From Our Foreign Curryspondent ... Dateline: New York!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here, our man in the Big Apple scours the island of Manhattan for a sniff of decent spices and finds himself in ... Brick Lane?)

Your Foreign Curryspondent: Martin Jalfrezi

Booking Name: Sonny Wortzik

The Pub Aforehand: As two of our intrepid band of currynauts had flown in from London the previous day, it seemed like a good idea to treat them to an authentic slice of gritty, punk-era New York. Mars Bar is the filthiest dive in the city, renowned for its clientele of Vietnam vets and heroin addicts. It looks utterly out of place on a long-since sterile section of Second Avenue. The last time Martin Jalfrezi was there, a Marine menaced him into buying a book of surprisingly tender handwritten poetry. Franklin D Vindaloosavelt, who lived around the corner in the early 1990s, once walked in on someone shooting up in the toilets. He offered to bring clean needles this time, so that the curry clubbers would not have to share their works. The sign above the door reads: "No Smoking … Crack."

In Attendance: Martin Jalfrezi, Vindaloo Reed, Chapati Smith, Franklin D Vindaloosavelt, Marilyn Monrogan Josh, Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong and Bob Dylan-daloo.

Décor: The Brick Lane Curry House proudly claims that “the next best curry house is across the Atlantic.” A table of trinkets from London, right by the door, tells patrons to expect a meal as British as Chicken Tikka Masala, followed by Earl Grey tea prepared in a bright red pot the shape of a double-decker bus. Only a happy-slap from the waiter on the way in could have made us feel more at home.

Expectations: It is notoriously difficult to find an English naan in New York. Curries tend to be swimming in grease, completely lacking in spice and even, in extreme cases, prepared by Mexicans. Four years living in this culinary desert had created an intense craving for a good Indian – a jones, as Americans say. Excitement ran high, but with some trepidation. Apparently, the place to go is the Bangladeshi quarter of Jackson Heights, in Queens, but no-one fancied spending three hours on the subway. The Murray "Curry" Hill area of Manhattan, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 40th streets, is known for Southern Indian cuisine of variable quality. Sixth Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, is densely populated with mediocre curry houses catering to tourists and New York University students. For reasons of convenience, we decided to go there, after spending several frustrating hours on Chowhound, Yelp and Citysearch discovering that "the wisdom of crowds" is a recipe for confusion. Could we trust the strangers writing favourable reviews of our chosen restaurant? We would soon find out.

The Experience:

Customers at the Brick Lane Curry House are invited to take the "Phaal Challenge" for a free pint and the honour of being added to the P’Hall Of Fame. The menu warns them that the dish in question is “an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavour” and requires them to offer a verbal disclaimer that any physical or mental damage that results is entirely self-inflicted.

Our assembled connoisseurs decided not to take them up on the offer, wary of falling into a burning ring of fire the next day – and with their wild and crazy student days long behind them. But it seems that taste buds and testosterone glands were piqued, resulting in a particularly hot order. The Korma police would find no yoghurt, no crushed almonds, indeed no reason to arrest these men.

This is what you get when you mess with us: Lamb Vindaloo, Goat Madras, Lamb Jalfrezi, Chicken Bhuna, Goan Shrimp Curry. The only concessions to metrosexuality were a dish of Saag Paneer, some Raita on the side, and a conversation about the relative merits of PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom. A starter of lamb chops, vegetable samosas and grilled chunks of chicken breast was devoured in seconds.

From the first bite, it was clear that we had found the Balti that never sleeps. The Lamb Vindaloo had an appropriately fiery aftertaste. The Goat Madras kicked like a mule. Sweating profusely into his napkin, Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong admitted to being “a bit of a perspirer” but gave the food top marks. The fact that the dishes all looked the same was slightly off-putting, but as they were also uniformly spicy and delicious, it mattered little.

The naans were fluffy, the paratha agreeably greasy and sensibly chopped in four to avoid fist fights. Although Martin Jalfrezi urged his companions to guzzle every last drop of masala, there was food left over: a testament to the generous portions.

There being four Englishmen present, Martin Jalfrezi’s Scottish ancestry notwithstanding, a discussion about Britain’s greatest curry cities ensued. It was agreed that London is not a contender and that Brick Lane – the street, the book, the film – is seriously over-rated. Bob Dylan-daloo suggested Leicester. Chapati Smith countered with Bradford. Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong ventured that Birmingham would feel slighted to be left out. Can Glasgow really claim to belong in such exalted company? Over to you, Trampy and The Tramp ...

Range Of Drinks: Kingfisher beers all round, served in large British pint glasses, rather than their smaller American cousins. Not cheap, though, at $8 each. One Mango Lassi, for Marilyn Monrogan Josh.

Highlights: The sheer relief of finding a curry house in New York that doesn’t hold back on the spices.

Lowlights: Tiny little baby wipes in stars’n’stripes packaging, rather than fresh, steaming hot towels. But really, there were no letdowns to speak of.

The Verdict: King of the hill, A-number one, top of the heap.

The Damage: The check did turn out to be something of a raging bill, mainly due to the aforementioned pints and the six million dollar naan - $5 for a paratha is a bit steep. The greenhorn curry clubbers had been informed of the “nae credit cards” policy in advance but to their eternal shame, Vindaloo Reed and Chapati Smith decided to take the cash and split the damage on plastic – “for the miles”.

It came to $286.34 between seven, plus tip. We decided to put in $46 each. So the final total was $322 and the tip a comparatively miserly (by New York standards) $35.66. At current exchange rates, we paid £30.66 a man. Two weeks ago, it would have been £27.87.

I blame Gordon Brown.


The Tramp said...

Great work Andrew, a thoroughly successful curry club outing it seems. Interestingly I think that restaurant is about to feature in an upcoming episode of a series called Man v Food which follows some American guy across America as he attempts various pig-out challenges. I think he attempts the phall challenge that you mentioned... should be interesting.

Trampy said...

It was all going so well - I particularly liked 'an English naan in New York' - until you suggested that Glasgow might not be the UK's premier curry city. And now you're barred. Oh well ...


Tikka Mabaws said...

Crikey - as chilis are to a phall, thus puns are to this curryspondence. Amazing stuff