Tucked away in Fleetville opposite the Vintage Emporium is a true St Albans institution. Halema was the first Indian takeaway in St Albans, and this month is celebrating its 21st birthday. At a time when new businesses come and go and chains nab all the best sites in town, I went to meet Owner and Head Chef Abdul Kadir to discover the secret behind Halema’s longevity.
My first impression is that you could easily drive or walk past Halema, and not notice its modest exterior. Situated along the busy Hatfield Road, Halema has stayed in one location for its entire history, as other businesses have come and gone. When people do find it, they return many times, passing on the message to friends and family, and the business has become very well-known in the local community. As you step inside the tiny premises you discover a modern, immaculate area, with contemporary artworks on the wall. Staff are very smartly dressed and well organised. The menu focuses on authentic Bangladeshi and Indian food including balti, karahi and jal frezi dishes, and tikkas and shaslicks cooked in a tandoori oven.
Abdul Kadir has been working in food in St Albans for over 35 years; he started as Manager at The New Gulshan on Victoria Street, before starting Halema. Halema is a true family business – all employees are members of the family, and get involved depending on what else they are up to in life. I met Abdul’s nephew Jaber Jimmader who was helping out with deliveries as he waits for his university results. Son Humayun helps with publicity, as well as working for a large multinational in London. At busy times, everyone has to pitch in!
It has been a very busy 21 years, with an appearance on Masterchef and the takeaway appearing in The Good Takeaway Guide. Halema has also catered for countless parties and events in the local area. Halema has delivered food to the Council on many occasions and Abdul knows all the local politicians from his involvement in community matters, at local melas, and during his time as a school governor. A natural host, Abdul is the reason why the business is a success; he looks after his customers and demands high standards from everyone who works for him. And people go back time and again for the delicious, well-prepared food.
Chef Mohammad Abu Taher was on duty the day I went in, and I was very impressed by the food I took home. The lamb jalfrezi was delicately spiced so the flavours complemented the lamb, and it was very moreish. I also tried the chicken tikka masala, which is the Halema’s No.1 bestseller, and found the chicken to be perfectly cooked, in generous pieces, with a delicious sauce that tasted fresh and light. Everything is made in the kitchen and the quality is exceptional. Generous portions make Halema very good value for money – I am sure we could have shared dishes, but we did manage to eat everything in the end!
As a birthday present to all customers, Abdul is offering 25% off all food in July, although you might have to squeeze past all the regulars.
256 Hatfield Road, St Albans AL1 4UN
Bank holiday 5.30-11