REVIEW: Thalis Of The City

Thali, Merchant City

The Time: August 25, 8pm

Booking Name: G Virtue (booking online precluded any movie-derived nom-nom de plume)

The Pub Aforehand: The Press Bar, Albion Street

In Attendance: Pretty much the full Bhoona: Trampy, The Tramp, Jalfrezi, The Bulldosa, The Duke, Rabbie Shankar, Rumpole Of The Balti, Ravi Peshwari, The Gheezer, Rogan Josh Homme, Sir Spicy Lover and, flying in for one night only (again) Karahi ... CHOP!

Decor: Tucked down an Albion Street doorway, Thali is modern in style but sumptuously decorated, in keeping with its upscale Merchant City location. Certainly one of the swankier places that TATTGOC has visited.

Expectations: Thali wasn’t a totally unknown quantity as Trampy and The Tramp had visited it soon after it first opened in early 2009. TATTGOC's spicy chieftains had been impressed at the quality of the various katoris – but could Thali withstand the force of a full-bore Curry Club outing?

(Addendum: All this talk of thali reminds me that we already have a Thali Ho in the extended brotherhood - she and Lord Of The Dansak filed an intriguing curryspondence from Bath late last year.)

The Experience:

Whenever they are asked to define the essence of TATTGOC – a situation that comes up more often than you might think – the Tramps have a useful stock answer: “It is like the sea, I think.” Allusive, brooding, darkly poetic ... and almost entirely meaningless.

But if there ever was a true TATTGOC masterplan, part of it was going to be plotting a pleasing, possibly cloud-shaped dot-to-dot pattern on the map of Glasgow, with each point representing an establishment the brotherhood had visited. In the early months, the Tramps would choose their next destination by a process of opposition: after eating in the west, they’d aim their wagons east. Similarly, a North Glesga curry would be followed by an excursion south of the river. Over the past 21 months, though, the resulting distribution hasn’t been as aesthetically pleasing as hoped – check out the dedicated TATTGOC Google map and you’ll see it’s more of a wonky cruciform than a spicy Spirograph. Last month, a highly-motivated Objectivist managed to spell out “READ AYN RAND” by using his GPS as a graffiti spraycan while driving 12000 miles across the US. The Tramps’ cherished dream of inscribing “HERE BE BAWBAGS” over No Mean City seems doomed to failure in comparison.

Still, since no Glasgow curryhouse should be outwith TATTGOC’s bailiwick it seems strange that the brotherhood has never ventured to the Merchant City. There is no higher concentration of high-class curryhouses, from the north/south double-punch of The Dhabba and The Dhakin to the award-winning, Persian-tinged KoolBa. After the venerable Café India burned down at Charing Cross, it relocated to the Merchant City, and if that didn’t make the district crowded enough, the lavish, 150-cover Urban Pind opened last year, complete with garden swing, soothing water wheel and alarming life-size dummies in traditional dress (Sir Spicy Lover and Trampy dined on tandoori quail there a year ago, and gave it a cautious thumbs-up). So why has it taken so long for TATTGOC to stick a pin in the Merchant City? To borrow a phrase from the merchant in Resident Evil 4: Not enough cash. Those places are expensive, and TATTGOC likes to keep things reasonable whenever possible.

Thank heavens, then, for plucky Thali on Albion Street. This handsomely-furnished tapas-style restaurant does a 2-for-1 deal called Thali Wednesdays, perhaps inspired by Orange’s similar cinema ticket offer, which brought it well within the Curry Club’s preferred financial parameters. August’s meet-up was of particular importance because it was to be a formal farewell to founder member Jalfrezi, one of the brotherhood’s most mercurial and committed members, and the man who memorably saluted TATTGOC after an epic journey to Maryhill. Big London beckons for wee Jalfrezi – but the capital’s gain is the Curry Club’s loss, and it seems doubly painful after so recently saying cheerio to The Birmingham Wan. (Ironically, as some members of TATTGOC continue to expand, so the membership contracts.) But this was not to be a night for wallowing in melancholy or gloominess. Onwards, to The Press Bar!

Tucked under the refurbished Herald building – now a black vitralite-encased honeycomb of start-up offices and expensive flats – The Press Bar has been going on for almost a decade now since its pre-installed customer base of boozy journos and inky-fingered print workers left the building. It’s a no-nonsense boozer, which is attractive in the vicinity of the Merchant City, which, for good or ill, is Glasgow’s flash-and-cash centriole. The Tramp and The Duke, invigorated by a late-afternoon viewing of The Expendables, were the first to arrive, setting up shop in one of the bar’s various booths in preparation for assembling their own crack team of macho action men. Trampy turned up next, in the company of a special guest star: London flyboy Karahi ... CHOP!, on a well-timed overnight stopover in Glasgow. Rogan Josh Homme and Ravi Peshwari were next, so presently the empty Tennent’s glasses began to pile up. A dozen Clubbers were expected in total, so the group had to swiftly relocate to a bigger booth upon the arrival of The Bulldosa, The Gheezer, Rabbie Shankar, Sir Spicy Lover and, the hero of the hour, Jalfrezi himself. The only man missing from this murghi dozen was Rumpole Of The Balti, who arrived at the very last minute, looking sharp but mysteriously laden down with bags. Thus assembled, the squad threaded their way down Albion Street toward Thali, a journey captured in almost flickbook-esque fashion by The Tramp’s insistent paparazzi-ing.

Taking advantage of the sunny evening, the group shot was captured before the Curry Club crossed the Thali threshold. Inside the atmospherically-lit restaurant, they arranged themselves around their long table with a minimum of fuss. Each Clubber received a complimentary metal goblet of nimbu pani lemon water – intriguingly savoury and refreshing to some palates, slightly brackish to others – but there was also lager on tap, so a hefty round was quickly ordered. The Thali concept is reasonably simple but involves ordering various little tapas-style dishes, so to avoid the now-legendary Chillies West End Over-Ordering Fiasco Of June 2010, the Tramps were keen to keep a handle on things. In the first instance: simple starters. After establishing that there were four lamb chops per portion – marinated in spices, ginger, garlic and yoghurt, then roasted over hot coals – the Tramps ordered up three dishes so each Clubber would definitely get to gnaw on one. Additionally, they ordered up some sharing platters of mixed pakora, erring on the side of non-gluttony just to be safe.

While all this was going on, the squad were getting to grips with the thali concept, helpfully explained by a diagram on each paper placemat; starting with a “base thali” (comprising rice, naan, salad and either a wee dish of daal or raita), you then add two or three little katori dishes, which then all arrive on your own discreet metal tray, easily defended from the fork attacks of nearby diners. Everyone agreed to choose three katoris each, assuming that would probably be sufficient. (Sadly, there was no need to calculate a rice/naan equation, since everyone would get their own personal ration accompanying their thali.)

With that considerable order locked in (intriguingly, everyone chose daal over raita), the brotherhood relaxed into full-on chat mode, eager to hear about Jalfrezi’s new placement at one of the most famous hospitals in the world. Rumpole Of The Balti revealed that he was also moving on from one of his jobs, and had come straight to Curry Club from his own leaving do (with some impressive parting gifts, including a serious-looking grater). Talk of gifts prompted The Gheezer to unveil a surprise present for the Tramps he’d brought back from a recent visit to Venice – some curry-flavoured pasta. (“It was either that or novelty grappa,” he explained. Why not both?) Look out for a future post in which the Tramps put that pasta to good use ...

Presently, the lamb chops and mixed pakora arrived and, with everyone secure in the knowledge that there was going to be one chop each, there was none of the usual grabby-grabby horseplay when such sizzling treats descend. Everyone praised the chops – juicy, spicy and ever-so tasty – but there were somehow one or two left after the first go-round, which made for some intense horse-trading.

The range of mixed pakora was a cut above too, and the overall amount seemed to be just about right. A second round of lager was ordered up, although The Tramp and The Bulldosa controversially opted for cooling lassis instead, perhaps testament to the spiciness of the chops.

Considering how orders can get mixed up en route to the table even when Clubbers have only ordered one curry dish each – usually because they’ve half-forgotten what it is that they selected in the first place rather than through any fault of service – the smooth, efficient arrival of everyone’s thali tray in exactly the right place was most impressive. With an equal number of vegetarian and meat options on the menu – which you can see for yourself online – it appeared that most of the brotherhood had opted for at least one veg dish. Bhoona gosht seemed to be a popular choice, and the prawn malabari received fulsome praise from somewhere down the table. For his part, Trampy finds it hard not to order a dish that involves ladyfingers, and his bhindi – okra sautéed with onions and masala blend, then dusted with mango powder – was delicious. Ravi Peshwari, a man who knows his curry, suggested that Thali was his favourite TATTGOC excursion to date, an impression perhaps helped by the impressive turnout and agreeable weather. There seemed to be a murmuring agreement around the table that this was a particularly impressive outing. And while the katori dishes all looked wee and cute, they were also deceptively deep – certainly everyone was sated.

As the chowing wound down, The Tramp tinkled some empty katoris to get everyone’s attention and herald a few announcements. In the first instance, the Tramps wished to confirm that the blog was now supported by Kingfisher Premium Lager, an informal relationship that had developed after a chance meeting at the Scottish Curry Awards 2010 earlier this year. Would this arrangement affect TATTGOC’s hallowed editorial independence? Not at all. But it would definitely mean the next trip to a BYOB establishment would involve drinking lots of Kingfisher Premium Lager. Secondly, Trampy forwarded a motion to wish Rogan Josh Homme a happy birthday, which seemed to be passed enthusiastically by all around the table – TATTGOC’s resident movie scholar then received the brand-new film tome from Vern, the critical talent behind Seagalogy, the essential guide to the filmography of Steven Seagal.

Finally, a toast was raised to Jalfrezi – the man, the legend – and he took possession of a parting gift from his spicy friends. In the past, it’s often been a customised T-shirt but since Jalfrezi had already got one for Christmas, he had to make do with an inscribed copy of the Shish Mahal Cook Book. Apparently The Bulldosa has been making good use of his gifted copy, so hopefully it will serve Jalfrezi well down in London too. Unfortunately, the batteries in the official TATTGOC camera had failed by this point, so the only evidence we have of the main man receiving his keepsake is this blurry cameraphone pic, courtesy of Karahi ... CHOP!, who was luckily on standby. But rest assured Jalfrezi's wee face was shining, and his acceptance speech seemed heartfelt. And after settling the very reasonable bill, the brotherhood decamped, almost en masse, over the road to Blackfriars for a convivial nightcap round a jammed table. It was a heartwarming scene, although admittedly things would never be quite the same again ...

Range Of Drinks: Cobra on tap, and a well-stocked selection of bottled beers and spirits.

Highlights: Fantastic lamb chops; delicious, surprisingly filling katoris; great value overall.

Lowlights: The nimbu pani lemon water wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

The Verdict: A kaleidoscopic experience!

The Damage: £214.45 (tip £25.55)

STOP PRESS: Since TATTGOC’s visit, Thali has rejigged its menu, with newly added katoris (including butter chicken) and some more starters, desserts and even cocktails too. The Thali Wednesdays offer still stands but you have to book online to take advantage of it – sign up for updates on the Thali website to get the skinny.


The Tramp said...

A cracking night indeed, but tinged with great sadness that Jalfrezi is leaving the fold. Looking forward to some reunion meetings already though - here's hoping we can get both The Birmingham Wan and Jalfrezi back at some point.

Top marks to Thali for a great night and some fantastic currys.

The thing that's amazing me is that the TATTGOC google map seems to have been viewed by neary 13,900 people - wtf?

The Tramp said...

Is it just me or does Rumpole have a touch of the Indiana Jones about him in the first picture?

Anonymous said...

A dead ringer if you swapped the shopping bags for a pistol and whip.

The Tramp said...

Even Indy has to get the shopping in sometimes.

Will said...

The Thali concept sounds great! Will have to see if I can partake of it in my neck of the woods - more unknown curry styles passed on to me by you guys! cheers