Spice Garden, beyond Thunderdome (southside)
The Time: December 16 2008, 8pm
Booking Name: Mr Sam Raimi
The Pub Aforehand: The Laurieston
In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, Nick G, Dave H, Robbie K, Ewan and Mickey
Decor: Spacious. Orderly. Hell of a neon.
Expectations: Open til 4am every night, so we thought it would be pretty jakey. It was certainly pretty jakey the night we were there. (We were the only people there.)
Can a sequel ever really be better than the original? That's a question that often consumes movie aficionados. And three such preoccupied film fans sat, hunched, in the ever-calming timewarp of old-fashioned, civic-minded Bridge Street boozer The Laurieston. Thoughtfully nursing pints of warm Guinness, the solemn triptych of Trampy, The Tramp and The Duke had long abandoned thoughts of why they were the only Curry Club members in attendance – mostly because they had chosen to arrive a full hour before the advertised meeting time – to consider whether the evening's adventure might possibly live up to the society's first field trip to Partick. Could this instalment be so inherently satisfying that it eclipsed the original, like The Dark Knight? Or would this chilly sojourn to the southside of Glasgow turn out to be Curry Club 2: The Quickening?
The arrival of new faces and familiar friends banished any "second night" nerves from the huddled trio. Edinburgh's Nick G was first; a stubbly, gallus presence who sought to emphasise his arrival into the Glasgow of Curry fold by pledging to design a coat-of-arms, the better to distinguish the club blazers which were all but inevitable. David H – who had originally cried off – came soon after, as did Robbie K, a greenhorn to the Club but already something of a mischievous figure of folklore on the mystical southside. Belatedly, the Club's probation-baiting agent provocateur Ewan arrived, along with grizzled veteran Mickey, a curry commando who'd survived several tours of duty in 'Nam (Birmingnam). The dreaded man-flu had laid some other members of the Glasgow of Curry brotherhood low, but the assembled octet (eventually) soldiered on to honour their comrades.
This rebel band's ultimate destination was The Spice Garden, a curry oasis tucked in the southern oxter of one of the Clyde's many venerable bridges. So what was the Garden's USP (Unique Salivating Point)? Judging by the website, it might have something to do with their flexibility. A flashing reminder at the base of the homepage broadcasts an important message: "Remember we're fully licensed till 3am in the morning 7 days a week". I think we can all appreciate the relevance of that right now.
As is becoming customary, the rag-tag, fugitive Curry Club fleet were the sole patrons upon arrival. If the high-ceilinged, curved-walled room was echoey, the low hubbub of Bollywood TV beamed up on a slightly distracting video screen helped disguise it. The surfeit of indoor neon signage somehow came across as characterful rather than tacky, and for an establishment actively advertising for late-night custom, standards of décor and service seemed high. The chief waiter delivered a presumably mandatory but surprisingly personable spiel about how the ordering procedure would unfold, a hand-holding exercise more appropriate for drunken clients, but not unappreciated by the lairier elements of the Club. Initial attempts to uncover the waiter's identity were politely rebuffed – would you want to reveal your given name to a bunch of drunken louts, the better they could shout it across the restaurant when alcohol runs low? – but otherwise the patter remained focused and unruffled.
Ordering starters for such a disparate group can always be a hurdle, so the challenge is casually thrown out to our waiter. Can he recommend five starter dishes for our hungry brotherhood? Without pause, a rollout of six dishes is lined up for the mob, which results in a succulent lamb chop each and a popcorn stack of pakora for everyone to delve into. Yes, we were upsold slightly. But it was subtly done, with plenty of opportunities to refuse. And the result is delicious.
The wipe-clean menu – materially constructed to withstand the demented pawings of drunkards and madmen – boasts an impressive 271 items, including both European and Italian dishes to appease those unfortunate patrons who belatedly find themselves duped into going to an Indian restaurant.
Our ever-courteous Club sticks to Indian offerings, which are helpfully sub-categorised into stratas of hotness (yet somehow it's still possible to order a Goanese Chili curry from the Korma section). Everyone knows what they want, but there's always the tricky task of balancing the naan/rice equation. Four pilau rice are cautiously ordered, along with a parade of plain, garlic, peshwari and chili naan (an exciting prospect, slightly dulled when they all arrive scissored-up in wee baskets).
By this time, we've excavated the chief waiter's actual name, although he asks most customers to call him Rajou, because he reckons that's easier to remember. Does our man "Rajou" suspect our visit has some kind of journalistic element, rather than just being the Xmas night out of the Glasgow Nae-Pals Scalextric Appreciation Society (which is, essentially, what it looks like)?
If our first outing was fairly stealthy, the second represents an explosion in citizen media-gathering, with many different members assisting with pictures, video and commentary, which will turn out to be extremely useful. And if the Club is completely dished, there is certainly an upside to be had later on.
But where's ma tea? As the various dishes descend, your correspondent's immediate, ineffable impulse to order No. 69 – the Mazedar, a spicy hot dish prepared with finely chopped capsicums, spring onions, mushrooms, crushed fresh green chillies, a dash of brandy and finally topped with finest Italian mozzarella – seems to pale slightly in comparison with some of the other orders (notably Robbie's Chicken Tandoori, a loaded plate of chook that comes with a separate bowl of sauce).
Amongst the general murmur of gob-stuffed satisfaction, there's some table-specific high praise for the two side dishes we asked to tag along, although the spicy baby aubergine stuff clearly overshadows the aloo saag. Which brings us to nicknames: it seems only fair that those Glasgow of Curry members who are still employed – roughly, half – shouldn't have to worry about being named and shamed on our incredibly popular blog, so Trampy-esque online codenames are required.
To that end, returning minstrel Mickey becomes The Birmingham One (or Wan, if you're proper Glasgow); the relatively unwrinkled Robbie K is crowned Poppa Dom (although Rabbie Shankar was right up there); yet for Dave H, all we have is the slightly unsatisfying Dansak Dave. In other news, Ewan, with his inarguable devotion to the Glasgow of Curry cause, deserves far better than the suggested Bawsaag. For those without nicknames, seriously, your time will come. Start whispering "Ace" or "Flash" in the ears of your allies …
There's a hastily constructed Curry Club tradition that everyone should enjoy a shot of (the cheapest) brandy at the end of every meal. (Don't know who came up with that – don't know if it's a good idea.) It seems like an important full stop to each session (although each session appears to then continue back in the original pub). So when a second round of brandies arrives, free, from the Spice Garden staff, it makes everyone view the experience even more warmly. This is one sequel that is demonstrably better than the original.
Range Of Drinks: Only Tennent's on tap (but – hey! – at least it doesn't really taste like Tennent's). Cobra available in bottles. And also some fine brandy.
Highlights: Hugely attentive service. A round of free freakin' brandy.
Lowlight: The pre-cut naans seemed a mite stingy.
The Verdict: Another resounding success!
The Damage: £214.40 (tip: £28.60)... Picked up by a mysterious benefactor...
Another excellent report. But did it get the details right? Post a comment to let the Glasgow of Curry brotherhood know your thoughts