First look at plans for popular Indian restaurant as work begins to transform former Pizza Express


The two brothers behind an award-winning Indian restaurant are preparing to open a new nut-free restaurant in the heart of Darlington.

Family business Babul’s, which has been in Barnard Castle for over 25 years, has taken over 2 Skinnergate, which was previously home to Pizza Express before it closed during the pandemic. The innovative restaurant is owned by Shuhel Ahmed and run by his brother Zak, who both grew up in Darlington.

Having learned the best cooking secrets from their family and their experimental Indian cuisine, the duo pushed the boundaries of flavors and experiences for guests. Work has now begun to transform the empty downtown unit, with decor they say will be inspired by nature but with an industrial twist.

Read more: Popular Teesside restaurant makes The Times list of Britain’s 30 best places for a Sunday roast

The new restaurant will feature its popular bottomless brunch, loaded naanwiches and naans during the day, and innovative curries and cocktails in the evening. The family restaurant Barnard Castle, which for years traded as Spice Island, was renamed in 2019 in honor of their father Rafique Uddin Babul.

Now the couple are eagerly awaiting the opening of their second branch, which is expected to welcome customers in the spring. Shuhel Ahmed said, “We have grown up surrounded by incredible cuisine and are excited to bring our unique take on casual Indian cuisine.

“We have some of the usual favorites, but our menu is completely different from any other restaurant, we have street food style dishes with amazing flavors and innovative ingredients for everyone. We are also proud to say that we have over 50 vegan dishes on the menu and this restaurant will be 100% nut free; we’ve spent a lot of time researching the best nut alternative – we’re so confident you won’t even know the difference.”

The family business is also creating over 20 new jobs and the duo are encouraging anyone interested in joining the team to get in touch. Babul’s was awarded Best Restaurant in the North East at the Bangladesh Catering Association (BCA) Awards in London on November 7, 2021 and was also named the UK’s Most Innovative at the Asian Restaurant Awards in 2021.

Zak Ahmed says, “We’ve been serving our signature cocktails at Darlington for a few years, but now we’re thrilled to be able to combine our drinks and food in this iconic building. We aim to be a place like no other.

Artistic impression of what Darlington Babul’s new restaurant might look like when construction begins

“During the day, we will serve delicious coffees and lighter fare for lunch, such as our popular loaded naans, naanwiches, burgers, salad bowls as well as breakfast dishes. In the evening, we have prepared the cocktails and evening dishes for you.

“Our weekends are also going to be exciting as we are also bringing the infamous Barnard Castle Bottomless Brunch to Darlington.

“In 2019, we renamed our restaurant Spice Island in Barnard Castle in honor of our father, Rafique Uddin Babul. We hope he is proud of this next step and we look forward to being fully involved in this fantastic and vibrant community; we have a lot of big things planned so watch this space.”

The restaurant has been completely renovated with state-of-the-art kitchens and the new venue has been inspired by nature with an industrial touch. Guests will find plenty of rustic charm, touches of wood and greenery juxtaposed with industrial metal and glass elements.

Babul’s will be open late into the weekend and will host local DJs and is expected to open this spring with more launch details to be announced shortly.

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