REVIEW: Let The Good Times Rawal

Rawalpindi, Sauchiehall Street

The Time: October 22, 8.30pm

Booking Name:
Mr Brian De Palma

The Pub Aforehand:
Nico’s, just up the road

In Attendance: A dirty half-dozen: Trampy, The Tramp, The Bulldosa, The Duke, Rabbie Shankar and Sir Spicy Lover

Decor: Outside – municipal swimming pool. Inside – recently refurbished and super swank.

No-one present had any first-hand experience, but with Rawalpindi being so central and so long-standing, there were two competing theories. One, it had thrived because of its terrific food. Two, it had thrived because people who find themselves hungry on Sauchiehall Street lack imagination.

The Experience:

Even the greenest TATTGOC initiate knows that each of these breathless reports from our monthly outings comes illustrated with certain vital pictures: a group portrait of the assembled currynauts outside the establishment, a representation of the restaurant menu (harder than it sounds – some of those babies are so heavily laminated they reflect the flash with the intensity of a white dwarf [the celestial body, not the official Games Workshop magazine]) and a final shot of the bill, usually half-obscured by grubby tenners. Well, after almost a year, our standards are slipping a little. Or maybe it's time to just go crazy and mix things up a bit. In other words, one out of three ain’t bad.

This month, picture duties were split between ever-scheming TATTGOC guerilla-leader-in-waiting The Bulldosa – with a very nice 10.1 mexapixel Sony Sumthin-Or-Other – and The Tramp himself, whose chunky, “proper-looking” SLR contains more advanced technology and programming than most communication satellites launched in the 1990s. The division of labour was thus: Bulldosa would handle the in-restaurant action, The Tramp providing some haunting Annie Leibowitz-style portraits. Unfortunately, due to punishing work commitments, The Tramp wasn’t able to develop his pictures in time. That’s why the “bull pic” – to use the journalistic term for “big picture at the top of an article” – is actually a picture of The Tramp taking a picture of the rest of the crew, which is pretty mindblowing if you stop and think about it. That’s not just breaking the fourth wall – that’s breaking it, carefully rebuilding it, leaving it for a few years for everyone to get used to the idea of a fourth wall again, then smashing it when they least expect it.

As you might have gathered, this was a slightly more impovisatory meet-up than usual, perhaps because of the relatively compact group. Received wisdom – the kind you often hear in Received Pronunciation – suggests that a group of 10+ males of a certain age would be rowdier and more unpredictable than one of just six alpha males; the more empty barrels, the louder the noise. But simmer down TATTGOC to its hardened core of members – the Chapati Illuminati, if you like – and literally anything can happen.

The designated meeting point was Nico’s, a once-proud Sauchiehall Street institution that in ancient times served as a trendy feeder bar for the rash of student-tailored nightclubs that seemed to specialise in filling up young 'uns with 50p vodkas before firing them onto a pheremone-saturated dancefloor to see what would transpire – think of it as a very early Large Hardon Collider. Those days are long past, though, and now Nico’s is the natural habitat for more mature (and predominantly male) drinkers: bikers, grebos, businessmen, tramps. One such hobo – our very own Trampy – sat alone, fretting over a pint of Tennent’s. Only the fact that it had cost a mere £1.80 warmed his miserish heart.

A combination of flu, ennui, the London Film Festival and Celtic being in some diddy cup had reduced the curry strike team to just six but, Trampy mused, they were so battle-hardened he could easily imagine them as a tightly-knit group of squaddies in an Andy McNab fiction. As well as The Tramp and The Bulldosa – forever locked in a doomed battle of oneupmanship – there was The Duke, always level-headed in a tight spot. Sir Spicy Lover’s enthusiasm for curry made him the equal of three normal men, and if you were heading into a curry house unknown, who better to have your back than veteran Rabbie Shankar? By the time these five others were wedged around the table, batting round “bant” and comparing war stories from the past month, Trampy was beginning to feel like he could take on the whole Empire himself. Let’s roll!

Lots of places on Sauchiehall Street have doormen, but the fellow in traditional dress outside Rawalpindi serves a slightly different function – welcoming customers rather than turning them away. He was also happy to pose with our currynauts as The Tramp composed a presumably lovely portrait (one that we’ll hopefully post at a later date). The outside of the restaurant seems mostly unchanged from when it opened three decades ago – the year that Margaret Thatcher was elected, the Sony Walkman first came out and Pink Floyd released The Wall. Inside, though, the recent refurbishment has transformed the place into somewhere pretty swanky, possibly too swanky for TATTGOC.

After ordering up a round of Cobras, the Tramps sort out the starters. We allow ourselves to be upsold a little on the poppadoms, with two each rather than our usual “wan”, possibly the result of too many cheap pints of Tennent’s tanned too quickly. And as well as the usual pakora and chef’s platter starters, Trampy wheedles for “something nice for a change” to take advantage of the Club’s leaner turnout (it’s easier to achieve a consensus with less bodies). With that, a prawn dosa is added to the order, and the Curry Clubbers settle in, occasionally drowning out the atmospheric background music with their explosive laughter at off-colour subjects.

The Tramp and The Bulldosa return to their default setting of needling each other, climaxing in The Bulldosa taking a series of candid portraits of The Tramp grouching and grousing like bear with a sore bellend (a small selection of those shots are available in the accompanying slideshow to your right). At one end of the table, Rabbie Shankar revealed a gift – apparently for himself – of a highly stylised mug. From your reporter’s end of the feast, it was hard to catch the drift of the chat, but perhaps it was something to do with a fire sale at the troubled Lighthouse?

The starters, incidentally, were fine and dandy, arriving on stylish plates that would not have looked too much out of place at one of the Lighthouse’s many exhibitions about fancy-dan design. The dosa was spry and tasty, and could be carved up into six helpings with ease. After a long-ish but not entirely unwelcome wait, the main courses arrived (unfortunately, just when our smoking party was outside, cracking jokes with the doorman). Though there’s no official ruling about waiting for all members to be present before tucking in, most Clubbers began early dips into their tantalising tea. The rice/naan loadout had been kept to two rice and two naan (a garlic and a peshwari) but once battle was joined, it was clear that more sundries would be needed – an additional plain naan was added to our order. After visiting a number of restaurants where the naans come pre-cut, The Tramp, in particular, was relieved to note that Rawalpindi allow you to do your own ripping. Appropriately, everyone got tore in.

Portions were adequate enough to quiet most of the table for the duration, although there was one instance that brought on a prolonged bout of possibly-too-loud laughter. Luckily, we got a shot of the event that sparked the hilarity (pictured left). Can you see what caused the merriment? That’s right. The curry looks like a croissant. Good times!

As people wiped at the tears rolling down their cheeks – partly from curry heat, partly from the croissant incident – it seemed appropriate to order up a final round of digestifs. Usually, in accordance with the TATTGOC charter, this would be a round of brandys but after a special Chapati Illumanti vote, the assembled ended up plumping for a round of whiskys (there was one abstention in favour of sambuca). Arriving in cute little shotglasses on a tray, the scene seemed briefly reminiscent of the drinking competition that first introduced cinema audiences to the wondrous Marion Ravenwood in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Only money changing hands and Mongolians shouting “pestori!” would have made it seem any more authentic (we had to make do with mongoloids).

A fine evening’s curry then, even if the final, generally indecipherable bill appeared to have crept into the upper echelons of Curry Club expenditure. At £34 each, it didn’t compare too favourably with most of our other outings, and Trampy – who prides himself at keeping a little running total updated in his head like Scrooge McDuck – couldn’t fathom how it had crept so high. But it is not in the TATTGOC nature to complain so the crew promptly stumped up and sallied out, heads held high. A few more abortive picture attempts outside still failed to get the actual signage in shot, but did reveal that Trampy had somehow conspired to get curry slathered all down his purple polo shirt, which become a somewhat disproportionate source of hilarity. After lingering so long in Rawalpindi though, most hard-working Curry Clubbers were looking for their beds. The blood brothers of unit Ravi Two Zero chastely embraced and disappeared into the night. Next time: it’s only been a bloody year of Curry Club! Hang onto your hats!

Range Of Drinks: Tennent’s and Cobra on draught; an impressive range of spirits (including “whisky”, “special whisky” and “malt whisky”)

Highlights: Nicely refurbished; lovely crockery; charming doorman; above average food.

Lowlights: Unexpected longeurs between courses; that indecipherable bill.

The Verdict: A surprisingly pleasant, if immoderate, experience!

The Damage: £204 (tip: £25.60)