REVIEW: A Tale Of One City

(Hey friends! Today is an important day for democracy, so don't forget to vote. And once you've exercised your democratic right, you might also consider nominating Trampy, The Tramp and all of TATTGOC as Curry Lovers Of The Year in the Irn-Bru Scottish Curry Awards 2010. Closing date is May 19. Yes we naan!)

Spice Of The City, nr Central Station

The Time: April 22, 8.30pm

Booking Name: Christopher Nolan

The Pub Aforehand:
Park Lane, Hope Street

In Attendance:
Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, The Bulldosa, Rogan Josh Homme and The Birmingham Wan.

Decor: While it may be surrounded by crumbly buildings and empty sites awaiting redevelopment, Spice Of The City is spruce and modern. The upstairs looked to have a nice big dining room too but remained in darkness during our visit.

Expectations: No Curry Clubber had commented on this restaurant in the year or so it had been open – but it had always intrigued Trampy ever since he discovered a picture of Nicola Sturgeon cutting a red ribbon to open it. There was a bus in the background advertising Johnny Depp's Public Enemies so Trampy reckoned it must have been during that crazy summer of 2009.

The Experience:

April is the cruellest month, breeding.
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing.
Memory and desire, stirring.
Dull roots with spring rain …

Our old pal Thomas Stearns Eliot there, with the opening lines from his classic feelgood hit of the springtime, The Wasteland. But perhaps TS wasn’t talking total BS, for April 2010 did seem like a cruel month indeed: an Icelandic volcano let out a mighty morphin’ magma belch and promptly reset northern Europe to the days before the Wright Brothers. As the atmospheric crisis lengthened, concerned citizens began to wonder: how could things get worse? The emergence of another airplane-paralysing cloud of ash and particulate? Or having to listen to once-marooned travellers artlessly retell their endless “travel chaos” stories at every dinner party until the end of time? Things looked grim indeed.

It wasn’t much happier round TATTGOC way. After fixating on a relatively new Gibson Street restaurant for their proposed April outing – any excuse to revisit that boulevard’s remarkably storied curryhouse history, which includes lengthy chapters on both the Shish Mahal and Koh-i-Noor – Trampy and The Tramp were dismayed to discover their target had abruptly shut up shop the very week of the planned visit. (It has since reopened as a fairly decent-looking Persian restaurant, bringing the number of Persian eateries within staggering distance of Trampy’s eyrie to a mind-boggling FOUR). With barely 72 hours to go before the scheduled curry visit, our heroes had to think on their feet – never the best. They settled on Spice Of The City, a cosmopolitan curry restaurant and takeaway smack-bang in the middle of the city centre. Due to the late notice, they figured, this probably wasn’t the time to aim for Glasgow’s outer boroughs.

As for the pub aforehand, a multitude of hostelries lie in the shadow of Central Station – enough to easily select a venue that no Curry Clubber had ever entered before. Trampy almost proposed a visit to the Alpen Lodge, an outwardly scruffy Hope Street alehouse with a stylised frontage that evokes Hansel And Gretel, but he stopped short because of his (probably unfounded) fear that it would be more like Hansel And Grendel once inside. In the end, the Monopoly-evoking Park Lane was selected, the revised schedule was transmitted to the masses and – fast-forwarding a bit – Trampy and The Tramp again found themselves in their favourite repose: nursing pints of Tennent’s in a new pub.

Blame it on the wrath of Eyjafjallajokull, but there were a number of call-offs. The Gheezer, for example, was en route toward Birmingham, that city at the very heart of England which endlessly vies for the UK’s curry crown with oor ain Glasgow. Still, within an hour, a tightly-knit team of six curry commandos had assembled: The Duke, able to enlighten everyone about what was actually happening to our airspace; Rogan Josh Homme, who’d had to cancel a first date with Iron Man 2 in London because of the Eyja fallout; the Bulldosa, staring down the barrel of a 30th birthday but looking remarkably composed; and The Birmingham Wan, preparing physically and spiritually for his forthcoming relocation to Leeds. These were men on a mission.

A follow-up phone call to confirm the number of currynauts in attendance threw up another intriguing wrinkle; though Spice Of The City was unlicensed, there was an option to bring booze without even having to worry about corkage. With that in mind, the clubbers travelled in caravan toward a nearby supermarket, forgoing the Marks & Sparks Simply Food in Central Station on the reasonable assumption that it would be foolish to pay £5.49 for a four-pack of non-branded Belgian lager called Etoile A Somesuch. They were right to be skeptical as Somerfield came through with a cracking 8-for-a-fiver deal on Tuborg, which is like Carlsberg’s music-sponsorship-obsessed Mini-Me.

Thus outfitted, the team rocked up at Spice Of The City, ready to chow down. Half of the venue’s ground floor is given over to a standard takeaway layout, albeit one with a nicer counter and more rigorous approach to hygiene than the usual. The restaurant half is functional but equally, appealingly clean. On the night of TATTGOC’s visit, the motley crew were the only a la carte customers (although an older couple did arrive later to sit in the window). A quick scan of the menu – downloadable here – revealed a range of dishes wider than one might first suspect, with some tantalising thali options and a whole array of pooris. One particular item in the starter section had caught The Tramp’s eye – spicy potato fritters. Balancing out the fritters with a portion of mixed pakora, the crew then threw caution to their ties and loosened the wind by requesting a £10 sizzler platter as well. (As Trampy is often heard to suggest when the membership is so manageable, “Why don’t we get something nice?”) The Bulldosa essentially took charge of this first phase of the evening, efficiently ordering up some plain and mango lassis for those who didnae fancy Tuborg much.

As ever with Curry Club, half of the fun of the evening is catching up with the picaresque adventures of the revolving membership, reliving their tight scrapes, amorous apassionatas and career triumphs. It was only partway through hearing the highlights from The Duke and The Tramp’s recent visit to Hamburg that it dawned on the assembled that the starters were taking a fair wee while – but that’s perhaps to be expected when ordering so many sizzling tandoori treats. Ten minutes later, as The Tramp launched into his umpteenth wurst-related anecdote, some currynauts reported feeling faint and dizzy while battling hungriness. As if on cue, the starters descended, helpfully illustrating the takeaway yin and restaurant yang duality at the heart of Spice Of The City. At first glance, the fritters and mixed pakora resembled the scran one might get from Barbecue Kings after a long session in The Doublet – a comparison reinforced by the onion rings among the pakora selection (which, to onion ring enthusiast Trampy was undoubtedly a real plus). The sizzling platter, however, heaved with fantastic chicken tikka, lamb tikka, chicken chaat, seekh kebab and lamb chops. See? Sometimes it is worth getting something nice.

The starter plates were picked clean - even the salad! - and the squad settled down in anticipation of the main courses, discreetly making use of the ground-floor disabled toilet rather than venturing up the stairs to the darkened first floor. The legendary rice/naan equation had been slightly complicated with the option of "regular" or "large" rice, and after some reheated debate, the decision was made to plump for two large dishes: one boiled, one pilau. Thought tempted by the eponymous Spice Of The City naan (at £4, it must have something pretty special going on), the crew eventually agreed on a brace of naans: a peshwari and a garlic. As the Tuborg and lassi flowed, there was a slight air of impatience creeping around the table, perhaps because of the mouthwatering aromas wafting from the kitchen. When they did finally arrive, however, the main courses looked terrific, each served in their own lidded dish, a presentational flourish the Curry Club hasn't experienced in a fair wee while.

A little less conversation, a little more makhani – our brave currynauts plated up their spicy feast and settled into their usual troughing groove. A pungent Bindhi Ghosht with coriander and ladyfingers proved a highlight when it came to swapsies, while an unusual Pista Pasanda overflowed with nutty creaminess. While many currynauts seemed to be taking the opportunity to leave their comfort zone, Trampy had been impelled to return to the promised land of South Indian Chili Garlic chicken – a dish he practically subsisted on while working near the Wee Curry Shop in Cowcaddens. The lamb variant he sampled at Spice Of The City was good enough to compete with that idealised memory, and each tangy mouthful was a tear-inducing trip down memory lane: like one of Proust's transportive Madeleines, but with way more punjabi spices.

Mouths that mere minutes before had been grumbling about the delay were now wordlessly rearranging themselves into the exaggerated vowel shapes of overpowering culinary appreciation. There may indeed have been an agonising wait for the feast to arrive, but to a bearded man, the attending crew gave Spice Of The City an enthusiastic and heartfelt thumbs-up, especially when appraised of the very reasonable final tally. And they weren't even drunk! Just another surprising milestone in the ongoing saaga of TATTGOC ...

Range Of Drinks: Unlicensed but that meant we were able to bring our own bottles of cheapo Tuborg and there were some nice lassis too.

Highlights: Amazing food, fuss-free BYOB and a cheerful stone elephant statue at the top of the stairs.

Lowlights: Not much atmosphere and sloooooow service … but the food was worth it in the end.

The Verdict: An urbane, urban experience!

The Damage: £76.80 (tip: £11.20)


Paul said...

A corker of an entry. Enjoyed that.