REVIEW: Finally! Shish Just Got Real

Shish Mahal, Park Road

It has taken them down some strange roads, this journey. Even if the original idea sprang from an arguably ungallant premise, Trampy and The Tramp's Glasgow of Curry – TATTGOC for short; a code, a creed, an incantation, a word to whisper through the grille of a reinforced door – has always placed high value on honourable conduct, the Tramps leading their enthusiastic, fluid band round the compass points of Glasgow in search of old favourites and new experiences. Five years of searching, and they end up somewhere surprising but somehow inevitable.

Of course, for five years they have been half-jokingly seeking some holy grail: a particularly transportive dish, perhaps, or a hitherto uncalculated formula of setting, company, ambience, alcohol and spicy, warming nourishment that could be described as transcendent. A Higgs-Bhuna particle, a dhansak of dark matter. The Tramps gear up like Shackleton and go in search of their own fevered idea of curry paradise, hoping to find Eden in a tandoor, utopia among a million grains of jewel-coloured rice.

Chasni Hawkes; The Duke

There are reviews, but are they really? There are no ratings, the culinary analysis remains amateurish, the detailing of orders often incomplete yet booze tallied with fastidiousness – it's anecdotes and bibble, huckster prose more rickety than towering, puns slathered on willy-nilly, like plaster on a haphazard sculpture to ... what, exactly? Yet something holds it together. Maybe that overused word "brotherhood"? Some kind of fraternal heartbeat, pulsing strong and true, even as – presumably – the arteries harden around it. Five years. Long enough to change a person, surely?

The Birmingham Wan; Rogan Josh Homme

Call it an odyssey, emphasis on "odd". Homer's hero removed himself for 20 years, a decade locked in combat against Troy, a decade pinwheeling back to Penelope and her painstakingly crafted and regularly unpicked tapestry. Odysseus, a self-aware brainiac, took a few wrong turns along the way. So have the Tramps, lightly hamstrung by self-imposed, faintly arbitrary but nevertheless rigorously-observed rules, an invisible charter dictating their fate. Mindful of the pantheon of great Glasgow curryhouses, the Tramps tiptoed around them, shading in the gaps of their knowledge in a weekly ritual that was part-genuflection, part-due diligence.

The Shish's famous lamb chops, mostly devoured

To pitch up at the Shish Mahal after five years could seem like a fairytale. And like all good fairytales, there have been doublings. The Tramps crossed the threshold of another Shish Mahal "early doors" in TATTGOC's existence in 2009. Not the "real" Shish, you understand, and yet somehow no less real: a place with notably elaborate interior decoration, murals colourful enough to be more memorable than the food. In hindsight, that visit may have been conceived as an in-joke, a fourth-wall-breaking nod that the real Shish Mahal would remain forever beyond the purview of this nascent undertaking.

Rumpole Of The Balti; Sir Spicy Lover

And yet, and yet. After five years, the holy men of TATTGOC – monkish in their adherence to certain tonsorial matters, as well as those of beards and eyeglasses – found themselves in the real "real" Shish Mahal. Among this brotherhood there was, detectable, a sense of rising up, of ascending, of becoming. Also, unexpectedly, a sense of surrender, an almost dream-like lack of agency. This might have boiled down to something as simple as requesting the banquet option, where a conveyor belt of superior starters and dishes descend automatically, a culinary voyage with no need to manually trim the sails, a crossing you can spend in your hammock, essentially. For anyone who dreams of curry, this would have seemed merely like an extension of dream logic, a subconscious conjuring desires into reality.

The Tramp, deep in meditation

The starters? Sublime. The curries? Uncommonly good. The mental energy usually require to calculate a heroic rice/naan equation? Redirected into passing various delectable naans up and down the long, long table. The Shish celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014 and will perhaps always feel timeless. With the greatest respect to Mother India (Trampy's favorite Glasgow curryhouse) the Shish that has come to represent a certain idea of Scotland's biggest city: totemic, venerable, even without all the Chicken Tikka Masala origination stuff. Deliberately or not, it has been TATTGOC's yardstick for every outing, an implied measure loitering in the background of all 300 blogposts to date.

Bobo Balti; Ravi Peshwari

Quests, fairytales, Bluetones songs ... ultimately they are about coming home, and the Shish is a place the Tramp has frequented man and boy, and – in another folk tale doubling – also a place he has taken both of his babies (if you could ever in true conscience call a weblog a baby). When it came to a special blowout, a birthday fandango, perhaps this most venerable curryhouse would always have been where TATTGOC would have washed up: no place better for a desert island dish than the Shish, right? The tone was celebratory, the Curry Club's symbolic ties joyfully sauce-splashed, Predator 2 gnawed over as carefully as the lamb chops. Truly, it was a Curry Club for the ages, a dizzyingly high watermark, a pinnacle for this picaresque band. Mr Ali and his hard-working team, TATTGOC salutes you.

TATTGOC: a candid portrait

Also, inevitably: the Shish is the hardest of all acts to follow. So after five years of Glasgow curry cheerleading, of curry snuffling and curry-loving, it might be time for a furlough. A festive break to recharge, regroup, re-up. An opportunity to polish the spicy sextant and work out where next to plot a course for Curry Club. But know this: warmed by exotic food, permissible beer and comradeship, the TATTGOC brotherhood – yeah, yeah, perhaps an overused word in these pages – will always be ready. Aye, ready.

TATTGOC visited the Shish Mahal in November 2013

Shish Mahal
60-68 Park Road G4 9JF
ph: 0141 334 7899


Bobo Balti said...

A tremendous evening. Thank you.