Aktar Islam on getting a Michelin star, shaking up the Indian food sector and his new restaurant, Pulperia

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Last week, Opheem became the first Indian restaurant outside of London to get a Michelin star. We spoke to chef owner Aktar Islam about the effect it has had on his team, and what this means for the sector and the city of Birmingham.

“It’s been an incredible buzz on the estate, it’s just really made everyone’s hard work throughout the year worthwhile,” he said.

Not wanting to trivialise the achievement, the chef added: “I couldn’t have asked any more from the lads and the girls anyway, but it’s incredible what this has done. The energy – it’s incredible, it’s turbo-charged everything.”

WhatsApp Image 2019 10 18 at 15.09.05 2
Aktar Islam on stage at the Michelin Awards 
On October 7th, 2019

Getting a Michelin star for Opheem has meant the world to the chef and his team, who admits that he and his head chef Neil Withers shed a few tears when they found out -  but he considers it a success that extends to the whole of Birmingham.

"We’ve always been synonymous with our love of spice and exotic food so I think it’s quite fitting really," he said.

"It’s a great achievement, the entire city is relishing it; everyone is a really big part of this success and the city as a whole is embracing it as a win for everyone who lives in and is part of Birmingham.”

Raising the bar 

On the back of his success - which didn't begin with his star, as he has been a figurehead in the restaurant industry for close to a decade - the chef hopes that other Indian restaurants will break what he calls a "one size fits all" mould.

He said: “I think the curry model – though it has its place, I think it’s one that needs to evolve. We’ve had the British curry model since the 1960s and I think it’s time to adapt with the needs of the consumer, looking forward for the next twenty or thirty years.”

"If you look at the Indian restaurant sector, it’s very formulaic; every restaurant up and down the land is pretty much the same - the only differentiation between one and the other is geographical or price - but I’ve always just done what I wanted to do, which is a very personal take on Indian food. 

“And I hope that will get others to do that as well, and give them the confidence that you don’t have to follow that formula."


The chef, who directed the food offering at Lasan Group until 2017, in the process of which he helped launch Argentinian restaurant Fiesta del Asado, is set to open his own take on the cuisine with Pulperia. 

Showcasing high-quality cuts of meat from around the world, the menu will feature Galician, Friesian dairy and even English beef. 

The chef is optimistic that the business will be a success.

He said: “There are certain key players in Argentine food who dominate the market but I personally feel – and I’ve proven it in the past with very little understanding, now with the wealth of knowledge that I do have around that cuisine -  that it can be pushed on further and the attention to detail and really exploring and celebrating that style of cuisine and all the culture that make up Argentine cuisine. I think we’re in a good position to do that.”

The chef and restaurateur is working hard to put together a stellar team at Pulperia - but for his part, he only plans on cooking at Opheem for the foreseeable. 

He said: “I’ve got my entire kitchen team lined up, front of house there’s people that I’ve worked with over the years, they’ll be joining me as well so in that respect it’s a project that I’ll be able to hand over to them and let them run with it. I’ll just be there to help guide them steer them but the only place I cook at and will cook at is Opheem.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 18th October 2019

Aktar Islam on getting a Michelin star, shaking up the Indian food sector and his new restaurant, Pulperia