REVIEW: Mad(ras) Men

Madras Palace, Charing Cross

The Time: October 22, 8.30pm

Booking Name: Cameron Virtue (as chosen by The Bulldosa)

The Pub Aforehand: The Bon Accord, North Street

In Attendance: The Bulldosa, Trampy, The Tramp, Ravi Peshwari, The Gheezer ... and a returning special guest!

Decor: Large and airy, neutral colours and art prints on the wall, the odd pot plant.

Expectations: Few Clubbers recognised the name initally but there were flickers of recognition when they were informed that the Madras Palace was previously Panjea, with the award-winning chef PJ. That seemed to stoke up anticipation of a good feed.

The Experience:

October is a good month for revolutions. Just ask the Russians. But what on Earth would TATTGOC be like if long-time spicy architects Trampy and The Tramp were overthrown? That was the tantalising prospect of October’s recent official meet-up, where long-suffering lieutenant The Bulldosa took up the reins to organise what would undoubtedly be the most spectacular TATTGOC to date ...

At least, that was the plan. And the wind of change was blowing through from the very outset, when The Bulldosa – perhaps puffed with confidence after the success of September’s visit to The Viceroy, a venue that canny young BuDo had both discovered and recommended – announced that for only the third (or maybe fourth) time in TATTGOC’s history, it would not take place on the usual Thursday night. Nay, it would take place on a Friday, allowing even more rambunctious carousal than usual. A potentially volatile situation!

One immediate upshot of meeting on a Friday was the busyness of the pub aforehand – the Bon Accord, Charing Cross’s destination boozer for the real ale crowd, was stowed by 7pm, where youngling mastermind The Bulldosa sat, alone, waiting for the first domino in his elaborate schema to fall. The Gheezer was first to arrive, closely followed by The Tramps, who both had a cheerful countenance and notable spring in their step having shucked off the heavy logistical load of TATTGOC responsibility (The Tramp still had his trusty camera though). Then Ravi Peshwari arrived, giving the thumbs-up to Inveralmond Brewery's ale Ossian as a pre-curry sharpener. Those offering their apologies included Sir Spicy Lover (babysitting), Rogan Josh Homme (London Film Festival) and Rabbie Shankar (working late and “wet pants”). The Bulldosa did have one special ace to play however ... a special returning guest.

There seemed to be a lot of chat about the travails of backing up Windows 7, but more intriguing was some bar-room reminiscence over the “Croy hold”. While it sounded suspiciously like a mixed martial arts move, it was actually an ancient technique of cradling a crisp packet that ensured anyone dipping their hand in didn’t walk off with the whole bag. Useful knowledge indeed. With the mystery guest en route, a calm and collected Bulldosa led his merry band out the back of the Bon Accord and round the corner to reveal their handy destination: the mighty Madras Palace.

The name is new but the place has been around for a while. Formerly Panjea, and before that PJ’s (and before even that a garage), the current incarnation retains a selection of notable press clippings in the vestibule to attest to its spicy provenance. Inside, it’s a big, single room – large enough to accommodate a decent bar and a separate but notably comfortable-looking waiting area for those picking up takeaways. In a burst of initial enthusiasm, the Bulldosa had initially enquired about a table for eight or so but it looked like it would be another six-strong outing, although the promised wild card/wild rover had yet to materialise. The restaurant was pretty much empty but some inviting mood music and tantalising odours made it seem most welcoming.

The Madras Palace boasted Kingfisher on tap and since that venerable company have been kind enough to support the blog, it seemed appropriate to order up a round. Clearly comfortable in his leading role, the Bulldosa rapped out how things would go down – for only the second (or maybe third) time in TATTGOC history, we’d be chowing down on a buffet. The assembled Curry Clubbers got a sneak preview of their choices as they attended the buffet to pick up some poppadoms and selected dips (including, to Ravi Peshwari’s approval, some jalapeno chilis alongside the usual mango chutney and spiced onions). Just as the team cracked into their poppadoms, the mystery guest swung in the door like Dick Turpin, or perhaps Zorro: it was none other than The Birmingham Wan, who’d returned from his current home of Leeds to report back to his TATTGOC brethren!

A master storyteller and raconteur, The Birmingham Wan began regaling the table with tales of northern England – once a cold Kingfisher had been pressed into his palm, of course. The appearance of the final attendee also heralded the arrival, after a few minutes, of the mixed starters, a wide selection of pakora that arrived on two enormous plates. Firing into the chicken, mixed vegetable and mushroom offerings (plus a few awesome onion rings), every Clubber was keen to note how fresh these pakora tasted – literally, as if they’d just been made. The considerable piles were slowly demolished, while conversation inexplicably shifted to the topic of Cyril Sneer, the demented, distinctive villain from incomprehensible cartoon series The Raccoons.

Another round of Kingfishers was sought, while the Clubbers took a wee break between courses. The Bulldosa confessed he’d been swayed to undertake the buffet option to avoid tangling with the ever-knotty rice/naan equation but to that end, he had only half-succeeded; while Clubbers would be able to help themselves to as much or little rice as they desired during their visit to the buffet proper, there was still the responsibility of ordering a la carte naans for the assembled. With bold authority that belied his nervousness, the Bulldosa requested the classic tricolore of plain, garlic and peshwari.

You might imagine that the arrival of these naans would be the starter gun for the buffet scramble but some Clubbers couldn’t contain themselves, so determined where they to get stuck in. At previous buffets, Trampy had been slightly disheartened when the selections were advertised by a pre-painted guide, suggesting that the same six or seven dishes were trotted out without any variation. At the Madras Palace, it appeared there was considerably more turnover, with scrawled jumbo Post-Its identifying the day’s dishes – standards like aloo gobi and chicken korma but also lamb katima and lamb pallak, and a fantastic potato and aubergine dish. Plates piled high, Bulldosa’s not-so-secret six got stuck in. By this time, there were a few more patrons in the restaurant and it felt a bit more “Friday night”. There was no rush, though; quite the opposite. Everything about the set-up seemed designed to put everyone at ease, and some of the more tactical Curry Clubbers were already weighing up their digestive options to ensure a second visit to the buffet, or at the very least an ice-cream from the alluring Electro Freeze machine.

It all seemed to be going pretty well, but when the main course plates were spirited away, The Bulldosa sprang his second surprise of the evening – forcing the Tramps to rummage in a supermarket carrier bag to reveal ... matching black wigs and warty noses? Trampy and The Tramp were suddenly transformed into Vampy and The Vamp, although glancing in any nearby mirror would probably have broken it. The founders of TATTGOC may be handsome, almost dangerously masculine men but they make for a brace of fairly terrifying witches. Let's just say Elvira needn't worry about any mistress-of-the-dark competition anytime soon.

In fact, it looked like a particularly hellish Stars In Their Eyes instalment in which two bearded brickies had both decided to emulate late-career Cher. "Where's your wiccan hat?" asked one Clubber. "On my wiccan head!" replied Trampy. The hideous rubber noses were passed around for general hijinx, including some unwelcome trouser-based manipulations that would give even Grotbags pause (there's some pictorial evidence in the sidebar slideshow but be warned: those conks go in some fairly unsavoury places).

Remaining in costume, the Tramps flounced across the restaurant to keep their appointment with the Electro Freeze, squeezing out Mr Whippy-style bowlfuls of ice-cream to which they added the requisite strawberry sauce. TATTGOC has never been big on desserts – although it might be time to reinstate the customary brandy as a digestif – but these topped off the meal splendidly. After Bulldosa took care of the (extremely reasonable) bill, there was even time to have a nosy around the second floor, a spacious function room that often plays host to curry karaoke evenings. While Ravi Peshwari asked a series of increasingly specific questions about the sound system, Trampy noticed with appreciation that a bloody hockey mask adorned one of the bar taps in preparation for Halloween. All in all, a highly successful outing which, despite some bad weather, left everyone truly satisfied. Madras Palace and The Bulldosa, TATTGOC salutes you!

And while you might imagine things will get back to normal next month, bear in mind it will be the blog's second birthday ...

Range Of Drinks: The mighty Kingfisher on tap, and Tennent’s too.

Highlights: Attentive service, wide range of buffet dishes.

Lowlights: The smallish turnout was emphasised by a lack of other diners.

The Verdict: A filling – and fulfilling – experience!

The Damage: £108.00 (tip £12)


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