Stoke-on-Trent from Bangladesh, and went on to open the Kismet – the first Indian restaurant in the city – on Queen Street in Burslem.

They opened their restaurant in a building made famous by Potteries’ novelist Arnold Bennett, 1/1a Queen Street, which was the Steam Printing Works in Bennett’s novel The Clayhanger. The three storey building stands proud at the junction of Queen Street and Waterloo Road, looking like Wedgwood’s Big House’s less well-off cousin.

Fast forward a decade to 1972, the Beatles had split, Kennedy had had his head blown off and Richard Nixon was running the States like his own private fiefdom, and after years of being hounded by the Establishment and its police force, and with founder member Brian Jones resting in peace, the Stones were ran out of the country by the Taxman, clearing off to the south of France where they topped their late 60s/early 70s hot streak of Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers with the headsplitting double-album Exile on Main Street. The Stones were seen as crazed, outlaw junkies, with Keith Richards the epitome of a culture of decadence.

Though I would never advocate the use of hard drugs, they never seemed to be a problem for Richards: after locking himself in a bathroom with a bag of cocaine, he came up with Gimme Shelter, the first eight bars of which is possibly the greatest intro to a rock ‘n roll track of all time. This four album blast by the Stones, coupled with some legendary, and some disastrous shows – such as the blood-splattered Altamont gig – alongside the demise of the Beatles, saw the Stones firmly established as the world’s premiere rock ‘n roll band.

Beggars Banquet ©

Let it Bleed ©

Sticky Fingers ©

Exile on Main Street ©

The Stones late 60s/early 70s hot streak


Just as the Stones were firmly established as the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, the Kismet was established as Stoke-on-Trent’s greatest Indian restaurant, and a keystone of nightlife in the Mother Town. 

Stokies raised on oatcakes and cheese were now enjoying the finest of Indian cuisine thanks to the tireless Ahmed family, who fast became admired and popular members of the business community, due to their warm and friendly personalities. In an era characterised by suspicion of immigrants, suspicions that were heightened by right wing scaremongers such as Enoch Powell – who predicted troubles with his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech – the Ahmed family worked hard and with dignity to establish their business, and at the same time embrace their new home. The Ahmed family were pioneers, and helped pave the way for others to follow.

I’m a huge fan of the Rolling Stones. During the Brian Jones-era, the Stones produced some iconic, legendary singles such as The Last Time, Satisfaction, and Paint It, Black, before going on to hit even greater heights with the albums mentioned above that included tracks such as Street Fighting Man, the aforementioned Gimme Shelter, and hit singles such as Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar, and Tumbling Dice.

I’m also a huge fan of the Kismet. The building itself is nothing special, but is quiet and dignified, overlooking Swan Square. The Kismet is important to Burslem and its economy; the Mother Town is – once again – being touted as a tourist destination, and so policy makers at the Civic Centre should note the importance of the place, and other restaurants in the town too. 

But the main reason that the Kismet is so important is exactly what it is there for: the grub. I don’t think I’ve ever come out of the place not feeling and looking like an over-inflated football. The food is second-to-none, is cooked properly, and the prices are extremely reasonable. 

Not at all like some over-priced ‘food pubs’ who I won’t care to mention, where your meals are often microwaved and you are made to feel grateful for what you have received by an underpaid and miserable teenager. And the service at the Kismet is superb, with a warm and friendly welcome from the Ahmed family. 

As well as yours truly, the Kismet can count Burslem’s legendary darts superstar Phil Taylor, and LA-based Port Vale supporter and Potteries-born popstar Robbie Williams as fans.

The Kismet: the Potteries first Indian restaurant
The Kismet: the Potteries first Indian restaurant
© Google Street View


In recent years, the Ahmed’s have expanded their business, taking on a vacant sandwich shop next door, and the restaurant now seats 110 people, and boasts a private function room following successful works under the excellent Burslem Townscape Heritage Initiative. The Kismet is a great Potteries success story, and the Ahmed family are a great example of how immigrants make a positive contribution to the city and the nation: Sala Ahmed and his cousin Kobir are the third generation of family members to take on the business, and Sala recently told the Sentinel how proud he was of his and his families contribution to Burslem: 

“A lot of the staff who work at other restaurants in the area have also worked at the Kismet in the past, so they have learnt their trade here and then gone on to open their own businesses”.

The Ahmed Family: Potteries Pioneers
The Ahmed Family: Potteries Pioneers 
© the Sentinel


And now in 2012, both the Rolling Stones and the Kismet are still going strong, and have both celebrated their 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the Kismet have launched a new menu; by contrast, the Stones have released a new single Doom and Gloom, and have trousered a reported £16million for four London gigs, a far cry from their humble beginnings on Eel Pie Island.

The Kismet and the Ahmed family have grown stronger and aged gracefully; despite protestations to the contrary, the Stones’ best days are probably behind them, with Sir Michael Phillip Jagger now as much a part of the Establishment that tried to break them, much to the annoyance of the indestructible Keith Richards (“how can you accept a knighthood from those bastards, man? They tried to lock us up”).

The Stones haven’t ventured into the Potteries since a 1960s gig at the Victoria Hall. Perhaps Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie should pay another visit, and stop off at the Kismet. Maybe then Jagger wouldn’t have to sing about not getting any satisfaction.



Dave Proudlove October 2012




next: Royal Doulton, Nile Street
previous: Burslem - Vale Park
contents: index of buildings in Burslem




Related Pages

Clayhanger's Steam Printing Works