REVIEW: Curry On Up The Khyber

The Khyber, nr Shields Road

The Time: June 2, 8.30pm

Booking Name: Mr Chris Cameron!

The Place Aforehand: The Tramp’s new Southside base.

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Bulldosa, The Duke, Rumpole Of The Balti, Ravi Peshwari, Rogan Josh Homme and possibly nervous first-timer Greg.

Decor: While the actual room and furniture are pretty functional, there’s plenty of stuff on the walls at The Khyber, including some nice rugs, a picture of a rose and a wicked ceremonial dagger (perhaps wisely situated behind the main counter).

Expectations: The Khyber got a thumbs-up in The Herald, and Hector over at Curry-Heute liked it too. So, yeah, expectations were warmly optimistic.

The Experience:

So. The Tramps – and by extension, the entire TATTGOC brotherhood – are no longer Curry Lovers of the Year, having passed the weighty mantle to that man Tam Cowan. Aroondaboot this time last year, though, when the Curry Club were still pure flying from their first Scottish Curry Awards win, they travelled en masse to Chillies West End. In their misplaced triumphalism, drunk on their own spicy awesomeness, they committed one of the most heinous ordering cock-ups in TATTGOC’s long, increasingly shopworn history. (Stories are still told of that fateful evening, where The Tramps had to cart away roughly half the food ordered in a doggy bag.)

With this lasting shame in mind, where best to go for TATTGOC’s first post-Curry Awards 2011 outing? Trampy had been keeping an eye on the new-ish Pakistani Café at the bottom of Byres Road since persistent rumours had reached his ears that a special curry/India Pale Ale night was in the offing as part of Glasgow Beer Week. (As it turned out, this proposed night failed to materialise – a pity, for Tryst Brewery’s Raj IPA sounds grand.) For his part, The Tramp was in the midst of relocating from sunny Partick to sunny Pollokshields – a venue south of the river would possible suit him better. When those fine TATTGOC supporters at Kingfisher sent along a couple of commiserative crates of their fine lager, an idea arrived fully formed in the minds of the Tramps: a social meet-up at the Tramp’s new house to tan some Kingfisher, then a short amble down to St Andrews Road to try out The Khyber. At the very least, the report’s headline would take care of itself ...

(Click here to read on ...)

And so it came to pass that an octonautical crew of Curry Clubbers descended on the moving-in chaos of The Tramp and Mumbai Me A Pony for a pre-curry libation. Among their number was Greg, presumably nervous about his first time at Curry Club, but hiding it well. The customary “hazing” – in which the Tramps and others attempt to convince the newest initiate that custom dictates they pick up the entire tab at their first outing, worked about as well as it did with Bobo Balti (that is to say, it didn’t work at all). If anyone was disappointed that the Tramps had failed to retain their heavyweight curry-lovin’ title, no-one mentioned it.

So why The Khyber? The Tramps had first clocked the premises when the shopfront was being refitted, noticing a sign in the window promising “Scotland’s first Afghani restaurant”. Since opening earlier this year, it has received an excellent write-up in The Herald from Ron MacKenna, a man who knows his onions, even if he writes about them in a stream-of-consciousness style that’s part-foodie hymn, part-Christmas round-robin letter about people you’ve never heard of. The Khyber had also been highly recommended by Hector over at the Curry-Heute blog, who has been at least three times. (“Starve yourselves before The Khyber,” he suggested via Twitter upon hearing TATTGOC’s plan. “Huge portions, or have starters and share ...”). There would definitely be spicy lamb, which was tempting enough.

Running just a little bit late, our eight currynauts ambled down toward Shields Road, more than one remarking at how they had been sure to forego overeating at lunch the better to enjoy their meal. (As often occurs, poor Ravi Peshwari, whose work canteen offers curry every Thursday, was bracing himself for another spicy “doubler”.) Upon arriving, the Curry Club were ushered by their dapper waiter into a pleasantly cosy booth at the window. They pored over the menu, keen to find out what was on offer. Some curryhouse menus are so overwhelming and/or comprehensive that ordering for eight guys becomes a logistical nightmare: The Khyber keeps things relatively stripped-down with just two laminated pages, which suggested agreement – or at least, detente – could be achieved relatively quickly. Or so you might think ...

This was the first restaurant that TATTGOC had visited where the main dishes were ordered by weight – and so a long debate started about the relative merits of a kilogram versus a half-kilo. The rice/naan selection, and possibly equation, would be simple enough, but working out the starters – from a tasty-sounding selection of kebabs – would take some artistry too, especially as everyone seemed keen to make bum jokes about the lamb “boti kebab”. For around 15 minutes, the debate trundled on ... until the Tramps imposed their will by attempting to make things as simple as possible. The assembled would order four different starter kebabs, to share, and four kilos of main dishes (since there were four options, it seemed a good opportunity to try them all). What about drinks? With no beers on the menu, mango lassi seemed like the way to go. The Tramp held these multiple integers and options in his head, preparing to order.

While all this was going on, there was a steady stream of takeaway customers threading through the restaurant, and a couple of tables of diners enjoying what seemed to be fragrant and spicy food. With this level of activity, it took a little while to attract the waiter but in time the ordering process begun. When hearing the original starters plan, the waiter suggested a couple of bumper mixed grills instead, which covered most of the same bases and potentially offered a bit more meat. The assembled agreed enthusiastically.

As for mains, the debate about how many kilos to order occasionally eventually resembled a marketplace haggling, albeit one heading unexpectedly downwards. Instead of four kilos of curry, three would probably be a good starting point. The Tramp was happy to sacrifice the chicken curry, with everyone being more interested in the lamb and the “dum pukh” cooked with Khyber spices. (This was a speciality dish Trampy had encountered only once before, at Maryhill’s The Killermont Polo Club.) After a bit more discussion, the final decision was rejigged to various half-kilos, with the additional reinstatement of a chicken karahi. There was also the rapid ordering of three rice and three naan (two plain, one garlic) on top. With that part of the negotiation over, it was time to order drinks, which boiled down to a jug of mango lassi and, for the ever-inquisitive Rumpole Of The Balti, an Afghan green tea.

Then the crew relaxed, safe in the knowledge a fine spicy feast awaited them. They knew the lamb in the main dishes would be on the bone, but that did not daunt them. The tantalising odours from other tables had entranced then, which was actually slightly unfortunate as it took almost another hour for the starters to arrive. This wouldn’t have quite been as unfortunate if the lassis had materialised any earlier, but instead the Curry Club were left to their own devices for a considerable length of time. Luckily, there was never any shortage of chat ... or, in the case of Bulldosa and Rumpole, amusing mime.

After a couple of bathroom trips to somehow psychologically hurry along the mixed grills, they arrived, spitting and sizzling and looking delicious. There was also, in time, a jug of sweet mango lassi. The ravenous crew pounced upon them, rarely pausing to appreciate the minty sauce that accompanied the chunks of lamb, chicken and minced seekh kebab. Even the salad dish was hoovered clean, and the combined experience was given a collective thumbs-up. After this meat injection, the temporarily-sated crew began discussing, in the vaguest possible terms, the forthcoming stag do for The Tramp. Would there be a curry element among the celebrations? Possibly not, in order to help differentiate it from the rest of his worldview, and therefore make it uniquely special.

After such fine starters, it would be pleasing to report that the half-kilos and whatnot of curry arrived soon after. In truth, there was another prolonged lull, in which many things were discussed, none of which qualify to be reported on such a blog of note. It was during this second extended longeur, with Trampy staring at the large decals on the window that reprinted some of Ron MacKenna’s most positive quotes, that he belatedly realised that TATTGOC’s own rambling write-ups, with their insistent codenames and insular argot, could also perhaps be perceived as Christmas round-robin letters that no-one else could understand. Perhaps he shouldn’t be so harsh on others? Aye, mibbe. But he still allowed himself a moment of backhanded admiration that the owners had managed to find a quote or two from MacKenna that actually made sense in isolation. Cut-and-baste, if you like.

Finally, the mains! Huge, broiling copper bowls of on-the-bone goodness! As they were passed down the table, the Curry Club swooned as the spices raced up their collective noses. This, quite possibly, was a feast worth waiting for. Seconds later, the fluffy rice and enormous naans arrived ... and those naans looked so big that, at first, it looked like the Tramps had made another over-ordering error. No matter! As everyone ladled the various lamb stews onto their plate, oozing with spicy juices, it seemed like ever naan for themselves! An unusual silence fell on the booth as the assembled scooped, sluiced, dolloped and ripped to get a handsome plateful. The final result was hearty and fantastic, even if it did eventually arrive about two hours after TATTGOC had entered the venue.

At such a vital juncture in the timeline of TATTGOC, you’d think there might be scope for valedictory speeches? But with 11pm encroaching it was time to hustle everyone outside for the pictures to make sure no-one missed the last tube. The final bill was absurdly cheap, working out at £11 a head even with tip, for a feast that was satisfying in all the right ways. This, be aware, was a crew who actively enjoyed their spicy lamb stew on the bone and, time permitting, would probably have constructed a crude dinosaur skeleton from the mineral remains. Had it all happened just a little faster, this would have been a truly classic TATTGOC outing. And with such a reasonable final bill, it was tempting to force Greg pay the full whack. But while posing outside, he confirmed his new curry name – Chasni Hawkes (The Wan And Only) – proving that, somehow, he has always been in the Curry Club, even if it took a while for his spirit to return to where it always belonged ...

Range Of Drinks: Range of lassis and Afghan green tea.

Highlights: Sizzling starters, satisfyingly spicy on-the-bone curry, enormous naans.

Lowlights: A prolonged waiting time that went from funny to exasperating and then back to funny and possibly back to exasperating again.

The Verdict: An extended experience!

The Damage: £81 (tip: £9)

Punjabi, Paisley Road West
Rasoi, Partick Cross
Agra, Anniesland
Cafe Salma, Charing Cross


The Duke said...

This month's outing was akin to climbing a mountain and the summit 'just being over that next peak'. The view was indeed spectacular, but oh what a journey. Carry on and on and on and on up the Khyber...