Neat rows of condiments and spices, streak-free gleaming glass cabinets, and floral fragranced room diffusers: welcome to Subhan, the everyday halal butchers on Roman Road Market.
It is important to Faisal Qurishi that his shop’s various condiments, autumnal-coloured spices, tins of tomatoes, and blue-paper bags of flour are placed neatly on the shelves, standing to attention like little soldiers, their labels displaying outwards ready to face the customers of the day.
‘It has to be like that,’ Qurishi says earnestly, ‘I have a business. If we don’t take it seriously, then there’s no point, we wasted time.’
Such attention to detail is part of the service when visiting Subhan, the halal butchers on Roman Road Market.
Qurishi entered the butcher trade after his family, who are originally from Afghanistan, established a chain of successful butchers, named Subhan (which means ‘glory’ or ‘exalted’ in Arabic), in Essex. He set up his own Subhan on Roman Road after he came to the road one market day five years ago. Qurishi saw an opportunity to rent a vacant shop and set up his own butchers, with his brother Qasim, in 2018.
Since then, he has built up a steady stream of loyal customers from all walks of Roman Road life. ‘We have different backgrounds and different colours here and we treat them the same.’
Subhan’s universal appeal is, Qurishi believes, down to his insistence for spotlessness. He is aware that butcher shops can have a reputation for that lingering heady iron smell, and the incessant buzz from a fly that eludes any endeavours to swat its nuisance away. But here, with everything in its place, there is a pervading sense of cleanliness and order.
Motioning to the trays of cuts of mutton, lamb, beef, and chicken (due Subhan’s adherence to halal, no pork is sold) and the well-stocked shelves of spices, grains, and condiments that complete a dish, Qurishi explains: ‘I keep it clean and tidy, and everyone sees that from the street while out shopping. If something looks clean and tidy and fresh then, why not go in and buy?’
The shop’s south-facing entrance allows light to stream in, enhancing the marble-effect tiles, gleaming glass cabinets, and white-washed walls; mess or dirt has no hiding place here.
And, how does he ensure that any unwelcome smells are kept at bay? Qurishi places electric room diffusers strategically and discreetly around the shop that pump out a pleasant light floral fragrance every ten minutes.
It’s aspects such as these that highlight Qurishi’s attention to customer experience. His overall aim, he concludes is to ‘make the customer’s life easy so they don’t need to buy me from here and then go buy a masala from next door.’ He pauses, and adds: ‘We just try our best.’
The sight of raw meat, and any identifiable outline or shape of an animal, can make even the most devoted carnivores feel uneasy and queasy. It takes a certain robust character to stomach a butcher’s work. And Qurishi fits that bill.
A man of few words, Qurishi is unperturbed, almost stoic when talking about the less glamorous aspects of his trade. His delivery arrives in the morning before his shift starts at 8am, usually from Smithfield Meat Market. Whole lamb and mutton carcasses can weigh up to 30kg, the weight of an average 10-year-old. Cow shoulders can weigh 90kg. ‘It is heavy but, once you get used to it, it’s alright,’ he shrugs. Heavy yes, but the ten or so eggs that Qurishi can consume in one breakfast sitting surely helps when carrying the equivalent weight of a baby elephant.
Adverse to waste, Qurishi, his brother and team of two, make use of the whole animal, entrails and all, a practice known as nose-to-tail. They also set out separating the different cuts of meat using a carving machine that roars into action, its menacing steel knife, unnervingly, slices through thick bone as if it were soft butter.
So what is popular? Oxtail, he says. Such is the way with fashion that, what used to be the least desirable part of a cow, now sells for £12 per kilogram, as opposed to mince, which is currently priced at around £6 per kilogram.
He also gestures towards chunky cow hooves, which are the length of my forearm. He says they have great nutritional value as they contain high amounts of collagen (could cow hooves be the next ‘it’ food for those forever chasing that elixir for a youthful glow?).
All of this slightly gory detail is, at least, made palatable by the shop’s gleaming aesthetics or, the Subhan shine, as it should now be called.
If you enjoyed this, then read our article on the family behind Whole Fresh.
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