LYMINGTON’S popular Rivaaz restaurant has scored a culinary hat-trick after being hailed the best on the south coast in the prestigious Asian Curry Awards for the third year running.
The eatery in St Thomas Street triumphed against more than 4,000 Asian restaurants, including Indian, Japanese and Chinese, in the region to scoop the award.
Restaurant owner Shah Malek also received a special judge’s choice community hero award in recognition of the restaurant’s efforts to deliver free food to NHS workers and provide hot meals for school children during half-term.
Describing the accolades as “light at the end of the tunnel” after an extraordinarily tough year, Shah revealed that Rivaaz impressed mystery shoppers when they visited on three separate occasions as part of the judging process.
Shah said: “One of the mystery shoppers was in August when we were extremely busy because of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme – so it was really good to know that we were maintaining the same level of quality and customer service even during that time.”
Rivaaz was also assessed on the quality of its takeaway food and was visited on a quiet evening as part of the judging process.
After being shortlisted for the third year running, Shah and his team learned they had scooped the top prize on Monday evening when the Asian Curry Awards were broadcast live on NTV Europe and streamed across social media networks.
Founded in 2007 by Shah and his brother Shamim Malek, many of the popular dishes are inspired by recipes past down the family.
Shah said: “During the first lockdown we took the decision to close completely to keep our staff safe.
“During that time I wanted to keep people engaged in cooking so I made several cooking videos sharing some of our secret recipes which we put on social media.”
The restaurant made the news when it provided more than 200 free meals to NHS workers at Lymington hospital and staff at Oakhaven Hospice when it closed its doors in April.
It was this generosity at a time of huge uncertainty which also led to Shah being named community hero of the year at the award ceremony.
He said: “The award was a complete shock and a wonderful surprise – we were totally overjoyed. The community supports us so we have always felt that it is right to support the community in times of difficulty.”
Shah and his team also stepped forward to offer free lunchtime meals for school children during October half-term week.
Shah said: “The second lockdown has been tough for us. We remained open as a takeaway and made use of the furlough scheme but we still weren’t able to break even. To say it has been an extraordinarily tough year doesn’t even begin to describe it – so winning this award for the third year running has given everyone a huge boost.
“None of this would have been possible without the continued support of all our lovely diners and the entire team at Rivaaz who have worked tirelessly to make this award possible.
“We are still unable to operate at our usual capacity because of the Tier 2 restrictions that prevent households from mixing. But at the moment we are just focused on getting through this difficult time and continuing to support all our staff until restrictions are lifted.”
Yawar Khan, chairman and founder of the Asian Curry Awards, said: “During these difficult times, we need more support from the government, and the Asian Curry Awards 2020 are a wonderful way to give recognition to hardworking people in the Asian food industry.”