REVIEW: I See You Baby ... Shaking That Asmaan

The Asmaan, Bath Street

The Time: August 27, 8pm

Booking Name: Mr Tinto Brass

The Pub Aforehand: The Iron Horse, West Nile Street

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Gheezer, The Duke, Ravi Peshwari, The Bulldosa, Rumpole Of The Balti and visiting Foreign Curryspondent Makhni Knife

Decor: Due to all the scaffolding, it’s difficult to see the outside of The Asmaan at the moment, let alone the inside.

Expectations: Despite its evocative name, few Clubbers had ventured into The Asmaan, despite a ringing endorsement in the window from the Evening Times’ gumshoe restaurant critic, Diner Tec. So let’s say expectations were … fairly low.

The Experience:

Curry Club is like riding a bike: it’s good for the environment, you’re usually sweaty at the end of it and it’s prudent to wear a helmet, just in case. Also, hopefully, you never lose the knack of how to do it. That’s what Trampy was pinning his hopes on, hunched round a pint of Tennent’s in the back of The Iron Horse, one of Glasgow’s preeminent no-nonsense boozers, slap bang in the goddamn city centre.

As ever, he was worried that this might be the meeting where the wheels fell off the chuck wagon – TATTGOC legends like Rogan Josh Homme and Sir Spicy Lover had been early call-offs, and the teamsheet was looking a little thin. Worst of all, TATTGOC’s booming mascot and honourary life president The Tramp was ensnared in a punishing work schedule and might not make it at all. Combined with a lengthy summer sabbatical, it looked like the much-anticipated August meet-up might be more dusty death rattle than triumphant new chapter in TATTGOC’s bechequered history. Gazing at the remaining amber liquid in his glass, Trampy decided it was definitely half-empty, and vowed not to tan it so fast the next time.

If Trampy was subdued, his companion The Bulldosa – usually mercilessly mocked as the brotherhood’s most Machiavellian member, ever-scheming to consolidate his limited influence on the ruling council like a power-hungry Starscream – was keeping the tender flame alive by radiating anticipation and enthusiasm. Vitally, he’d also remembered to bring a camera. The Gheezer and Ravi Peshwari arrived promptly, and Trampy found himself slowly emerging from his worrisome funk. Then there was a vital phone call from The Tramp – beal or no beal? No beal, for he’d wriggled free of work and was mere minutes away. The Duke also strode in, looking eager for curry battle to be rejoined, followed closely by special guest and dedicated Foreign Curryspondent Makhni Knife.

Most dashing of all was Rumpole Of The Balti, looking like the young Michael McDonald in one of Cary Grant’s finest suits. It planted the seed of a terrible idea in Trampy’s mind: a future TATTGOC meet-up where everyone rocked their best clobber, the better to splash ghee and masala sauce on their exquisitely tailored sleeves. Would kilts be eligible? To be on the safe side, let’s say “no”. So, with seven TATTGOC veterans and one newbie in harness, the crew rode out of The Iron Horse toward their destination.

For once, there was a sort of logic behind the restaurant selection. TATTGOC began in Partick and has explored north, east, west and, particularly, south. But never has it met up in the city centre, despite that being a handy place for cosmopolitan currynauts to assemble. And if the the prime directive is to turn up hidden gems, Bath Street’s The Asmaan is undoubtedly shrouded in mystery, and lots and lots of scaffolding. The evocative name had also long tickled the Tramps, and would provide plenty of easy gags for the official report (at least, that was the plan).

The interior was the first surprise – a preponderance of mirrors and white furniture, fixtures and fittings combined with the warming glow of neon signage gave it the feel of a Balkan brothel, or the immediate aftermath of a P Diddy video shoot (possibly for the third single in an increasingly half-hearted album campaign). Booked under the symbolic name of Tinto Brass – the sensuous Italian filmmaker well-known, according to Wikipedia, for “accentuating women’s buttocks” – the Club was ushered to a table highlighted by streamers and balloons. (Ironically, it was actually the day of Rogan Josh Homme’s birthday but the gallant cinephile was celebrating in the far north of Scotland.) Could anyone have guessed that the soundtrack to our night would be wall-to-wall ABBA? Probably not, but these surprises are the spicy lifeblood of Curry Club.

No Cobra on tap, sadly, but The Asmaan had the next best thing: cool, foamy Tennent’s served in Cobra-branded glasses. Before long, the assembled Clubbers had fallen back into their regular groove, exchanging witticisms, observations and general “bant” like true gentlemen. It took The Tramp mere minutes to order up a round of poppadoms with all the trimmings, plus some mixed pakora and tandoori platters for starters. Our attentive waiter – dressed in a black shirt and patterned waistcoat that made him look like, variously, like a 1930s Chicago gangster at leisure, snooker’s dapperest nearly-man Tony Drago in his prime and a no-nonsense poker dealer on a Mississippi riverboat – rapidly twigged that this lot could be upsold without much effort, so our starter order was promptly taken up a notch, and a request for eight poppadoms multiplied into 15. To Trampy’s palate, these 'doms tasted more like shop-bought Sharwoods efforts – sub-doms? – the ones you see taking up lots of shelf-space in local mini-marts, always pre-smashed into a million pieces. Still, the accompaniments were tasty, and if the pakora was fairly boilerplate, the tandoori morsels of lamb and chicken more than made up for it: succulent and delicious. A promising start!

For TATTGOC virgin Makhni Knife, this calm before the storm of main courses was a chance to analyse how a proper Curry Club meet-up operates – having only experienced them through the wildly inaccurate write-ups, he was looking to the old hands for tiny clues about appropriate behaviour and etiquette. Unfortunately, since he was sat next to The Tramp, he naturally assumed bellowing and off-colour jokes were TATTGOC’s lingua franca. Makhni’s involvement had been the subject of some debate in the dog days of summer, since the whole freakin’ point of TATTGOC is to make those that have left Glasgow feel insanely jealous of the awesome time the rest of are having here. To that end, The Tramp – and, OK, Trampy a bit as well – had engaged in a two-month-long campaign of psy-ops, excluding Makhni Knife from any official communications and even withholding his official invite until the very last moment, the better to see the volatile Irishmen twitch on the end of their line, veering dangerously between puppyish enthusiasm and volcanic umbrage.

Before The Tramp embarked on a lengthy explanation and suggestive demonstration of an advanced courting technique known as “the Jocky Wilson” (memorable enough to make Trampy wish he had the technical skills to create a two-frame animated GIF of the demonstration, to use as an online avatar when frequenting websites of an adventurous but morally-dubious provenance), the traditional rice/naan equation had been diligently calculated. The answer, this time, was a relatively conservative three pilau rice and three naan (the usual loadout of plain, garlic and peshwari). With ABBA unapologetically ringing in our ears, and the few other patrons drifting out the door, this was starting to feel like a potentially legendary outing. Another round of drinks, please, Mr Tony Drago!

Oftentimes, even the most experienced Curry Clubbers can miscalculate how much they can consume, and after overindulging in starters find themselves struggling with their mains. The Asmaan appears to have found a way round that particular problem, by serving up their mains in sturdy but quite small metal dishes. While the aromas drifting up from the various masalas and acharis were tantalising in the extreme, the biggest cheer came when the naans hovered in like Harrier jumpjets – even bathed in the denaturalising neon light, the garlic naan appeared to be such an alarming shade of orange it triggered widespread disbelief, then admiration and, latterly, creeping fear. Demonstrating his inherent sharpness, Makhni Knife quickly dubbed it “Tommy Sherid-naan” to much ribald hooting. Then ... silence, as the various curries were hungrily put to the sword.

Trampy couldn’t remember another meet-up where so much of the scran was actually consumed – and perhaps a little more rice would have been appropriate, as The Tramp hoarded a rather oversize share down his end of the table, a bearded dragon curled up malevolently on his pilau gold. Something about the chintzy mirrors, blaring ABBA, neon signage and that electric orange naan also brought a slightly Twin Peaks vibe to the evening, heightened by a visit to the bathroom that revealed a spooky aerial forest of Magic Trees hanging from the roof, like a cheap, garage-bought mobile for a neglected child or yet another physical manifestation of a latent serial killer’s preternatural compulsions. Time, perhaps, to scarper.

So, after nine unbearable weeks of inactivity, the Curry Club was back in business. And by planting a flag right in the centre of Glasgow, phase two of TATTGOC could begin, a new campaign of monthly sorties into the unknown, swingballing around Glasgow and the surrounding area in search of the perfect curry, an evening so spicily sublime that it couldn't ever be recreated, not even by the most skilled wordsmith. There were moments of such transcendence during the Asmaan excursion – notably, The Bulldosa moodily modelling an improvised cock-and-balls in The Pot Still afterwards – but these divine moments, by their nature, are cruelly fleeting. That is what it means to live the curry life.

Range Of Drinks: Tennent’s … but served in Cobra glasses. Classy!

Highlights: Those tandoori starters, the balloons, the overall wigged-out "atmos".

Lowlights: Too much ABBA by half; main courses were a wee bit small.

The Verdict: A surprisingly pleasant city centre experience!

The Damage: £168.10 (tip: £7.90, and that was over and above the 10% service charge for parties of eight or more)