Courtesy Of Cafe India, A Very Special TATTGOC Tapas Tastin'

The Tramps – and by extension, the entire TATTGOC brotherhood – have never claimed to be curry experts. As it says on the beautiful 2010 trophy still regularly passed back and forth between Trampy and The Tramp, they are “curry lovers” ... enthusiasts in the all-inclusive, beardy spirit of the Hairy Bikers rather than Masterchef’s tut-tutting Torode and Wallace. That said, we have probably eaten more curry in the past three years than some people will manage in a lifetime, and with that amount of conspicuous consumption comes a certain level of knowledge, even if it’s instinctive rather than the result of book-learnin’. Call it a gut feeling, in more ways than one.

So when Café India, the resurgent Indian restaurant in the Merchant City, got in touch to ask if the massed, ribald ranks of the Curry Club would be interested in helping them test-drive some proposed extensions to their recently-launched tapas menu, it would have been ridiculous to refuse. For what better focus group could there be then Glasgow’s foremost curry adventurers? For if there’s one thing the boys are good at, it’s telling you what their preferences are when it comes to curry. (Often after the ordering has been done, it has to be said.)

A little background: since the start of 2012, Café India has been iterating and innovating almost every aspect of their business, starting with a swanky refurb. In February this year, the Tramps and Mumbai Me A Pony popped in to sample their new lunchtime tiffin menu geared towards local businesses, which was excellent. Café India also announced Sunday cooking classes for those wanting to broaden their curry knowledge. Then they launched a tapas menu, which the Tramps got a taste of during a fantastic Black Isle Beer and tapas evening in March. Then they introduced a special dish of the week. Then Wednesdays became ladies night, with a free cocktail. There’s always something happening, which is great (especially if you have a monthly podcast always looking for curry news items). It's no surprise that they've been nominated in the "Best Of Glasgow" category of the imminent Scottish Curry Awards 2012.

So TATTGOC were thrilled to be guinea pigs for any proposed extension to Café India’s tapas menu, not least because it simplified even further the logistics of ordering for the group. The invitation went out to the brotherhood, and a squad of eight was assembled: The Tramps, The Duke, Ravi Peshwari, Sir Spicy Lover, The Gheezer, Rabbie Shankar and Chasni Hawkes. At first, only six of us assembled at the table – The Tramp and Rabbie Shankar were rushing to the Merchant City direct from work – but there were no complaints, as there were four (five if you include spiced carrots) different accompaniments to go with the obligatory poppadoms, including a very different mango chutney. Despite it being Wednesday night, none of us qualified for a free ladies night cocktail, but there was Black Isle Yellowhammer on tap, which was an extremely tempting alternative.

The previous beer and tapas tasting had involved dishes arriving one at a time – not least because each had been specifically matched with a different ale. For this taste test, all five brand-new dishes would arrive together; not as scientific, perhaps, but definitely more enjoyable. To help keep track of what was what, the restaurant had cunningly printed up a worksheet for each TATTGOC member in attendance, with a breakdown of each dish with a space below inviting comments. I’m not going to lie – at first, I feared the life-affirming yet slightly bawdy instincts of the massed Curry Club would involve them scrawling at their questionnaires like angry toddlers, drawing dinosaurs, Darth Vaders, dobbers and other juvenilia. Oh me of little faith.

The Tramp and Rabbie finally swept in, just in time to join the rest of the restaurant in an impromptu Happy Birthday singalong for another patron in the bustling dining room. Soon after, the tapas dishes began to arrive, predominantly in dainty ramekins that were three to a plate. After four plates – 12 dishes – had arrived, the Tramps figured that would be that. Then another four plates arrived. And then another couple. Tapas is always about sharing, but for this experiment, it looked as if there would essentially be a man-to-man marking system. Instead of rice, various fresh naans descended, perfect for scooping up the rich masala sauces.

For sheer handiness, most of the squad started with the tuna tikki, deep-fried cakes of tuna, garlic and ginger that were the perfect finger food, especially when dipped in the accompanying tamarind sauce, rich and robust. Hopefully it’s not breaking any Official Tikka Secrets Act to describe the other dishes from Café India’s Research And Development lab. There were two very different koftas, one made from chicken meatballs – a new one on me – made with spices and almond powder, served in a notably rich sauce of ginger, garlic and tomato. The vegetarian-friendly chickpea and potato kofta had a different texture but still a decent kick thanks to the cumin and turmeric among the masala sauce.

As you might expect, the Curry Club fell upon these dishes like prisoners recently released from a medieval oubliette, but to give them their due, between cramming forkfuls of delicious kofta into their gobs, they did occasionally pause, furrow their brows and jot down their thoughts in surprisingly ornate cursive. The koftas were relatively easy to compare and contrast, but vocabularies were perhaps stretched by the remaining two dishes: a mushroom lazeez characterised by sweetcorn and spring onions and – perhaps the winner “on the night” – a dish of sea bass and aubergine that had Clubbers swooning, and then tactically attempting to gather all the mini-dishes towards their end of the table. The full results are yet to be collated, but if Fish Egg Plant doesn’t end up on the expanded Café India tapas menu, there will probably be a few of us demanding a recount.

With the assistance of a steady stream of naans, the Curry Club worked their way through the sea of ramekins and even though, at one point, it looked as if they might fail to put away all of the food on the table, every member dug deep ... to the extent that out of an absolute feast of tapas, when the dust settled there were only a few dishes of mushroom lazeez leftover. (With each dish coming with its own lid, there were a few surprises and fake-outs when undisturbed Fish Egg Plant dishes were suddenly revealed in the “tah-dah!” style of the experienced stage magician.)

While the rest of the Curry Club finalised their notes, The Tramp and I caught a quick chat with owner Tony, who filled us in on some fairly ambitious plans for Café India and more. Then manager Rav – a savvy yet discreet observer of the Glasgow curry scene – gave us a tour of the kitchen to see where the magic happens. By that time, the rest of the crew had finished their homework and handed in their worksheets. So after settling the beer bill, the delighted brotherhood took their leave, calling it one of the best TATTGOC evenings ever. Hopefully their feedback will have been of some use, and we await the updated tapas menu with much anticipation.

And what other plans for the future? Another Café India innovation has already caught the eye of the Tramps: the “Tikka Chance Challenge” where one brave soul attempts to finish a notably spicy curry with its roots in Rajasthan, which looks impossibly beautiful on the plate but will apparently wreak all kinds of havoc with your mouth. If you do survive, and complete, the experience, you win a free two-course meal for one where presumably you can order something a little less lively.

We could mibbe have tried it on the night ... but were happier to frolic among the tapas.


Bobo Balti said...

Sad to have missed that one. Sounds like it was a good 'un. Intrigued by the Tuna Tikki.