REVIEW: Red-Faced Chilli Imbibers

Chillies West End, Woodlands Road

The Time: June 17, 8pm

Booking Name: Joe Carnahan

The Pub Aforehand: The Arlington, Woodlands Road

In Attendance:
Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, The Bulldosa, The Gheezer, Rumpole Of The Balti, Sir Spicy Lover, The Birmingham Wan and flying in for one night only: Karahi … CHOP!

Decor: Formerly a liked but unremarkable-looking one-room takeaway, Chillies West End transformed a couple of years ago into a smart, expansive, modern curryhouse with nice hardwood tables, lots of exposed brickwork, abstract wall sculptures and a sophisticated atmos. One Curry Clubber claimed the bathroom was the nicest he’d seen in 18 months of troughing with TATTGOC.

Expectations: Well-reviewed online and heartily recommended by colleagues, Chillies seemed like a sure thing – although the Tramps’ typically slack advance research didn’t extend to realising it was a tapas-style joint. But what could go wrong?

The Experience:

Where’s an open-topped bus when you need one? Understandably, spirits were sky-high in advance of TATTGOC’s June meet-up. Just 48 hours earlier, Trampy and The Tramp had electrified the Scottish Curry Awards 2010 with their signature fusion of sartorial dash and dynamite chat (Frank from Kingfisher, if you’re reading – get in touch! Seriously!) before giddily steaming off into the night with the coveted Curry Lover(s) of the Year trophy. What could have been a commiseration-filled curry consumed under a cloud now felt destined to be a victory lap for the entire TATTGOC brotherhood. The Tramps proceeded up Woodlands Road toward the Arlington with the assured stride of spicy titans, thinking themselves every inch the chosen ones: dedicated, inseparable, invincible. Hell, even the sun was shining! What a great day to be alive! What a great day to love curry!

If a shadow flickered at their hearts, it was merely a twinge of regret that some of the most dedicated Curry Clubbers would be absent. Ravi Peshwari? Cleansing body and soul on a meditative retreat in Nepal. Rogan Josh Homme? Running his rigorous rule over the Edinburgh International Film Festival. And Rabbie Shankar? Going to work on an Eigg. There was also the inescapable fact that this would The Birmingham Wan’s final TATTGOC for the foreseeable as he prepared to depart for pakora pastures new. Any meaty celebration, it seemed, would be veined with silver melancholy. (On the plus side, there was the surprise appearance of Karahi … CHOP!, the man who helped christen the whole TATTGOC shooting match back in October 2008. Moving to London had precluded Karahi … CHOP! from any further involvement, bar a cameo appearance in a most honourable Foreign Curryspondence from Japan. But he wasn’t about to let the small fact that his plane had been diverted to Edinburgh stop him from making his official TATTGOC debut, promptly catching a bus west to ensure he made the rendezvous.)

With dazzling shafts of sunlight streaming into the Arlington, seven members of the Club assembled over very reasonably-priced pints of Tennent’s to toast their joint success. The weighty glass trophy was passed around carefully, partly because no-one wanted to go down in TATTGOC infamy as the goofus who dropped and broke it, and partly because its surface looked lensed enough to concentrate the sun’s rays into a lethal laser. It didn’t take that long for some tomfoolery to arise, however, with the usually statesman-like Rumpole Of The Balti bringing out his best windowlicker impersonation – only to recoil after being informed that Trampy had attempted “pink pancakes” on the very same glassy surface. The weighty trophy was also, very briefly, pressed into service as a tray, before going safely back in its cardboard box. Onwards, to Chillies West End!

The Tramps had initially settled on Chillies as an appropriate venue since it too had featured at the Scottish Curry Awards 2010, with Sam and Jamsay nominated in the Chef of the Year category. They narrowly lost out to Mahrukh Butt of new-kid-on-the-Lorne-Hotel-block Bukharah, but such accolades meant that Chillies seemed like less of an unknown quality compared to other TATTGOC targets. Brimming with confidence, the Tramps led in the troops. The Bulldosa and The Gheezer were running a bit late, but that gave the curry champions plenty of time to peruse the menu, after ordering up three jugs of sweet mango lassi.

It was at this point that the squad dimly realised that Chillies was a tapas-style curry restaurant, along the lines of Mother India’s Café. Brotherhood or not, the Curry Club could sometimes be cagey about sharing their food, so how would they cope with a full-on pic’n’mix spread? Emboldened by their newly-bestowed title, the Tramps were confident they could steamroller the rest of the boys into doing their bidding, foregoing starters to get a one-course bonanza of cute wee dishes. But that was to overlook the constellation of forceful personalities that blazes within the Club, and there followed a prolonged, boisterous and increasingly fractious debate about how best to proceed.

It would be inappropraite to compare these roundabout negotiations to Middle East peace talks – perhaps they were more like the current BA trade dispute – but Lord knows some sort of road map would have helped. At one vital juncture, when a tentative détente had been reached regarding how many tapas dishes each Clubber should order, the process was entirely reset upon the discovery that you could simply order a regular portion instead. Schisms loomed, with a starter-focused bloc coalescing at one end of the table while other rogue Clubbers suggested going it alone. When The Bulldosa and The Gheezer arrived, it was to witness TATTGOC riven by civil war. Could the curry coalition survive?

In the end, the best way forward seemed to be try and panel-beat the Chillies menu into standard TATTGOC operating procedure: mixed starters shared by all and a main, regular-sized dish each. Our waiter, who had patiently watched from the sidelines as the various factions knocked things back and forth over mini poppadoms and delicious dips, logged the order, and after that tense beginning, the Club settled into their usual social groove, tanning lassi and marvelling at the sunniness outside (for those so inclined, there was also France-Mexico playing mutely on a TV screen, while the laidback sounds of Acker Bilk were piped through the bustling restaurant).

The Tramps had settled on sharing four chef’s platters to start, and with it being a celebration of the awesomeness of TATTGOC, they had pushed the boat out to go for the premium Feast option. These massive, gondola-style plates descended on the table to involuntary “oohs” and “aahs” – big fans though the squad are of the standard mixed pakora, this was starters raised to a science: eight lamb chops, moist but firm salmon tikka, hefty king prawn kalonji, chouza pakora, chunky brie pakora, tangri chicken kebab, alloo ki tikki the size of ice hockey pucks and startlingly red prawn chaat. These dishes totally lived up to their bounteous billing, and as the nine fell upon the feast, marvelling and comparing what they discovered, it felt like this was genuinely a twenty-four carat Curry Club outing.

The fact that the last tangri chicken leg was passed up and down the table past groaning men should have been a clue that someone, Curry Lover or not, had perhaps miscalculated the amount of food. Soon after, the main courses arrived, with an added dal makhani and tarka daal for good measure. Trampy had blithely ordered up a whopping rice/naan equation of two boiled, three pilau, two garlic and two peshwari, having not stopped booming long enough to realise that Karahi … CHOP! had ordered a chooza biryani, reducing the need for so much rice. As the dishes kept coming, filling up the table like a spicy minefield, it suddenly became clear that in the same week that TATTGOC had won, it might also be defeated. Trampy could suddenly taste something, and it wasn’t his tangy chooza achari. It was something he hadn’t felt since the The Village. It was fear.

Tanked up on such substantial starters and creamy lassi, most men would have given up. But not Curry Club. While Trampy quavered, they seemed to take the lavish spread as a direct challenge. Rumpole Of The Balti and The Birmingham Wan had both gone for kofta anda curry, a staff favourite featuring lamb balls and an entire boiled egg, and set aboot it with enthusiasm. Karahi … CHOP! fired into his delicious-looking biryani, and the tangy dhals were passed up and down the table. And so, through dogged determination, the brotherhood overcame the slipshod ordering that could have spelled their doom by digging in for victory. The verdict was unanimous – this was some of the best curry TATTGOC had experienced, and Chefs Sam and Jamsay would always be winners in our book. But when it became clear that there would still be a slightly embarrassing surfeit of food, the Tramps were relieved when the waiter quietly suggested we take some doggy bags with us. (It turned out to be one quite big one.)

Since the brotherhood weren’t going anywhere for a while after taking on so much food, there was a short presentational part to the evening. TATTGOC’s baby-faced Machiavellian trickster had recently turned 30, and to mark the occasion, he was gifted a copy of the venerated Shish Mahal Cook Book, long hymned in these very pages. And since this was to be The Birmingham Wan’s last TATTGOC for a while, he received a token of the Curry Club’s heartfelt respect and appreciation in the form of a T-shirt emblazoned with I [HEART] SHALIMAR, a reference to the departed Gibson Street curryhouse where Wan regularly used to enjoy a New Year’s Day curry under an amusing pseudonym (check out his Pilau Talk questionnaire for more Shalimar love).

With daylight receding, the squad adopted their best Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue poses outside Chillies, passing the Curry Lover trophy around, gleeful and triumphant but also chastened by their Chillies experience. There was a lesson to be learned: know your limits. And as the shiny-faced crew shook hands and went their separate ways, there was one strange postcript. The Tramps and The Duke hefted their doggy bag into the Doublet for a final pint, only to be told by a bemused barlady that an identical Chillies carrier bag – containing curry and sundries – had that very evening been abandoned and then discovered in the ladies bathroom. What could it mean? Take two baltis into the shower with you?

Range Of Drinks: Unlicensed, but plenty of softs and jugs of lassi.

Highlights:
Spectacular starters, mountains of food, a prompt and discrete doggybagging service.

Lowlights:
Too much food! But that wasn’t Chillies’ fault …

The Verdict: A humbling experience!

The Damage: £216.55 (tip: £18.95)

2 comments:

The Tramp said...

What an awesome meal that was. Unbelievable that TATTGOC was so thoroughly beaten though. I was starving when I went in and barely made it past the starters. Still, at least the food didn't go to waste...

The Tramp said...

I've just noticed how demented looking Mickey is in the top photo... Truely terrifying.

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