WHETHER serving freshly cooked Indian dishes to MPs in the House of Commons orpreparing an authentic Bangladeshi meal and then flying 4,000-plus miles to serve it to World Cup cricketers in Barbados, it’s safe to say Johirul Miah has enjoyed his fair share of memorable experiences over the years.
Now, however, the former Highlands College student is embarking on his most adventurous assignment yet: opening his very own Indian restaurant in the heart of St Aubin.Situated in the former NatWest building opposite St Brelade’s Parish Hall, NoyaShapla opened its doors to the public earlier this month and has proven an instant hit with Islanders, regularly selling out every night of the week.
Johirul – or Joe, as he is known to friends and customers – is co-director of the restaurant (alongside Jayen Ltd managing director and family friend John Trant) and its overnight success represents the culmination of a life-long ambition for the enterprising 35-year-old.
‘Anyone can open a business or be a boss, but it takes a certain skill to really succeed,’ says Joe, chatting in NoyaShapla’s tastefully understated bar area. ‘A person can be good at something, but you need to have real passion to be a success.’
Suffice to say, Joe has the required passion in spades, having personally overseen every aspect of the restaurant’s creation, from the layout and design of the furnishings to the precise material and print used on the menus.
‘We didn’t use a designer – I did it all myself,’ he says. ‘I went through about 200 different chandeliers just to find the right one. And it was the same with the crockery. I looked at so many different types of crockery you would not believe. We travelled to Bradford, Southampton, Birmingham, London – all so I could find what I wanted.’When it came to seating, meanwhile, Joe purposefully sought to keep the dining area as spacious as possible.
‘I’ve made sure there is plenty of room between tables,’ he says. ‘I don’t like restaurants where everyone is crammed next to each other. And I knew I wanted to have booths because it makes customers feel like they have VIP seating.’Of course, comfortable surroundings are all well and good, but ultimately a restaurant lives or dies by the quality of its food. Thankfully, NoyaShapla more than delivers the goods.
‘I think my generation are really stepping up the game,’ he says. ‘I want to make sure we have that “wow factor”.’
To this end, Joe and his chefs often use free-range meats and locally sourced fruit and veg in their dishes, while the spices are all shipped directly from Bangladesh.
‘It’s worth paying the extra for the quality,’ he says. ‘I think you can really taste the difference. And absolutely everything is made fresh. Even the naan bread is made to order. We don’t just reheat them – we make them there and then using fresh dough.’A key aim of the restaurant, says Joe, is to ‘remix the old and add in the new’ and this comes across when reading the NoyaShapla menu, which offers a rich variety of traditional Indian food, as well as an imaginative selection of new dishes, such as the spicy special Bangla kebab – which includes marinated chicken and lamb, fresh herbs and pickles among its ingredients – and Rajasthani lamb, which is cooked with more than a dozen different spices.
‘We also offer a lot of things that you wouldn’t typically associate with Indian restaurants,’ says Joe. ‘We have after-dinner cocktails and wines that have been specially selected by a local wine expert to complement the cuisine.’In this day and age, everyone is clued up. People have travelled, so they know what authentic food should taste like, and people work hard, so when they come to a restaurant they want to be able to relax and enjoy themselves.’
Happily, Joe is a natural host, with an infectious confidence and enthusiasm designed to make customers feel as if they’re in the presence of an old friend.’I love to interact with people,’ he says. ‘I like to chat and make sure the food is just right for each individual customer. So I’ll ask how they like to have their food – whether hot, medium or mild – and then I’ll find out if they like it dry or with lots of sauce, or perhaps some other way, and I’ll narrow it down until I know exactly which dish is going to most suit their palate.
‘You can give me any type of food – anything at all – and I’ll cook with it and come up with something special.’As some readers will know (especially those with an appreciation for local Indian cuisine), Joe hails from a family who have created some of the finest Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in Jersey, both past and present. From his father, Labas Miah – founder of the fondly remembered Shapla Indian Restaurant – to his brother-in-law, Sultan Al Mohmood – owner of Tandoori Night and architect of the aforementioned Barbados venture – Joe has some seriously enviable pedigree when it comes to creating quality Indian food. ‘I’m determined to maintain the family reputation,’ he says.
‘It has always meant a lot to me to see how well respected my dad is in Jersey and it encourages me to make sure that I honors his good name. I see it as my duty to keep the legacy going strong.’
Although Labas helps out in NoyaShapla, the restaurant is clearly Joe’s baby, and he says he is determined to run it on his own terms.’My dad leaves me to get on with it. Sometimes I’ll tell him an idea that I’ve had and, at first, he’ll be skeptical. But I say, “Trust me, dad – it’ll work”.
‘In the end, I always win him over,’ he laughs.Born in Bangladesh, Joe moved to Jersey at the age of five along with his mother and four older sisters (‘I’m younger than them, but I’ve always been like their big brother’).
Labas was already living in Jersey at the time, and had made a name for himself as a gifted entrepreneur, having founded the Khoonir Indian restaurant in 1968 (‘One of the very first curry houses in Jersey,’ says Joe).Growing up, Joe quickly came to admire the high quality of his father’s cooking, as well as his tireless work ethic.’Seeing how my dad succeeded on his own terms was a big inspiration for me. I saw from him how to do it – and I also saw from other people how not to do it.’
Not surprisingly, Labas’s cooking also proved popular with Joe’s school friends. ‘After football, me and my mates would go back to the restaurant and ask the chef to give us some free food as a treat,’ he laughs.
It was while studying at Highlands that Joe, then aged 15, began working part-time in The Viceroy – which his father then managed – and he soon found himself relishing the work.
‘To begin, I was working front of house taking dockets,’ he says. ‘Over time, I started waiting tables, and then driving, and then eventually I began working in the kitchen. I went from being a part-time chef to a tandoori chef to a head chef.’
Such hands-on experience is essential for anyone wanting to run a successful company, says Joe.
‘If you really want to know how to run a business, then you have to learn all aspects of it. That way you will always know when someone is or isn’t doing a good job, because you will have done it yourself.
‘I work a lot of long hours,’ he continues. ‘It isn’t easy – it’s really hard work. But I absolutely love it. And I think Islanders deserve to have a decent Indian on their doorstep.’
For more information on NoyaShapla, visit Facebook or noyashapla.com or to book, call 746495.