Nevermind Andy – the only Murray on tennis ace Roger Federer’s mind at Wimbledon this year has been Ruby.
The five-time Wimbers winner has been calling a local Indian takeaway for a curry almost every night since arriving for the tournament last week.
He’s such a loyal customer that the owner of Rajdoot Restaurant even gives him a 10 per cent discount.
And he’s not the only one with the hots for a curry – Lleyton Hewitt, Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick and retired players Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova also shun the bright lights of the West End to eat at the local curry house.
But Federer, 27, has started to raise a few eyebrows by ordering a chicken tikka masala at £8.65 virtually every din-ner time. We’re starting to think that it might be his secret weapon in the dressing rooms before each match.
Rajdoot waiter Mo Rhaman, 25, personally delivers the food to the tennis ace and his pregnant wife Mirka.
He said: “He is a really nice guy, always friendly and smiling and he loves Indian food – but not too spicy. He treats everybody with respect. He is a good all round guy.”
It’s Sunday night in Wimbledon and a grungy, nondescript bloke drifts past the window. I don’t give him a second glance. A few moments later, Mimom Rahman, waiter and top tennis celeb spotter at the Rajdoot Indian restaurant, taps me on the shoulder. “That’s Robin Soderling,” he says.
Soon an athletic, six-foot-something woman in a tight yellow T-shirt, towering over her entourage, stops right outside. “Dinara Safina, the top seed,” Rahman whispers. “She was in here two nights ago. She had a mixed vegetable curry and a green salad.” Safina wanders across the road. “Looks like she’s eating Chinese tonight.”
Not that he’s particularly bothered, because over the 30 or so years it’s been in business, the Rajdoot has become one of the prime eating spots for the tennis crowd during Wimbledon fortnight. Rahman shows me the restaurant’s autograph book: the Williams sisters, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport, Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova … no Tim Henman? Rahman shakes his head. Sorry, I say, I forgot we were talking stars. How about Andy Murray? “No, but we’ve had his mum.”
The biggest draw in town – or rather, village as this stretch of Wimbledon prefers to be called – is still Roger Federer, and the Rajdoot can lay claim to being his personal chef. In the first week alone, Federer has called three times to order a takeaway.
So does he get a loyalty discount? Rahman smiles. “All takeaways get a 10% discount,” he says. “But I do deliver to him in person and everyone else has to collect. I just wanted to meet him.” Did you? “Well, I was a bit disappointed because his wife answered the door. So I asked her if Roger could come out and he did. I’ve got a photo of me with him on my phone.”
It helps that the Rajdoot is located in the heart of Wimbledon but the food has to be pretty special to attract such loyalty. I’ll have whatever Roger has, I say. “That’s butter chicken, pilau rice and eight naan,” Rahman replies. “I told him he had over-ordered on the naan.”
Roger is a man of taste. There’s none of the ponciness of a wannabe Cinnamon Club here; neither is the curry swimming in ghee. My chicken is fab and the king prawn sizzler, chicken korma and cashew nut rolls go down equally well with my wife and kids. The only drawback is I now feel so full I can barely walk, let alone play five sets. So that’s why Roger was looking so sluggish against Soderling.
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 — fromtandoori 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 100 pounds. “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.