REVIEW: Saving Salma Love For You

Cafe Salma, Charing Cross

The Time: January 20, 8.30pm

Booking Name: David Fincher

The Pub Aforehand: The “new” Arlington on Woodlands Road

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Bulldosa, The Duke, Rogan Josh Homme, Ravi Peshwari, Sir Spicy Lover and The Gheezer

Décor: Upstairs, Cafe Salma is clean and cosy with an open kitchen taking up a fair bit of space – but head downstairs and you enter a subterranean Moroccon grotto, with comfy chairs, distinctive bric-a-brac and sumptuous drapes.

Expectations: Cafe Salma had come highly recommended by various notable curry lovers, notably the mighty Tam Cowan. Ravi Peshwari had also visited before and was looking forward to the prospect of a return visit with the massed Curry Club.

The Experience:

Is there such a thing ... as destiny? And if you seize it with both hands, can you alter its divine flightpath or are you merely sucked, helpless, into its adamant contrail? The creaky, clockwork turn of a new calendar year can nudge the minds of mortal men toward such imponderables. But it can also pop into your aching head if you find yourself nursing a pint of Guinness alone in a pub, with nothing to rest your gaze upon apart from a suspiciously new-looking sign proclaiming that here lies the last resting-stroke-hiding place of the Stone of Destiny. Such was the situation in which Trampy found himself, staring glazedly at a mid-sized rock while mentally summoning the last scraps of his verbal and physical dexterity, an attempt to reassert his habitual composure after a head-wrecking night on the sauce – and not the good sauce – in anticipation of the inaugural TATTGOC meet-up of 2011. Maybe they’re not coming, he thought. Maybe I could just go back to bed.

(Click to read on, and actually get to some curry ...)

’Tis a fool who mocks the goddess of destiny! Fast-forward half an hour and the Arlington Bar – spruced up but still recognisable as the launchpad for TATTGOC’s post-Curry Award triumph/humiliation at Chillies doon the road – is pure bustling with Curry Clubbers. An entirely creditable turnout of eight (with apologies offered by Rumpole Of The Balti, gallivanting in Europe, and Rabbie Shankar, preparing for a residential injection of brewing lore). It’s become a TATTGOC tradition to visit unlicensed curryhouses in January – since one or sometimes even two members are “off the booze” – which usually results in a visit to one of the many fine venues in Tradeston. In an unusually organised move, the Tramps had a place earmarked all the way back in November – only to discover at the eleventh hour that it was closed, presumably for a period of refurbishment.

Never ones to dilly-dally, TATTGOC’s founding duo immediately vowed to “hit up” Cafe Salma, the Charing Cross Indian (and Moroccan) restaurant that had been recommended to them many times throughout 2010; only the non-alcohol policy, and seemingly small dining area, had precluded a proper Curry Club visit. Imagine their relief, then, when it transpired that Café Salma had a larger downstairs dining area – and while it was attractively Moroccon-themed, they would be welcome to order from the Indian menu. Truly, the guiding hand of Destiny was at TATTGOC’s elbow. And, as the assembled octet of currynauts drained their glasses in the Arlington – with ginger beer and Kaliber among the empties – they came across another fair omen on the road up to Charing Cross: only the biggest goddamn metal gorilla they had ever seen in their lives! A group portrait was required ...

Planet Of The Japes
Thus the Curry Club were running a little late when they finally arrived at Cafe Salma. Nevertheless, they were greeted warmly by the famously convivial owner Hassan, and ushered downstairs by dapper waiting staff with fantastic fez headgear. (FUN FACT: Trampy and The Tramp each own an authentic fez, yet Trampy’s is so small it wouldn’t stay on his head without the aid of elastic – does this finally settle the argument of which one is the organ grinder and which one is the monkey?) Basement dining rooms can sometimes feel poky and cellar-like – in Cafe Salma, the brightly painted walls and luxuriant fabrics combine to make it both cosy and relatively airy. Half of the Curry Club got to sit in comfortable chairs and couches along the wall, and as the squad arranged themselves around the table it was heartening – if not actually accurate – to note that the elder members were allowed the more comfortable berths.

Two jugs of mango lassi were requested as the assembled currynauts pored over the Indian menu, mouths watering at the prospect of sampling some of Salma’s specials while cracking through poppadoms and dips. The ambience, décor, music ... the low chatter of other diners ... the throb of manly companionship around the table ... all these things served to soothe Trampy’s hangover, to the extent that he felt capable of conferring with The Tramp about starters. While they were tucked away under “grilled meals”, there was definitely the prospect of some lamb chops to share, with a couple of platters of mixed pakora to share around? Perhaps 2011 will be The Year Of Decisiveness for TATTGOC as this starter plan was quickly ratified. When it came to ordering the mains, that well-travelled buccaneer The Gheezer was first up, diving straight in with a request for a chicken achari handi, tempted by the prospect of pickles in the dish. “Hot?” asked the befezzed waiter, quietly. “Hot,” confirmed The Gheezer. “Extra-hot?” pressed the waiter. Seven pairs of eyes – some already four-eyes in themselves – swivelled towards TATTGOC’s luv-a-duck, London-innit roustabout. “Maybe ‘quite-hot’,” he murmured in reply.

As the rest of the main course orders were logged, the Tramps hashed out the rice/naan equation, arriving at three rice and the usual tricolore of naans (plain, garlic, peshwari). Soon after, the starters arrived, and while there was great joy at the discovery that there was definitely a lamb chop each for all eight Clubbers, a third plate of mixed pakora (including aubergine, mushroom and chicken varieties) could easily have been eaten – were the Tramps deliberately keeping the starter order modest in an attempt to achieve their second New Year’s resolution? The chops, however, were deemed to be some of the best the Club had sampled, approaching the divine heights of the Shish’s mighty hasina lamb chops. In fact, they were eaten so fast it was actually difficult to get a picture of them.

The first round of sweet mango lassis had been chugged pretty fast, and after the legendary over-indulgence of January 2009, the Tramps should have perhaps been wary of ordering another two jugs. But order they did, on some pretty fuzzy – fezzy? – logic: that would work out at only half a jug of mango lassi per Clubber, which seemed reasonable. And The Gheezer would need it for his hot curry, right? Soon after, the main courses descended, sizzling and smelling most tantalising. Initally, there was something of a rumpus when Ravi Peshwari discovered a hard-boiled egg in his curry – for he is not a man who enjoys an egg in his curry – but after some Columbo-style detective work, it turned out that there had been bit of a mix up with various bhuna orders at one end of the table (slighty complicated by the fact that some of the Clubbers involved had already dished up and started to tuck in). But like someone deftly solving a knotty fox-chicken-grain problem in the least number of possible steps, plates were passed, dishes were exchanged and soon everyone was ready to tuck in ...

The perfect time, then, in Trampy’s addled mind, for a table photo. This attempt to get a shot of the spicy grub before it vanished extended into a mini-pantomime as a helpful waiter chivalrously took over camera duties, only to – quite understandably – struggle to fit all of the bawheided table into the shot. Eventually, though, the Kodak moment was captured and everyone could focus on their food – while, of course, keeping tabs on the Gheezer to see how he was coping with his hot curry. Trampy thought his lamb lahori kahari was pretty hot until he got a spoonful from the Gheezer’s dish, which had a deep and exhilarating heat to it. As for the man himself, The Gheezer took it in his stride, clearing his dish effortlessly, the concentrated chilli kick of his handi evidenced only by a barely detectable sheen of sweat. The sundries were consumed with such enthusiasm that a fourth naan – another garlic – was ordered so the last drops of curry could be truly enjoyed, and one of the most memorable images of the evening was to be The Tramp grappling with the dangerously hot bread, tearing through it with gritted teeth. All in all, a satisfying feast!

But wait ... there’s more. Just as the assembled currynauts were unbuckling their belts a notch to allow their dinner to settle, Sir Spicy Lover revealed that he’d brought along a special celebratory cake, a gift to the Curry Club from his whole wee family – and perhaps an early bribe from his son (the tyke who inspired the term “Curry Cub”) to ensure he would be initiated into TATTGOC proper one day. Later, the Clubbers would settle the very reasonable bill and shake hands again with Hassan on the way out. But at that moment, the squad fell upon the cake with gutbusting enthusiasm. Moist, chocolatey and delicious. Mmmm. The Curry Club suddenly realised ... this was their density ...

Range Of Drinks: Unlicensed, so lassis and softs cans all the way.

Highlights: Great chops, properly spicy curries, cracking value. And a tip of the hat to the fezzes.

Lowlights: Bit of a curry mix-up with the mains, but no harm done.

The Verdict: A warm and fezzy experience!

The Damage: £117.85 (tip: £16.15)

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