A devastated restaurant owner has relived the moment his world was “turned upside down” as his award-winning business was set alight in a suspected arson attack.

Police are re-appealing for information after Maliks Restaurant, in Cookham High Street, was set on fire on December 6, forcing seven staff members to flee the blaze by jumping out of upstairs windows.

Reliving the events of that night, Malik Ahmed, 54, told the Marlow Free Press he had closed up and headed home at around 12.15am and was watching television in bed when he received a call saying his beloved restaurant was on fire.

He said: “I had a phone call from one of my staff. I could tell by their voices that they were all panicking. I told them to get out of the building, if the fire is downstairs, go out the window.

“I rushed to the restaurant and the firefighters, ambulance and police were already there. My staff were waiting around barefoot. It was a very cold night.

“My first thought was could this happen? I was the last one out and I checked everything myself.”

Mr Ahmed understands that something had been pushed through the letterbox to start the fire.

He added: “My life has been turned upside down, it is so shocking. I was worried for my team.

“I am absolutely devastated, I don’t know what to do. I was in love with this restaurant and there are so many things in there that I have done myself, like the five Christmas trees we have every year.

“I spend all my time there so now I don’t know where to go. All of the paperwork for my other restaurants was in the Cookham office.”

Just last year, Mr Ahmed had spent £250,000 refurbishing the restaurant, which is popular with celebrities including Heston Blumenthal and David Seaman.

He said: “Now it is all ruined. The chairs costs €600 each but they are all damaged. We are not sure of the extent of the damage.

“We are hoping we can reopen again sometime in the spring, maybe March.”

The businessman, who opened his Cookham restaurant in 1999, says the support from the community since the fire has been overwhelming.

He said: “I was absolutely in shock when it happened, I couldn’t speak, but the amount of support I have had from the community, my friends, neighbours and customers has been unbelievable. I had hundreds of emails, my voicemail was full up with messages.”

In a bid to catch the person responsible for starting the fire, Mr Ahmed has stumped up a £10,000 cash reward for any information that could lead to a conviction.

He added: “I want to catch whoever did this, for the safety of my staff because I have other restaurants.

“We have spent the last month thinking about this. We haven’t fallen out with anyone so we just have no clues. It’s very important that the person who did this is caught.”

Anyone with any information can call the 24-hour Thames Valley Police enquiry centre on 101. To give information anonymously, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.