REVIEW: Soots You, Sir

Charcoals, City Centre

The Time: April 19, 8.30pm

The Pub Aforehand: The Horseshoe, Drury Street

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, Rogan Josh Homme, Ravi Peshwari, The Duke, Rumpole Of The Balti and The Gheezer.

Decor: Surprisingly spacious, decorated in earthy yellows and browns, with traditional art on the walls. A step up from most city centre curry cantinas.

Expectations: No Curry Clubber had been to Charcoals before, although many had walked past it on busy Renfrew Street. Online rumours about its skyscraping TripAdvisor ranking had intrigued the Tramps.

The Experience:

If you think about it, TATTGOC is sort of like the Justice League, with The Tramp cast as Superman, Trampy as Batman and The Bulldosa as Wonder Woman. Or maybe it’s actually more like The Avengers, with The Tramp as Iron Man, The Duke as Captain America, The Bulldosa as Black Widow and Trampy as Batman. (The key thing to remember here is that Trampy will always be Batman.) Such pulpy, four-colour thoughts of capes, KA-POWs! and spandex inevitably came to mind in the comfy environs of The Horseshoe, one of Glasgow most celebrated city centre pubs, when – SUDDENLY! – Thor god of thunder stunt double Rogan Josh Homme blew in, straight from an Avengers screening and junket in Big London.

While careful not to spoil any plot points from the highly anticipated Marvel Studios movie (released today), Rogan Josh Homme was happy to do some show-and-tell on the sweet swag he’d bagged, including Lego versions of Black Widow and Hawkeye, a set of Avengers logo badges and a surprisingly sturdy Captain America mask that was excitedly passed around the Curry Clubbers in attendance – Trampy, Ravi Peshwari, The Duke, Rumpole Of The Balti and The Gheezer – for unprecedented photo opportunities. But where was TATTGOC’s own Iron Man, The Tramp? If this was one of the movies, there would have most likely been a knotty problem with the tiny nuclear generator in his chest that keeps him alive but is also, tragically, killing him. But it was actually because he was working late ...

(Click here to read on, hero ...)

In The Tramp’s absence, the not-so-sinister six headed the very short distance from The Horseshoe to Charcoals, a long-standing city centre curryhouse that you may well have walked past a million times, the frontage split between a takeaway and a restaurant proper. It’s a place that’s been on the Tramps' curry longlist for a long while, usually kept in reserve as being almost too easy a target: if the point of TATTGOC is to seek out lesser-known curryhouses then trooping up to one right in the city centre ain’t much of a commitment. But there had also been some interesting online chatter about it being the number one restaurant in Glasgow according to tourist-friendly portal Trip Advisor. Not just the number one curryhouse, by the way ... the number one restaurant overall. That made it kind of irresistible. 

TATTGOC ... assemble!

"The Avenders" ... out today, guys
The six currynauts were shown to a table towards the back of the deceptively large dining area, which was already buzzing with other diners. Since he knew The Tramp would be zooming in late, Trampy had taken the precaution of familiarizing himself with the Charcoals menu so he could decisively order starters. In the meantime, five pints of draught Tennent’s were ordered, with Ravi Peshwari opting for a mango juice instead of the usual lassi. March’s outing to Café Darna had erred on the side of caution when it came to starters, so Trampy tentatively pushed out the boat a little further by ordering vegetable pakora, chicken pakora and lahori fish pakora, along with enough lamb starters to ensure every hero would get a chop. And – fairly obscure Marvel Comics reference alert! – not the Iron Fist type of chop.

While the starters were prepared, there was time to check out the décor and ambience. There were other diners, which is always a plus, and considering the slightly unpromising façade, the inside looked tasteful and comfortable, while the service was notable attentive. The Tramp timed his arrival pretty perfectly, swooping in just minutes before the starters descended. This predicated a slightly rushed main course ordering procedure, with the Clubbers logging their preferences just after the starters had arrived, but the process ran relatively smoothly considering tasty lamb chops were within reach. As for the rice/naan equation, Trampy had confidently calculated a 2-to-3 ratio, with two helpings of pilau rice matched with naans of the garlic, peshwari and chilli persuasion. With the ordering complete, it was time to chow down.

Somehow, lamb chops have become TATTGOC’s go-to litmus test, a dish ordered at every available opportunity in every conceivable situation to provide a vague baseline. Charcoals were well-received with a rogue extra chop being gifted to The Gheezer, since this was his first Curry Club in a good long while. The pakora was also excellent, the fish fluffy and delightful and the chicken more like goujons than the sometimes asteroid-sized chunks you can encounter. Ravi Peshari also did some canny minesweeping of the accompanying salads, indicating it was better than the usual. All in all, an excellent precursor to the main event.

But what about that outlier Trip Advisor ranking? Charcoals is currently ranked the number two restaurant in Glasgow (out of 774!) and while it’s unclear quite how this stuff is worked out, reading through the reviews is reasonably instructive. They’re split between locals and tourists, and many of them refer to how they only tried the place because it was recommended on Trip Advisor which suggests it’s possible to create some useful critical momentum on the site if you can keep the average rating high. It’s also notable how many of these crowd-sourced reviews mention the excellent service, and also the manager Ali by name – one of the best reviews describes him as a “customer-driven banshee” – suggesting a concerted effort on the shopfloor. Charcoals is also small enough that it feels a little tucked-away and special, especially if you’re visiting.

They might also hypnotise customers. At least, that would be one explanation for why out of seven Curry Clubbers, three ordered the exact same dish independently of one another – it was the adraki gosht lamb cooked with green herbs and plenty of ginger. (Perhaps there was some sort of gosht protocol?) Additionally, another three Clubbers ordered from the grill. Such groupthink is very rare for the unquantifiable spirits of TATTGOC. The Tramp, who has recently developed a keenness for keema, expressed his temptation to try the Keema Aloo (“mince and tatties curry – cooked the traditional way”) but in the end went for the Tandoori Mix Grill. Rogan Josh Homme and Ravi Peshari were similarly tempted by the chicken tikka, and the combination of curry dishes and meatiness made for quite a sight when it all arrived. Especially The Tramp’s mixed grill!

Not long into the feast, it became clear that Batman had seriously under-ordered the rice, so another bowl was requested, along with an extra garlic naan because, well, why not? These extra sundries arrived with another dish: a mystery chicken curry that Ali insisted we try. After such a healthy amount of starters and the hefty main courses, it seemed unlikely that even the dedicated would be able to cram in much more curry. But slowly, surely, the dedicated team of Avengers munched their way through every morsel. The tikka dishes got a big thumbs up, as did the lamb gosht, and everyone who had room to try the chicken dish made appreciative noises as well. This had been yet another 2012 triumph for TATTGOC, beautifully presented and noisily consumed. Even the fact that the naans were pre-cut raised nary a rumble from the usually pretty persnickety troops.

The mystery curry (centre) ... before it was polished off
Whilst the detritus was cleared away, the general consensus was that while Charcoals could not realistically be called the best restaurant in Glasgow, it was certainly the best city centre curryhouse that anyone had experienced, with an enviable level of quality and service. And this was decided even before a surprise round of vodka jellies was brought to the table. Maybe TATTGOC en masse just looks like a perpetual stag night – it can certainly feel like that sometimes – but no-one turned their nose up at the prospect of such a dessert.

The old Avengers comics used to open with a bombastic title card: “And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!” Similarly, TATTGOC’s trip to Charcoals was a night unlike any other, where Glasgow mightiest currynauts found themselves up against some excellent tandoori cooking and vodka jellies. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to assemble there again before too long. Excelsior!

Range Of Drinks: Tennent’s on draught, those intriguing vodka jellies.

Highlights: Excellent chops, attentive service, a delicious mystery curry.

Lowlights: Pre-cut naans. But they were of a very high quality. Maybe a bit small.

The Verdict: A fiery experience!


The Tramp said...

Two thumbs up for Ali and the team - that mixed grill was a behemoth.