Shish Mahal, Park Road
It has taken them down some strange roads, this journey. Even if the original idea sprang from an arguably ungallant premise, Trampy and The Tramp's Glasgow of Curry – TATTGOC for short; a code, a creed, an incantation, a word to whisper through the grille of a reinforced door – has always placed high value on honourable conduct, the Tramps leading their enthusiastic, fluid band round the compass points of Glasgow in search of old favourites and new experiences. Five years of searching, and they end up somewhere surprising but somehow inevitable.
Of course, for five years they have been half-jokingly seeking some holy grail: a particularly transportive dish, perhaps, or a hitherto uncalculated formula of setting, company, ambience, alcohol and spicy, warming nourishment that could be described as transcendent. A Higgs-Bhuna particle, a dhansak of dark matter. The Tramps gear up like Shackleton and go in search of their own fevered idea of curry paradise, hoping to find Eden in a tandoor, utopia among a million grains of jewel-coloured rice.
|Chasni Hawkes; The Duke|
There are reviews, but are they really? There are no ratings, the culinary analysis remains amateurish, the detailing of orders often incomplete yet booze tallied with fastidiousness – it's anecdotes and bibble, huckster prose more rickety than towering, puns slathered on willy-nilly, like plaster on a haphazard sculpture to ... what, exactly? Yet something holds it together. Maybe that overused word "brotherhood"? Some kind of fraternal heartbeat, pulsing strong and true, even as – presumably – the arteries harden around it. Five years. Long enough to change a person, surely?
|The Birmingham Wan; Rogan Josh Homme|
Call it an odyssey, emphasis on "odd". Homer's hero removed himself for 20 years, a decade locked in combat against Troy, a decade pinwheeling back to Penelope and her painstakingly crafted and regularly unpicked tapestry. Odysseus, a self-aware brainiac, took a few wrong turns along the way. So have the Tramps, lightly hamstrung by self-imposed, faintly arbitrary but nevertheless rigorously-observed rules, an invisible charter dictating their fate. Mindful of the pantheon of great Glasgow curryhouses, the Tramps tiptoed around them, shading in the gaps of their knowledge in a weekly ritual that was part-genuflection, part-due diligence.
|The Shish's famous lamb chops, mostly devoured|
To pitch up at the Shish Mahal after five years could seem like a fairytale. And like all good fairytales, there have been doublings. The Tramps crossed the threshold of another Shish Mahal "early doors" in TATTGOC's existence in 2009. Not the "real" Shish, you understand, and yet somehow no less real: a place with notably elaborate interior decoration, murals colourful enough to be more memorable than the food. In hindsight, that visit may have been conceived as an in-joke, a fourth-wall-breaking nod that the real Shish Mahal would remain forever beyond the purview of this nascent undertaking.
And yet, and yet. After five years, the holy men of TATTGOC – monkish in their adherence to certain tonsorial matters, as well as those of beards and eyeglasses – found themselves in the real "real" Shish Mahal. Among this brotherhood there was, detectable, a sense of rising up, of ascending, of becoming. Also, unexpectedly, a sense of surrender, an almost dream-like lack of agency. This might have boiled down to something as simple as requesting the banquet option, where a conveyor belt of superior starters and dishes descend automatically, a culinary voyage with no need to manually trim the sails, a crossing you can spend in your hammock, essentially. For anyone who dreams of curry, this would have seemed merely like an extension of dream logic, a subconscious conjuring desires into reality.
|The Tramp, deep in meditation|
The starters? Sublime. The curries? Uncommonly good. The mental energy usually require to calculate a heroic rice/naan equation? Redirected into passing various delectable naans up and down the long, long table. The Shish celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014 and will perhaps always feel timeless. With the greatest respect to Mother India (Trampy's favorite Glasgow curryhouse) the Shish that has come to represent a certain idea of Scotland's biggest city: totemic, venerable, even without all the Chicken Tikka Masala origination stuff. Deliberately or not, it has been TATTGOC's yardstick for every outing, an implied measure loitering in the background of all 300 blogposts to date.
|Bobo Balti; Ravi Peshwari|
Quests, fairytales, Bluetones songs ... ultimately they are about coming home, and the Shish is a place the Tramp has frequented man and boy, and – in another folk tale doubling – also a place he has taken both of his babies (if you could ever in true conscience call a weblog a baby). When it came to a special blowout, a birthday fandango, perhaps this most venerable curryhouse would always have been where TATTGOC would have washed up: no place better for a desert island dish than the Shish, right? The tone was celebratory, the Curry Club's symbolic ties joyfully sauce-splashed, Predator 2 gnawed over as carefully as the lamb chops. Truly, it was a Curry Club for the ages, a dizzyingly high watermark, a pinnacle for this picaresque band. Mr Ali and his hard-working team, TATTGOC salutes you.
|TATTGOC: a candid portrait|
Also, inevitably: the Shish is the hardest of all acts to follow. So after five years of Glasgow curry cheerleading, of curry snuffling and curry-loving, it might be time for a furlough. A festive break to recharge, regroup, re-up. An opportunity to polish the spicy sextant and work out where next to plot a course for Curry Club. But know this: warmed by exotic food, permissible beer and comradeship, the TATTGOC brotherhood – yeah, yeah, perhaps an overused word in these pages – will always be ready. Aye, ready.
TATTGOC visited the Shish Mahal in November 2013
60-68 Park Road G4 9JF
ph: 0141 334 7899
This month, Trampy and the Tramp's Glasgow of Curry celebrates five years of continuous spicy operation, incorporating almost 50 legendary outings and countless weekly updates. A lot has happened since that first fateful visit to the Indian Orchard in Partick, and we're now halfway through our series of typically self-congratulatory posts during November. Last week, some of our regular Curry Clubbers explained what TATTGOC meant to them ... and that was just part one! Here are more dispatches from our brave currynauts ...
We'll be back next Thursday with the last instalment of our TATTGOC 2008-2013 celebration.
Rogan Josh Homme
I look around me, and I see a lot of men ...
It’s November 2008 and I’m perched between the Tramp and Trampy at the inaugural meeting of Curry Club – or what was then referred to (in redacted communiques of the time) as "Chris' Curry Club".
The venue is the Indian Orchard in Partick, a near empty establishment serving up ectoplasm-like mango chutney and curry as cheap as the chips the Orchard's only other patrons have ordered from the "European" section of the menu. Given that I remember that detail, I'm disappointed that I don't actually recall what I had at this nascent gathering (never mind whether it was any good or not). But I do remember a general feeling that something momentous was happening: a meeting of men, of minds and of stomachs hungry to try, if not always new things, at least familiar things in unfamiliar environs.
Looking back at this slightly skewed panorama shot – snapped on a primitive camera phone towards of the end of the night in the midst of the swiftly abandoned ritual known as the post-curry brandy – I'm surprised by how much of Curry Club was and wasn't in place on that first night. Copious lager consumption was very much in evidence, as were photographic skills that would make at least one member of Curry Club look as if they'd just watched the killer videotape from The Ring (sorry Trampy!). There was also plenty of passionate, contemplative, often pop-culture-tinged discourse (The Wire and the general crapness of Quantum of Solace were both rigorously debated with The Duke).
Beards, however, weren't quite as prominent as they'd later become. And nor were the curry-punning pseudonyms that would eventually set each of us free from the grind of our day-to-existence (at my next outing, I plumped for Rogan Josh Homme; Queens of the Stone Age being my favourite band at the time). Nevertheless, by the end of that first night, the tentative bonds that Trampy and the Tramp's grand experiment had been set up to forge felt like they were forming the basis of what might become a lasting brotherhood.
And so it proved. The strangely ghost-like image of Jalfrezi in the above shot may have anticipated the way in which some members would eventually fade from view – but definitely not from memory – as they moved on with their lives and careers, but what we've all come to affectionately know as TATTGOC (a love of acronyms is second only to a love of puns in Curry Club) has remained a constant: a constant source of great curry, great conversation and (*wait, I've got something in both my eyes*) great friendships.
But as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of TATTGOC (which, in a neat piece of synchronicity, has coincided with my own Curry Club namesake, Josh Homme, descending upon Glasgow to play The Hydro with Queens of the Stone Age), what will the future hold?
Who knows? Although, maybe, just maybe, a few of us Curry Clubbers attending the Cafe Noor outing earlier this year have already had an accidental, 12 Monkeys-style glimpse of our fates ...
If this is the future, I for one, am ready to embrace it.
First outing: Spice Garden, Dec 2008
Six years ago I betrayed gorgeous Glasvegas by moving to austere Auld Reekie. I wasn't sure if she had forgiven me when I returned for my first Curry Club outing to the Spice Garden in 2008. I needn't have fashed, Glasgow, as always, welcomed me with open arms on what has become a bi-annual visit to TATTGOC.
While I have particularly enjoyed the end of year TATTGOC meet-ups I have to be biased and say my favourite outing was at the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. A well-kept secret right up until the big reveal the evening not only took in a tour of the brewery, some dandy baseball cap-style hardhats and a massive spread from the nearby Verandah restaurant, but also a mini lock-in at the tasting pub. Ravi and Rabbie particularly proved their worth as barkeeps.
A special mention also has to go to the coverage of the humongous spread by Bombay Blue at my nuptials. Their sneaking of whole green chilis into the side salads providing many eye-watering moments.
Good food, good pals and unbelievably good puns. TATTGOC has grown in numbers and reputation over the years. Awards, articles, podcasts, where will it end? Probably in the pub afterhand ...
Sir Spicy Lover
First outing: Mr India's Balti And Dosa House, March 2009
Thursday nights were getting a bit desperate. The Rotary Club, The Roundtable and The Masons had already knocked me back. Then I got the call. Like a spiced-up prequel to the Bourne movies I had to undergo a rigorous selection boot camp; pledging allegiance to the TATTGOC curry code and adopting a new name and identity. I was promised curry camaraderie, to imbibe the finest lagers in humanity and to be taught the secret behind the infamous "levitating duvet" trick, handed down by generations of Tramps. (Performed incorrectly, it has been the ruination of many a relationship.)
Like tucking into a leftover Peshwari naan for breakfast, the reality was much sweeter. Walking into my first Curry Club outing I was immediately welcomed by the hearty guffaws of jocular male laughter and comforted by the seemingly ubiquitous TATTGOC dress code of beard, spectacles and (slight) beer belly. In the company of men closely resembling a mash up between 1970s OU lecturers and the cast of Withnail and I, I felt at home. Under the steadfast leadership of the Tramps, Thursday nights were now a welcome escape from the safe comfort zone of the West End. No curryhouse or pub has so far been left unturned in the Tramps’ quest for curry perfection. Usually we have had most of the gaffs to ourselves, except when the intrepid currynauts gatecrashed the odd random Thursday night birthday celebration or quiet romantic liaison.
I recall fondly the cocktail sophistication of the Agra (Sex in Mumbai anyone?), the besuited Christmas pop quiz at the Killermont Polo Club (where I won a Chuckle Brothers DVD as part of the Tramps’ famous Stu-Pot style Christmas giveaway), and the takeaway combo madness of King Dosa (from Banana Leaf) and magic darts at Bulldosa’s.
My personal favourite is still that gem of the Southside, the Anarkali. I can’t even remember now what I ordered but, damn, it tasted good. I really need to go back there sometime.
I am also very proud of introducing the first curry cub to the world. The dinosaur obsessed "Pterotarkadhal" has never shied away from the Way of the Spice and happily devours lashings of homemade rice and dhal or chilli prawns. Since then, the ranks of curry cubs have swollen beyond belief. My second curry protégé, "Samosalyn" is also a dhal obsessive. Surely, it can’t be long till The Tramps organise a Curry Cub Camp ...
But for now, Tramps, I raise a glass of mango lassi in your general direction and thank you for your dedication to the cause, your hospitality and your ability to divvy out the bill at the end of an evening. To quote a greater curry sage than I:
“Curry on, curry on, as if nothing really Madras ...”
Bawsaag/Aloo Aloo/The Bulldosa
Back in 2008, when The Tramps were dishing out nicknames to the Curry Club brethren, for some reason I got the short end of the straw – Bawsaag was the first of my several monikers, Aloo Aloo was another. Apparently the latter was a reference to a sitcom with a similar sounding name and had something to do with the common misconception that I was always moaning (nothing could be further from the truth). It was a while before they actually let me have my current, less derogatory title, but it didn’t stop them from regularly attempting to bar me from official Club activities.
|The Bullnosa: during that fateful visit to Madras Palace|
But those days of pseudo-playground bullying are in the past, mostly because I now don’t reside in Glasgow, having fled to London to escape the "banter". As they say though, sticks'n'stones and all that, so quite frankly I don’t care what you call me these days – as long I can call you Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can call me Daal.
And so what was my favourite Curry Club memory? There are too many to list here, but most of them involved, Jalfezi and/or Rabbie Shankar and a few pints of Tennents. However, there was one Halloween that the Tramps allowed me to organise the Club’s monthly meeting – I decided to try to bend the rulebook a little and opted for a Friday night outing. The thinking behind this was that it might allow a greater number of members to attend, as they’d have the whole of Saturday to nurse any hangovers.
The concept was a massive failure however – Curry Clubbers stayed away in their droves. Apparently some people don’t like change. That said, the few who did manage to make it along to the Madras Palace that night, experienced what can only be described as the most well-organised Curry Club meeting ever.
I soon however, relinquished my control of the club back to the Tramps. I guess with them in charge it retains a certain shambolic charm, which I couldn’t replicate if I tried. Furthermore, there would be no one with the authority to attempt to bar me, and without that, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Walking into the fake Shish to find the Bulldosa – or was he still the Bawsaag back then? – proudly perched at the TATTGOC table dreaming of brandy substitutes.
But most importantly it was the Clubbers and for that, Trampy and the Tramp, we salute you ...