REVIEW: Koh Blimey!

The Koh-i-Noor, Charing Cross

The Time: November 19, 8.30pm

Booking Name: Mr James Cameron

The Pub Aforehand: The Avalon, Kent Road

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, Rabbie Shankar, Sir Spicy Lover, Rumpole Of The Balti, Rogan Josh Homme, Ravi Shankar, Jalfrezi, The Gheezer and Lime Pickle ... crikey, that's just about everyone!

Decor: Reassuringly regal outside, pleasantly palatial inside.

Expectations: A few Clubbers had ventured inside Koh-i-Noor over the years but certainly not recently. The fact that it was enormodome-big made some initially suspect that the food couldn’t possibly be top-notch.

The Experience:

The most prestigious parties often have the most stringent dress codes: black tie, lounge suit, vicars and tarts. So with Trampy And The Tramp’s Glasgow Of Curry hitting a milestone in meet-ups – a full head-spinning, gutbusting, digestion-terrorising year – it was decided by Trampy and The Tramp that the occasion would be marked in two atypical ways. First of all, the actual location of the restaurant would remain a secret until the very last minute. And second, each member of the TATTGOC brotherhood would be asked to wear a tie. Such requests are open to interpretation. The Tramp opted for a daringly spotted number, paired with chunky sports jacket and a flat cap, as if playing one of the lead roles in a particularly belligerent reboot of Last Of The Summer Wine. Trampy modelled a striped Pierre Cardin shirt with a deeply-patterned tie of rich browns. The professional, go-getting effect was perhaps spoiled by the addition of a scraggy green Adidas hoodie, which gave Trampy the air of an embittered call centre worker compelled to wear a tie at work, but still clinging on to some vestige of individualism and self-determination even while placing one heavy foot in front of the other down Sauchiehall Street, dutifully following Jacqui and the girls from accounts towards Jumpin’ Jaks.

As the Tramps sat in The Avalon – a recently refurbished Charing Cross boozer with much to recommend it in terms of comfort and “atmos” – they idly wondered how many of the brotherhood would actually bother to honour the request. Within an hour, they had their awesome answer: every single damn one of them. Eleven TATTGOC members filled the Avalon lounge with snorting and laughter like God’s own curry jury. Each had their own style – squint a bit and The Duke could have been The Equalizer – but the cumulative effect was nothing if not impressive. These were cleary serious men intent on serious business. It was just a shame that two of the most enthusiastic members of TATTGOC – iconoclastic megalomaniac The Bulldosa and deadeye dart-slinger The Birmingham Wan – were unable to attend. As cool pints of Tennent’s were consumer, the various conversation inevitably veered towards a single topic: where were the troop headed?

The point of keeping the location classified was twofold for the Tramps. For one, it meant they didn’t actually have to decide until pretty much the last minute. And by keeping it on the downlow, they wouldn’t have to deal with any objections that the chosen venue didn’t really fit in with the ramshackle TATTGOC charter. That mission statement pledges that the brotherhood foregoes visits to prominent Glasgow establishments the better to dig up hidden gems instead. The Koh-i-Noor – for that was the chosen place – is arguably one of the most famous curryhouses in Glasgow, with a formidable reputation for its original Gibson Street location and a high-profile prominence in its current Charing Cross locale. So why there? Put simply, the Tramps wanted to mark the anniversary by going somewhere a bit swish where the chances of everyone getting a decent curry were reasonably high. Also, when Trampy phoned to book the table, he was informed that the Switch machine was on the blink so only cash would be accepted – and considering that the only adamantine rule of TATTGOC is “nae cards”, this seemed like fate.

After a necessarily quick group shot outside the restaurant in the pouring rain, the eleven hungry men entered the warmth and luxury of the Koh-i-Noor to be seated near the centerpiece fountain, made all the more wondrous by being surrounded by an extensive buffet. In recent months, it has sometimes been a bit of a faff just to get a round of lagers and poppadoms on the go but within minutes, spicy battle had been joined. With shirtsleeves rolled up, huddled in deep conversation, the group might have been mistaken for corporate businessmen attending a conference, debating important strategic planning for the next year (a whiteboard at the head of the table reading “TATTGOC: Which Way Now?” would have completed the illusion). If an observer crept closer, though, they would soon have realised the chat had less do with capitalist ambition than comparing the Koh-i-Noor’s delicious mango chutney with the Ghostbusters-esque ectoplasm the crew faced on their very first outing all those months ago.

As is traditional, The Tramp requested an improvisatory range of starters, essentially giving the staff carte blanche to give us whatever they thought best. While this strategy has backfired in the past with plates piled with fairly nondescript pakora and the odd bit of tandoori chicken, the Koh-i-Noor apparently took it as a challenge to show their range and flexibility. Multiple plates of tandoori chicken, garlic mushrooms, fish pakora and tender rashmi boti descended like an alien invasion fleet. And, as it turned out, that was just the first wave: further plates of pakora bookended the table, creating a slightly overwhelming feast. Ties be damned – the brotherhood tucked in and, characteristically, whenever someone discovered a particularly tasty morsel, they alerted the far end of the table and offered to pass it along (of course, in many cases the morsel was swiped by another member as the plate glided along, but at least the thought was there).

Although the buffet was mere inches away, the Tramps had made the command decision to go for the A La Carte menu, otherwise the night would have been little more than an extended conga as various members shuffled up and down out of their seats to try something else. After the superior spread of starters, some of the brotherhood were looking pretty full up (that extra half hour in The Avalon meant that a fair bit of drink had been taken). Usually the Tramps are quite exacting about the rice/naan equation to ensure that everyone gets what they want without too much wastage, they know had so much confidence in the waiting staff they put the matter entirely in their hands. The promise of a selection of naan sounded tantalising, but nothing could have prepared the group for the astonishing special naan that arrived – similar in colour to the legendary “Sherid-naan” but with the addition of dried fruit. And, to the approval of The Tramp, the naans (and some chapatis too) all arrived in their natural state, rather than cut up and presented in baskets.

The curries themselves arrived looking succulent and delicious. Sir Spicy Lover’s lamb handi boasted an impressive, long-handled ladle to aid serving that caused a little bit of utensil envy at the far end of the table. For his part, Rumpole Of The Balti polished off an impressive tandoori selection, and then made some impressive in-roads into the chicken curry of Lime Pickle. At this point, the chat had turned to wild and absurd ideas – the most insidious being that at each future TATTGOC meeting, one member (chosen at random) should be forced to choose from the European Dishes selection. One villain even insisted that this dish should be Chicken Maryland, every single time. Consuming such relatively bland fare while comrades tucked into things sizzling and spicy seemed like a cruel and unusual punishment indeed, the product of a particularly twisted imagination.

Halfway through the decimation of the main courses, the Koh-i-Noor manager approached the table to extend an astonishingly kind offer – if any of the brotherhood fancied trying the buffet, they were welcome to help themselves. Remarkably, no-one actually took up the suggestion – presumably a mixture of middle-class politeness and the fact that they were well stuffed. In the early planning stages, there had been talk of making a special first birthday cake for TATTGOC but it would have remained untouched, so gormandised were the crew.

As everyone knows, the Tramps aren’t ones for fancy talk, so there was very little in the way of self-congratulation – or no more than usual, at least. There was one small presentational part of the evening, however. Unbeknownst to the assembled mob, a special prize was up for grabs: a pure silk tie gifted to Trampy by the Indian Ministry of Tourism during a press trip many years before. The winner? The Clubber who had managed to spill the most curry on their tie. After a quick glance round the table it was revealed that due to some miracle, no-one had actually sullied their neckwear.

The winning conditions were subsequently relaxed. Had anyone spilt any curry on themselves? After a short period of examination, it was revealed that Sir Spicy Lover had somehow conspired to get a couple of globs on his shirt. And so, he modestly accepted the prize, and even politely put it on then and there. As a generous selection of sweets arrived with the bill, Trampy girded his girth – surely such a top-notch meal would make paupers of the brotherhood for the next week or so? As it turned out, the total was exceptionally reasonable, crowning a memorable, emotional and satisfying anniversary. There was a toast to the committed brotherhood, to those Curry Clubbers missing in action, and a final toast to wives and sweethearts … may they never meet!

Range Of Drinks: Tennent’s and Cobra on draught.

Highlights: Fantastic spread of starters; excellent service; princely décor.

Lowlights: Not being able to take advantage of the buffet, but that was kind of our own fault.

The Verdict: A suitably celebratory experience!

The Damage: £272.55 (tip: £30.45)

Happy Naanniversary!

What a difference a year makes!

Trampy And The Tramp's Glasgow Of Curry was first properly incorporated twelve months ago. And it's reassuring to know that in these perpetually uncertain times, curry remains a comforting constant ...

Now, what more do we have to do to get a congratulatory telegram from First Minister and Irn-Bru Scottish Curry Awards Curry Lover Of The Year 2009 Alex Salmond? Mon, Eck! Gies a 'gram!

From Our Foreign Curryspondent … Dateline: Bath!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here, The Lord Of The Dansak experiences what must be the most celebrity-endorsed curryhouse in the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset ... if not the world.)

REVIEW: The Eastern Eye in Bath

Your Foreign Curryspondent: The Lord Of The Dansak

The Date: October 4

Booking Name: None, this was spontaneous curriage.

The Pub Aforehand: The Raven

In Attendance: The Lord Of The Dansak, Thali Ho

Decor: Georgian period features overlaid with art in a subcontinental pastiche, overlaid with direction signs.

Expectations: "Very Very good foods charming service", as enjoyed by Maureen Lipman (actress, The Pianist)

The Experience:

Sandwiched between a lingerie shop and a far-flung outpost of Edinburgh's favourite state-owned banking basket-case RBS, it would be easy to miss the entrance to The Eastern Eye, were it not plastered from head to garish foot in stickers – and even banners – from Harden's, Les Routiers, the AA, the Curry Club and many other venerable guides. Your correspondents hadn't actually gone to Bath for a curry and nearly managed to walk on past. Fortunately The Lord Of The Dansak's curiosity had been piqued by the breathless self-promotion displayed on the exterior and he grabbed a takeaway menu.

On the menu the amateur-hour advertising was taken to a whole new level with a page of 24 (24!) celebrity endorsements. And not just local radio sublebrities or random I-suppose-they-count-as-famous-people, like Tom King, former Northern Ireland Secretary ("A much enjoyable evening") but also actual, genuine stars like Roger Moore ("The food and service – Unforgettable"). Roger frickin' Moore! ("The food and service – Frickin' unforgettable!")

Clearly this wasn't a curry house that could be ignored. It's not wise to pass up the "Best Indian food ever!" (Jenny Powell, Wheel Of Fortune TV presenter). Our dinner plans were promptly changed.

Pre-prandial drinks were provided by The Raven around the corner, which had just started a beer festival to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Although the most amusingly named beer (Wags To Witches – those wacky brewers, eh?) wasn't yet available we had a pint of tasty Brimstone to prepare us for the curry fire.

Somewhat against the natural order of a curry night we had nearly decided on our order before leaving the pub, although it was all too easy to be distracted from the actual food on the menu by those celebrity endorsements ("A fine meal ... great fresh herbs too!" – Keith Floyd, TV chef).

Behind that colourful frontage the dining room of the Eastern Eye is reached by a steep flight of stairs to the first floor; it is, in fact, above the premises of the aforementioned failed financial institution. Greeting us on the stairs was a giant poster advertising the restaurant's monthly Elvis night. Had our timing been … different, we could have enjoyed our curry while being entertained by an Elvis impersonator. The poster recommended booking early to avoid disappointment (in a 170-cover establishment!) but we guessed that disappointment would be more easily avoided by staying away from the Elvis night altogether. Although what do we know? Maybe it would have been "Excellent" (Brooke Shields, actress). Maybe Elvis was what Brooke particularly enjoyed (she is clearly an aficionado of UK curryhouses).

Inside, the Eye is an impressive space for dining, a long and wide room running the full depth of the building, with large windows at each end and three glass domes in the ceiling. The walls are decorated with murals in an Indian style and hung with depictions of Hindu godesses in embossed bronze. The trend for excessive signage so noticeable on the exterior continues, with no fewer than five signs pointing out the exit, all within ten feet of the exit door itself. It's hard to believe that their customers are usually that drunk when they're trying to leave, but an encouraging omen if so. After all, it could be the alcohol that spurred Jane Seymour to call the Eye "My favourite restaurant" – I love you man, you're my beshtest curry house.

Somewhat marring the effect of the decor were large, stealth-grey air conditioning units protruding from one wall, much the way the grille of a T-bird adorns every faux-American diner in the UK. Only in a formation of four. And even uglier. But at least some people appreciate them, including Johnny Depp (actor): "Excellent food ... air conditioning really helps ..."

The Thali Ho (also known, on more formal occasions, as Lady Dansak) broke with all curry tradition and common sense by ordering the house white. This lapse was redeemed by the consequent discovery that the bottles of house wine have Eastern Eye branded labels, a touch fondly imagined by proprietors to make their establishment seem more classy, although it nearly always has the opposite effect. Draught beer was Lal Toofan, and although other lagers were available in bottle, a pint was swiftly delivered to assuage the Lord's thirst. (Incidentally, with that name, coupled with the traditionally random spelling of curry house menus, isn't Lal Toofan missing an advertising trick in the internet age? It would only take a slight tweak ...)

Poppadoms were properly crisp and came with a superior hot lime pickle. Other accompaniments were competent (is it possible to get mango chutney wrong?) and overall our expectations were maintained for "A fantastic meal" (Rolf Harris, cartoonist and star of TV's Animal Hospital).

Thali Ho was not disappointed by her Chicken Hariyali, apparently a Nepalese recipe for the tandoor: the marinade of herbs and spices was "So Wonderful" (Lesley Joseph, Dorien from BBC Bird's Of A Feather) that it was easy to overlook that the chicken was a mite overcooked and dry.

The Lord Of The Dansak was tempted by the Butty Kebab just for its comedy potential, but is at heart an onion bhaji traditionalist when it comes to starters ... and paid the price for his lack of adventure. Two enormous, wrinkled and thoroughly dessicated brown lumps were served up, resembling nothing so much as a pair of camel testicles left out for a year in the Sahara. Deep inside them there lurked a tiny moist core of tasty onion but the majority was barely edible. They were accompanied by one of those pointless green salads (who goes to a curry house for the salad?) that in this case didn't even provide a contrast to the deep-fried indulgence of the bhajis, being equally parched and inedible. If cucumbers consist of about 90% water, it turns out that the 10% that's left when all the water has evaporated is something you don't want to put in your mouth. The popular theory at the table was that the dish had been prepared before service and left under heat lamps for an hour (salad and all) before serving, although there was speculation about what the dots at the end of Depp's endorsement were hiding ("air conditioning really helps ...”... suck the last moisture from a plate of food before you get a chance to eat it?)

Things brightened considerably with the arrival of the mains, not least from the crimson glow of Thali Ho's sauce, which lent a disturbing tinge of "emergency lighting red" to everything around the table. Her Chicken Tikka Taka Tak was a pungent blend of curry spices underscored by a nicely judged kick of chilli heat. This was probably the best flavour of the meal and a dish to order on a return visit, although she pointed out that she didn't find any chunks of chicken bigger than a sugar cube, giving her some doubts about the quality of the meat.

Lord of the Dansak's choice of Vegetable Jalfrezi wasn't too clever: not that there was anything wrong with the dish, just that it's such a simple confection of vegetables and chillis that it doesn't provide much basis for judging the quality of the restaurant. As we were only a roving duo of foreign curryspondents there was always a risk that two mains wouldn't give enough data points to make a fair review, and The Lord Of The Dansak surely wasted one of them. But, y'know, the Jalfrezi was fine. Side dishes couldn't be faulted: Tarka Dhal was thick and savoury; the rice in the Mushroom Rice had absorbed the mushroomy flavours and wasn't short on mushroom bits; and the Garlic Naan was fluffy on one side, crisp on the other, properly garlicky and not too thick.

Let's end with a quote from an actual publication (yes, there's a whole nother page of the menu devoted to glowing endorsements): "The world's best curry." As you'll have realised, that's something of an overstatement, but what's interesting about it is that it comes from the BBC's "huh, is that still going?" proto-Wikipedia h2g2. So I look forward to seeing what words from TATTGOC get pulled out of context for the next printing. Let's hope it's "The Eastern Eye: it's the camel's baws."

Range Of Drinks: LolToofanz on draught, other lagers in bottle.

Highlights: Chicken Tikka Taka Tak, the only Indian dish that can be ordered by pretending to fire a machine gun. The menu quote from Brian Conley (comedian & actor), where someone appears to have transcribed the bit where the mic was left on: "Wonderful evening ... what more do you want?"

Lowlights: Absurdly dry starters.

The Verdict: Not bad food, but you may get more enjoyment from staying at home and just reading the menu.

The Damage: £65.78 (service included)

Phall Your Boots At The Curry News Buffet

There are weeks where there is simply SO MUCH happening in the giddy world of Trampy And The Tramp's Glasgow Of Curry, we literally don't know where to begin. This, sadly, isn't one of those weeks.

Next Thursday, we'll be carrying a brand new Foreign Curryspondent report from a Bath curryhouse that's been patronised by everyone from Johnny Depp to Les Dennis. And after that we'll have to get properly down to the business of celebrating the first glorious year of TATTGOC. But until then, why not pick at our buffet of self-aggrandising curry news nuggets? And if you have any to add, drop us a line at ...

Can't Get There From Here
Since its launch a mere five weeks ago, the official TATTGOC Google Map has racked up an astonishing 1300+ hits. Post your unwarranted five-star review and alienatingly in-jokey comment here. We've also added a neat widget in the sidebar called IP2Map, which shows you where the last 100 blog visitors hail from. So a big "hola" to whoever popped by from Chile the other day.

Eck Marks The Spat
It's not that we begrudge Alex Salmond his Irn-Bru Scottish Curry Awards Curry Lover Of The Year 2009 title. But we're not above entering into a little bit of character assassination, the better to clear the path to a Trampy and The Tramp nomination (and perhaps even victory) in 2010. Enjoy some light ribbing of Wee Eck here.

A Proper Ruby Tuesday
Did you know that National Curry Week is later this month, running from November 22-28? Oddly, there are participating restaurants in Aberdeen and Edinburgh but none in Glasgow. That hasn't prevented Irn-Bru Scottish Curry Awards Curry Lover Of The Year 2009 Alex Salmond from posting a self-important message of support on the website. CURSE YOU, WEE ECK! For full details of a World Record Poppadom Tower attempt and a call for entries to a bewildering curry poem competition, click here.

Y'know, For Kids
TATTGOC missionary Sir Spicy Lover is patiently shaping the development of our future leaders, and has twigged that the best way to remould young minds is to destroy them first with videogames. Check out his inspirational video here.

A Picture Of Batman In A Kilt!
I think we can all appreciate the relevance of that right now.