REVIEW: Twistin' The Night Away

Masala Twist Tikka And Tapas Bar, Hope Street

Traditions are important – like the metronomic whipcrack that keeps a woodentop spinning, they can stop something from toppling over by regular application alone. They also create the comforting illusion that it's possible to impose some sort of framework or order on the chaos of the universe. And there are few parts of the universe more likely to be chaos-filled than Trampy and the Tramp's Glasgow of Curry. And yet TATTGOC's outings are a strange cocktail of strict traditions and jazzy improvisations. (Actually, scratch that – it's never been that good an idea to introduce cocktails to a Curry Club outing.) One of TATTGOC's long-standing rules has been not to patronise curry restaurants that operate as part of a chain but, increasingly – like fraternal, inbred, idiot kings of a sundowning empire – the Tramps have been approaching things with a "why the hell not?" approach.

Perhaps this was why the Tramps treated themselves to a Tony Singh Roadtrip in February while neglecting to organise an official Glasgow outing – and when they realised that their busy social diaries meant a shrunken window of just one week for the next TATTGOC meet-up, they decided to slightly misunderstand and yet embrace the pop-up example of Tony S by announcing a Curry Club with just a few days' notice rather than the usually plodding fortnight of planning. Not only that, but it would be a visit to what you could nominally describe as a chain – the relatively recently opened city centre outlet of Masala Twist, sister restaurant to the original Masala Twist on Byres Road. Would the rest of the boys rebel at these two stinging slaps in the face of tradition? The Tramps had some sort of cover story prepared – the Hope Street restaurant was slightly different, in that it billed itself as the Masala Twist Tikka And Tapas Bar. See? Totally different.

If the Tramps had any fears of mutiny, they were groundless – not only did a healthy amount of Curry Clubbers respond to the call-to-arms, they also had responses from not one but two special guests from Big London town. Who could they be? Assembling for a quick pint of ale in The Pot Still, the Tramps, The Duke, Rogan Josh Homme, Sir Spicy Lover, Ravi Peshwari and Bobo Balti waited to see who the surprise faces would be. First up was long-time reader, first-time Clubber Kulfi Annan, who just happened to be in Glasgow visiting the in-laws. And second, there was the incredible return of Jalfrezi, one of the founding fathers of TATTGOC, who – along with the Bulldosa – had somehow become even more of a legend after leaving. All these generations of Curry Clubbers, from the extremely old to the brand new, came together to discuss a favourite TATTGOC topic: what they were going to have for their tea.

Always on the lookout for new openings, the Tramps had spotted the Hope Street Masala Twist – a first floor restaurant at the top of Hope Street accessed by stairs next to Jack McPhee – during some sort of shopping sortie. Back then, if memory serves, it didn't have the additional "Tikka And Tapas Bar" tag but that just made it sound even more exciting. The Tramps had gone even more off-piste than usual by organising their bumper nine-man booking through the service, where the restaurant was offering a special £20-a-head deal with two of their (apparently pretty substantial) tapas dishes, sundries and three drinks. The simplified nature of the deal appealed to the Tramps, although explaining it to the troops took a little longer.

The upstairs dining room was spacious and very colourful, although quite dimly lit, which explains the slightly murky nature of the photographs accompanying this report (it's not just some artistic attempt to echo the discombobulating effect of three drinks). A long table for nine had been put together at one end of the restaurant, and there were various other tables of already tucking in. With Kingfisher on tap, the first round of drinks was ordered, as well as a round of poppadoms with mango chutney, spiced onions and, at the canny behest of Ravi Peshwari, lime pickle. Then the menu browsing began, since the "Tapas Twisters" section from which the Clubbers would be expected to order a pair of dishes apiece, was extremely long. The closest thing that Curry Club ever gets to silence descended, punctuated by the occasional sharp karate chop of a poppadom.

The genial manager explained that Masala Twist tapas (at around a fiver each) were probably a little more substantial than you might expect, so two per person was a good fit, even for curry veterans. Starters were also available but the Tramps made the executive decision to focus the troops on the tapas, and they ended up making their minds up relatively quickly. Some recognisable old favourites got multiple orders, such as butter chicken, lamb desi, daal makhani as well as lamb karahi, lamb jallandari and (nominally the hottest of the tapas) south indian chilli garlic chicken. But with two options to go for, the Curry Clubbers had also gone for more unusual dishes too, from the Junghlee Khargosh (rabbit curry) and Zyakedar Hiren (venison curry) to a special Subz Miloni vegetable curry and Choza Tak-A-Tak, a fusion of spiced juliennes of chickens, onions and peppers that was also extremely fun to say out loud. The Tramp, still in the throes of his keema obsession, also ordered the mince and tatties curry. Order placed, the table relaxed, and prepared for their second round of Cobra.

While not an entirely open kitchen, it was still possible to see – and hear – the cooking process taking place behind the bar. There were plenty of staff who all seemed notably relaxed, moving efficiently but not hurriedly, stopping to chat to customers and generally creating a laid-back vibe. Some Curry Clubbers had spotted a special section of the menu devoted to "Scotland's hottest chicken curry", an especially Vesuvian dish that had to be specially ordered. At £20 a pop, it didn't seem appropriate to toss that particular spicy grenade into our tapas feast but as hottest curry experiments go, this one seemed reasonably classy (and had garnered press coverage in the Scottish Daily Mail and Daily Record in the run-up to Christmas 2012). Perhaps the Tramps would one day be able to fulfill their dream of mortal komchaat – where Trampy would tackle a specially-created spiciest curry and The Tramp a chef's considered attempt to create the mildest, to see who would crack first.

A couple of the serving dishes

Before too long, the 18 dishes were ready to be served up. Some came in mini cooking pans while others came in pretty decorative and pleasingly chunky ceramic bowls. As part of the deal, the Tramps could operate a man-to-man marking system when it came to sundries, so they went for an uncommon 4/5 rice/naan equation, with two garlic, two peshwari and a keema naan thrown in. During the operation to fit all of these dishes on the table, it become clear that a plain naan had snuck into the order but the error was quickly rectified. Trampy had really just gone for the rabbit curry in order to have a reason to make jokes about Chas and Dave, but it was pretty good. The venison curry got a thumbs up from Bobo, who had expected it to be more gamey. The daal makhani also got the thumbs up, and considering the speed the keema naan disappeared, the Tramps might consider ordering two the next time they spot it on a menu. The portions of each dish were considerable enough that there were only a few scraps left over at the end of the feast. The nine-man squad was sated ... and there was still the small matter of that third drink, included in the deal. Oh my. 

Yep, all these dishes were just for Trampy

A long time ago, there was an early TATTGOC tradition of finishing every meal with a brandy as a digestif. It lasted for about three outings. But since Jalfrezi was back in the bosom of Curry Club, and everyone was pretty stuffed from the food, the Tramps decided to resurrect the tradition for one night only. It was only after they'd ordered nine brandies that they realised they'd ran the place out of Martell – when they engaged with the manager to explain that, really, a few tequilas to make up the numbers would be fine, he revealed he'd already sent a staff member out into the night to restock. Thanks to that kind gesture, all nine Clubbers could raise a glass to welcome back old friends and new. And as the bill was settled – easy enough to work out with that £20 a head deal with just the poppadoms and dips to add – the ever-lovin' Jalfrezi introduced Sir Spicy and Bobo Balti to another TATTGOC tradition that had lain dormant for perhaps too long: the manly cuddle. A tear or two might have been shed ...

TATTGOC visited Masala Twist in March 2013

Masala Twist Tikka And Tapas Bar
261 Hope Street, G2 3PS
ph: 0141 332 6002

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
Yadgar, Govanhill


Bobo Balti said...

Ha! I had forgotten about the cuddles. Hurrah!

Robin MacDonald said...

"mortal komchaat" Classy.

Robin MacDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.