TRIBUTES have been paid to popular North-East restaurant owner Abdul Latif who died of a heart attack in his sleep yesterday.
Mr Latif, 52, was renowned for serving what was billed as the world’s hottest curry at his Indian restaurant in Newcastle city centre.
The famous dish – dubbed Curry Hell – was offered free to any diner who could finish it.
He also came to prominence through his generous charity work, appearances in the North-East based cult comic Viz, and orchestrating the world’s longest-distance curry delivery, from Newcastle to Sydney.
Having returned to his Gosforth home after work on Saturday night, he passed away in his sleep after suffering a heart attack. Friends and colleagues yesterday paid tribute to his immense contribution to the region as a supporter of numerous charities and promoter of racial equality.
Newcastle City Council Leader John Shipley said: “Latif loved Newcastle and its people. He donated generously to charity and was a wonderful ambassador for our city. He was brilliant at promoting his restaurants and his knack for generating publicity was legendary.”
Meanwhile, the former director of the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality Council and a good friend of Mr Latif’s, Hari Shukla, spoke of his sadness on hearing news of his death. He said: “He had worked in the restaurant as normal on Saturday night but when his wife tried to wake him in the morning he didn’t make any sound.
“Obviously it comes as a very, very big shock to the citizens of our community. Mr Latif was a true gentleman and always wanted the best for the city. I have known him for thirty years – he was one of the nicest people on earth.” Since coming to the UK from Bangladesh in 1969, Abdul has held a seat representing Tyne & Wear on the regional tourist board and has been awarded for his marketing ideas. Bangladeshi-born Mr Latif offered free curries for life to England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson and former Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness. And in 2003, he offered free meals for five years to all British servicemen and women who served in Iraq.
But it was for his vision of a more integrated North-East that his friend Mr Shukla will remember him. “He was a very good Muslim and everything he did had some religious bearing,” he said.
“He was a real family man – he has a wonderful family. It is a privilege to have known him.”
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His famous curry – Curry Hell – is made with chilli seeds, chilli powder and not much else.
Mr Latif bought the title of Lord of Harpole for £5,000 in 1994.
He was extremely active in raising money for various charities including the NSPCC, Imperial Cancer Research and St Oswald’s Hospice.
He made it into the Guinness Book of Records for achieving the world’s longest takeaway delivery – from Newcastle to Sydney, Australia – to promote visits to the North-East.
Mr Latif came to Tyneside from Bangladesh more than 30 years ago and began by working as a waiter in a relative’s restaurant in Whitley Bay.
He opened the Rupali restaurant in Newcastle’s Bigg Market in 1977. But it went into liquidation in 2004 and Mr Latif’s then 23- year-old son Abdul Mumin took over. The eaterie was re-named Curry Capital.