Cafe Noor, ShawlandsGreetings, traveller. Come closer to the fire, hunker down and warm thyself – because this is a tale of that rarest of beasts: a Friday night Curry Club, with all the enthusiasm and chaos that dangerous phrase entails. Since time immemorial (roughly, November 2008), the warriors, brigands and tricksters of TATTGOC have stuck, broadly, to the same routine: a monthly outing to an undiscovered curryhouse but always on a Thursday, so as to remain separate from that sacred entity known as "the weekend". Thursday is adrift enough to encourage participation, but with the ever-looming spectre of Friday rushing closer, it creates an organic shock absorber. Surely things won't spiral too much out of control, because those burly boys have got work in the morning. But every now and then, due to circumstance or veiled design, the template – the goddamn wheelbase of TATTGOC, if you like – is deviated from. And no-one deviates quite like the Curry Club ...
At what point did things get crazy? In the pub aforehand, the Tramps, Chasni Hawkes, Rogan Josh Homme, Ravi Peshwari, The Birmingham Wan, Rabbie Shankar and Bobo Balti seemed more shellshocked than mischievous, lounging in a comfortable, if eyewateringly expensive, Shawlands style bar. The moment where the world of TATTGOC spun off it axis came a little later, during the traditional starter order diktat. The French have a saying: one egg is an oeuf. But there was a time when just one egg was just too much for Curry Club, a moment where the reliably affable and mild-mannered Ravi Peshwari almost blew his stack when, through a dish delivery mix-up, he received a curry with a hard-boiled egg in it. So the spirt of Loki must have descended on The Tramp when, after deftly organising two different types of chef's special starters for the eight-strong squad, he also floated the possibility of ordering egg pakora, a notable rarity on the menus perused at Curry Clubs past. All eyes swivelled to Ravi who, with surprising nonchalance, merely responded with a mild: "Aye, alright then." Boom! If he was previously sitting on a wall, Humpty Dumpty was no longer there ...
|The controversial egg pakora|
OK, let's back it up a little. The squad were in Shawlands to visit Cafe Noor, apparently the oldest tandoori restaurant on the Southside and a longtime target of the Tramps. Situated opposite Shawlands Shopping Centre, Cafe Noor was traditional but, judging by the menu in the window, still had a few surprises to offer and gave the impression of old-fashioned service combined with more up-to-date decor. When TATTGOC arrive, there were already a few occupied tables, although two arrangements dominated the dining space – perpendicular tables situated to accommodate eight and ten souls respectively. By the time Curry Club had settled in and ordered the first round of pints, more punters had trailed in – suddenly, the places was practically fully occupied, a genuine rarity during TATTGOC's Thursday sorties.
The usual military operation looked ragged from the outset. There was a decision to crowdsource the pictures, allowing every member to get in on the shutterbug craze with their phones. Usually the entire club sticks to the same lager brand, but with a choice of Cobra and Kingfisher at Cafe Noor, and six hands shooting up enthusiastically for the hooded snake, Trampy opted for the beautiful river bird. As they are wont to say in the Assassin's Creed videogame franchise: "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." Perhaps concerned that the egg pakora would be a misfire, the Tramps added an additional order of mixed pakora to their starter slate; surely four dishes wouldn't represent a challenge to eight hungry Curry Clubbers, even if two of them were chef's platters?
|The sizzling tandoori chef's platter, a real sight to besniff|
The first chef's platter and mixed pakora arrived without incident. In truth, it was nothing the assembled weren't used to dealing with. The egg pakora caused more of a kerfuffle as Clubbers leaned in to work out quite how it was constructed. Then, after a pause, the second chef's platter arrived, a loudly sizzling tray that turned heads even in the busy restaurant. It gave off a delectable aroma of chargrill meat and seemed piled impossibly high. All thoughts of the egg pakora vanished as various delicious chunks were harpooned, everyone quick to praise the succulent meat and suddenly actually relieved that lamb chops – the regular TATTGOC starter yardstick – had been nowhere to be seen on the menu. Slowly though, once everyone reckoned they'd grasped their fair share of the good stuff, the attention turned to the egg pakora. Would Ravi Peshwari deign to try some? What on Earth would happen if he did?
With his natural flair for the theatrical, Ravi sliced up half of the egg pakora, eyeballed it on the end of his fork and then, in a one fluid motion, placed the morsel in his mouth. A few hesitant chews. A slight nodding (or perhaps a seizure?). With an emphatic swallow, he placed his fork back down. The entire table held its breath, unwilling to break the tension. "Aye," said Ravi. "It's alright." It was as if the Man From Del Monte had said "yes", or the Apollo 13 crew had reported a successful landing – a giddy feeling of celebration and relief sloshed around the table. Would Ravi like another piece of egg pakora? "Nah," said TATTGOC's moral compass. "You're alright."
If there had been an unusual intensity to the starter course, it soon morphed into a dim awareness that there was a considerable amount of scran to be got through. Not that it phased our heroes, but with hindsight the delicious and substantial chef's platters would probably have been sufficient, although the mixed pakora had its pleasures too. The topics offered up for discussion were varied – not least because no-one wanted to make a big deal about Ravi's dizzy adventure – but inevitably included the recent passing of Thatcher, the earlier death of M Night Shyamalan's career and the merits of David Simon's earnest, jazzy, occasionally indigestible Treme, a love letter to New Orleans. The nearby table of ten had been claimed by a group of distinguished gentlemen, who seemed to be old friends still enthused by the prospect of curry. It seemed a good omen.
Gazing at the mirrored pillars of Cafe Noor, Trampy realised that their near-periscopic angle created the illusion of some sort of portal. And perhaps because he'd guzzled more than his fair share of tandoori lamb, his addled mind shot off at an unexpected tangent. What if, in the act of ordering egg pakora, TATTGOC had created a rift in time and space and were in fact in the same room as their possible future selves, witnessing a meeting of TATTGOC+25? It wouldn't be the strangest thing to happen at a Curry Club meet-up. He shared his thought with the group, who then subtly scoped out the table of silvery gentlemen. "Naw," said Rogan Josh Homme eventually. "Look, all of them have still got hair." Compelling evidence indeed.
Nevertheless, the spirit of adventure was alive and well. From chicken tikka banjarat to a lamb kolkata from the regional specials, a fish and prawn curry to chicken tikka shakuti, to a curry with lamb chops on the bone and a sizzling tikka dish topped off with melted cheese, the currynauts ordered from every section of the detailed, extensive menu apart from the European selections. (A chap at the TATTGOC+25 table was tucking into scampi and chips and even from a distance, it looked pretty good.) The Tramp's ongoing keema obsession still had a vice-like grip on him, and he ended up ordering traditional mince and peas curry from the "on the bone" section, which sparked an almost philosophical discussion about what mince on the bone would be like.
Even with the restaurant practically full, the service at Cafe Noor remained unflappably smooth – all eight dishes arrived in quick succession, along with perhaps the most unusual rice/naan equation ever attempted at TATTGOC: five rice and one naan (although actually, the one naan was a special £10 mix of plain, garlic, peshari, chicken tikka and coriander naans that were thought to be enough for four). If that sounds like quite a lot of food, it was, although that glimpse into a curry-loving future where there remained enthusiasm and cameraderie seemed to spur on the squad, who engaged with their dishes with gusto. No-one had gone for the Bombay curry cooked with egg and potato, however. Baby steps.
It was easy to see how Cafe Noor had not just survived but thrived – each Clubber raved about their dish and while Trampy had harboured reservations that five portions of rice would be way too much, when the dust settled, there was actually only naan left (which he wisely asked to be bagged up). Perhaps it was that Friday night magic, but there was a general consensus that this was on TATTGOC's most satisfying outings. The bill, when it arrived, was pretty high but that was most likely down to the £4.25 pints, of which 16 had been consumed. The Tramp's finance-sense must have been tingling, though; when he asked to look at the breakdown it took him put a minute to reveal, like Poirot identifying a murderer, that we'd been charged for 10 main dishes instead of 8 – literally, it seemed, our fates had become entwined with the TATTGOC+25 table.
It didn't take long to sort out the mix-up, and in the end it was around £31 a head – more than some recent TATTGOC outings, sure, but ultimately a fantastic evening, where taboos and perhaps even hearts had been broken. There was an extended period of horseplay with the wrappers of the After Eight mints that involved using them to black out the teeth of various Clubbers, but those pictures really don't need to be seen. Luckily, those Noor-Do-Wells kept it serious for the final shot outside the restaurant: