Mister Singh's India
The Time: December 7, 9pm
The Pub Aforehand: Lebowski's, Argyle St
In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, Ravi Peshwari, Bobo Balti, Rabbie Shankar, Rumpole Of The Balti and The Duke.
Expectations: Pretty high. TATTGOC likes to push the boat out at Christmas, and Mister Singh's has represented Glasgow in the Curry Capital competition many times. Also we were aye keen on their chicken ambala curry pies last year (just like Kenny Dalglish).
It's been a year of experimentation for the Tramps, with the blog decamping to Edinburgh for an entire month, tipping their hat to the saffrongette movement by inviting the ladies along for a special Valentine's curry at Kama Sutra and even staging an official outing at a pop-up restaurant. But while TATTGOC should always be flexible enough to adapt to what's going on in the world, there are some traditions worth sticking to, especially at Christmas. In December, the Tramps like to go somewhere pretty established, they ask the squad to put on a goddamn tie for a change and there's a Secret Santa-esque present ceremony where each Curry Clubber can have a rummage in Trampy's sack. This year, soon after celebrating their fourth year "in the biz", the Tramps settled on Mister Singh's India for their festive dinner.
First, though, the squad had to assemble in a nearby pub, and while the Tramp had his eye on Orwell's for a while, ultimately the decision was made to start off the evening in what would probably fairly lively environs. And so, it was Lebowski's on Argyle Street, the Dude-themed bar and restaurant that even early in December, was packed to the gunnels. But by the time the first even currynauts had squeezed inn the door – Ravi Peshwari, Bobo Balti, Rabbie Shankar, Rumpole Of The Balti, veterans all – the Tramps had managed to bagsy an oddly shaped booth that (almost) all seven of our heroes could squeeze in to amid the madness. With loud music, crammed bodies, breathless chatter and a rising sense of hysteria in the air, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
There was no dawdling as The Duke had arranged to meet the rest of the team at the restaurant. And while Trampy felt like they had arrived in good time, he was already sat there, alone, at a table for eight, prompting the usual references to Shaun of the Dead – "Well, I'm not staying here" – and a group flashback to the fourth ever TATTGOC outing, where the Bulldosa sat, not just alone at a table but alone in the entire restaurant, causing much mirth. At this time of year, most restaurants come up with a festive menu to deal with the endless parade of office parties, and Mr Singh's had made theirs available all the way from November 19th to January 21st 2013. While relatively simplified, and with three non-curry options to appease neutrals, the Tramps felt like there were enough interesting options that even the more adventurous TATTGOCers would be satisfied (although, sadly for Rumpole of the Balti, there was no liver tikka option in the starters).
A word on service: from the moment the squadders wandered through the door, Mister Singh's staff were attentive and pre-emptive, swooping in to collect coats, chatting informally and generally giving the impression they were totally on top of what they were doing, even when faced with eight burly fellows attempting to pull plastic party hats over their massive heids. Nothing says Christmas like poppadoms and crackers, so the assembled pulled one and cracked the other, and soon little plastic doohickeys were skimming across the table. The Duke was working so ordered a festive lassi, while everyone else settled for a similarly festive Tennent's. Amid a bustling restaurant – Friday night, sure, but it still felt bustling – the team compared ties, swapped jokes and wondered aloud if there would be a repeat of the now-legendary Xmas 2011 Now That's What I Call Music freestyle trivia quiz.
Mister Singh's are famous for their haggis pakora making masterclasses, and while that particular dish didn't feature amid the starters, there were haggis, neeps'n'tatties samosa – like Iain Banks's Scotia-Indian fusion dishes in his novel Whit – and turkey pakora for those who are Xmas-daft. Whether by accident or design, the team homed in on the haggisy samosa, with five portions ordered: Trampy and The Tramp underlined their status as incorrigible outsiders by going for a chicken poori and chicken tikka respectively, while a mixed pakora rounded out the order for eight. The samosa got the thumbs-up all round, while the poori was substantial and delicious. While the Tramp gnawed at his tikka, the TATTGOC camera got passed around for some candid shots. Not long after, the main waiter approached and explained that Mr Singh's were active on Facebook and Twitter and often took pictures of parties that were having fun: would we mind posing for a portrait that could then be shared on social media?
That, understandably, caused no problem for the team and they straightened their ties and crooked smiles for the camera. With the starters cleared away, talk turned reflective as various Curry Clubbers looked back at their year and shared some of their spicy highlights. The upbeat mood was helped by the sound of predominantly 1990s R-and-B being piped into the restaurants, including a deep cut from Michelle Gayle. When it came to ordering the mains, no-one opted for turkey with all the trimmings, although, as ever, there was a debate about whether the rules of engagement at Curry Club should be intensified so that every outing, one person is nominated to try one of the European options which usually feature on each menu, in the interests of comprehensiveness. While a fairly compelling case was made, it was ultimately decided that the voluntary nature of ordering should be maintained – no-one likes to be starting down the barrel of a Chicken Maryland on a supposedly relaxed, sociable occasion.
There were festive choices within the spicy options when it came to the main courses, with one of the squad opting for Mister Singh's "Christmas Korma" (or "Lee Christmas Korma" as it was dubbed by Rogan Josh Homme, a nod to Jason Statham's ridiculously-named character from the Expendables franchise). Five more were tempted by Mister Singh's signature ambala dish – the same curry that features in the fitba pies – with four opting for lamb and one for chicken. A chicken desi on the bone and a goan fish curry were the last two orders to be logged. But before the mains arrived, the waiter arrived with an early Christmas present: the team picture taken just moments before, now framed. It took pride of place on the table.
The Tramps have a not-so-secret love for fixed menus in that it simplifies the rice-naan equation by making it man-to-man marking system; with that in mind, they plumped for four rice and four naan. And with the option of haggis naan available, they went for a brace of those ... and two garlic. Perhaps the days of habitually ordering a plain naan among the selection are behind our burly heroes?
At this point, the ribald conversation and joshing came to a halt as the dishes arrived. Some got tore into the haggis naan even before their mains arrived, just to see what it was like. The consensus seemed to be: spicy, and an appropriate combination. The distinctive aroma of ambala was predominant, but Trampy, who had opted for perhaps his first ever fish curry at TATTGOC, was impressed at the density and spiciness of his Goan fish curry, which he then insisted everyone else try. The desi dishes also looked good, but there was some confusion when a dip of brandy and basil arrived. It tasted like a reasonably seasonable accompaniment. Everyone has horror stories about expansive Christmas office parties where the food has been cold or arrived at intervals comparable to the Maya long count calendar. Mr Singh's clearly has the capacity and the staff training to make things go extremely smoothly.
Clean plates all round, then, and some even had room for the chocolate fudge cake or ice cream or Christmas pudding dessert option, while others just when for coffee. Then came a traditional highlight of the occasion, the Tramps' lucky dip. In years past, the gifts have been, quite literally, random. But in a bid to reduce tears and possibly create some additional content for the blog in 2013, the Tramps had gone for a range of curry mixes, at first glance eight boxes of the same thing but at closer look, more like a Kellogg's multipack. The bemused Clubbers were then told that the gift came with a few strings, like a fairytale. When they made the curry from their gifted mix, they had to take a picture to document the experience and tell the world a little bit about it.
With that, the team gave thanks to the team at Mister Singh's for laying on such a fantastic spread, the Curry Club filtered outside for the traditional arranged photo, comparing curry mixes amongst themselves like excited children after a visit to Santa. As they struggled to read the recipe suggestions on the back of each box in the wintry night, Trampy tapped The Tramp softly on the arm to get his attention amid the hubbub.
"Do you think any of them will do as we ask?" asked Trampy, his face fair glowing with festive cheer.
The Tramp looked off to one side, as if accessing a happy memory past, before laughing softly and giving his head a barely detectable shake. "I would be bloody gobsmacked if they did."
Merry Christmas from TATTGOC!
Range of Drinks: Well-stocked, expansive bar – which had the right ingredients to create a round of complimentary jelly sambuca shots which enlivened the last phase of the evening.
Highlights: Varied menu delivered efficiently, excellent service, festive ambience.
Lowlights: A brief argument about After Eights.
The Verdict: A merry experience!
The Damage: £285.89
SOME OTHER RECENT TATTGOC OUTINGS
Akbar's, Charing Cross
Authentic(?) Curryhouse, Partick
Assam's Cafe, Edinburgh
Shezan, Cathcart Road
Charcoals, City Centre
Cafe Darna, St George's Road
Kama Sutra, Sauchiehall Street
Killermont Polo Club, Maryhill Road
Nakodar, Annfield Place