Subscriber OnlyUKWarrington Letter

A night in Luke Littler’s home town with punters, pubs and The Great British kebab

The running joke is that curry, particularly the UK’s indigenous effort of chicken tikka masala, is the real British national dish

It was close to 11pm on a Friday and things were kicking off in Warrington, a large town of 200,000 people halfway between Liverpool and Manchester.

All the protagonists of a stereotypical regional British night out – punters, pubs and police – were clustered on Bridge Street, the heart of the lively entertainment district. People in high spirits wobbled into its slew of late bars such as PJ’s and Reefs (“extending bedtimes since 2006″).

Cheshire police cars were prominent on the street. Six officers had gathered around one rather agitated man from whom they had confiscated a long implement in a tailor-made sheath: it could have been a pool cue, or a machete. The officers shipped abuse from a few of the passing revellers.

Then there was that other staple of a night out – fast food takeaways. Bridge Street is a haven for calorific cuisine, especially kebabs. The Sizzle Inn, Frankie’s and the Best Kebab House were all bustling. But busier than the rest was the current boss joint of them all, the Hot Spot kebab house.


Britain’s immigrant history is writ large in its popular cuisine. The running joke is that curry, particularly the UK’s indigenous effort of chicken tikka masala, is the real British national dish. But kebabs would give curries a run for national affection.

The seriousness with which they take their kebabs here is not always fully appreciated by infrequent visitors. Not until they’ve seen the fervour in Britons’ eyes as they queue for shawarmas at 3am.

The Hot Spot in Warrington has achieved something approaching national fame over the last six weeks as the favourite kebab house of Luke Littler, the local teenager and media sensation who almost won the PDC World Darts Championship in the new year. He was famously pictured in a London kebab house after one of his high-profile match victories. “The Nuke” needs his fuel.

Littler’s kebab exploits, as much as his darts prowess, have morphed into a big British in-joke. He can’t escape it. He recently did a serious sports interview with the Sun newspaper. At the end, the video reveals that the journalist presented him with a huge kebab and made him pose with it. Littler gamely played along, but he appeared in no humour to munch it on camera.

Littler last week told the Guardian newspaper that his love of kebabs is mythically overplayed. He definitely doesn’t eat one every night as people seem to believe, he said. “I had a kebab after my first win [at the world championships] and didn’t have another in two weeks!”

Hot Spot is owned by Hamido Mahmoud, the brother of Littler’s old schoolmate, Sihad Mahmoud. The family are immigrants of Kurdish origin. By all accounts, the darts prodigy really is a frequent visitor. The Mahmouds have named Littler’s favourite kebab after him: the Luke Wrap is a non-spicy, simple, lamb doner kebab with just lettuce, onions and mayonnaise, all in a fluffy wrap.

The young Kurd behind the counter spotted The Irish Times a mile off. He asked what brought me to Warrington. I explained that I was in town working on a story and had popped into the Hot Spot just out of curiosity. I’m a journalist, I explained. You look like one, he said. So you want a Luke Wrap?

He said he had sold the wrap to “many, many, so many” journalists in the last few weeks. They come from everywhere, he said. Then he served up my quarry. The Luke Wrap was good, reassuringly gut-busting. But it felt strange to eat a kebab stone-cold sober.

Somewhat unexpectedly, one of the hottest annual political events in Westminster is the British Kebab Awards, which is establishment confirmation of the food’s cult-like status. The event is organised each spring by the political think tank, the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development, founded by well-connected Labour councillor Ibrahim Dogus.

About 1,200 including London politicos pack out the Plaza each year for a black tie dinner, awards ceremony, and, of course, posh kebabs. The event is formally endorsed by prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer, neither of whom you’d suspect are regular doner wolfers. House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle, a no-nonsense northerner who says he loves a lamb shish, also endorses the awards.

Charlotte Nichols, the Labour MP for Warrington North, has called on the judges to give Littler a special award at this year’s event next month. He should have no problem sprucing up for it. The Mahmouds also own a barber’s in Warrington, Hamidos.

“They give me free haircuts now too,” said Littler.