Edinburghers Recommend Their Favorite Curryhouse – Part One

TATTGOC's burly founders may like to cultivate the impression that they know everything about curry, but the fact is their knowledge – such as it is – is strictly limited to Glasgow. So when they came up with the idea of dedicating a month of posts to Scotland's "other" major city, they were canny enough to realise they couldn't rely entirely on their own experiences. And so they decided to reach out to some of the capital's notable faces and foodies for some curry knowledge ... the sort of people who have lived, worked and loved in Edinburgh. The brief was simple: tell us a little about your experience of curry in Edinburgh, and then nominate your favourite Edinburgh curryhouse.

The response was so passionate and voluminous – over 4000 words and counting – that we had to split them up into two posts, with the second installment (featuring restaurant critic Richard Bath, veteran journalist Jonathan Trew, TATTGOC's own Edinburgh curryspondent The Poppadominator and more) landing in two weeks time. But first, here are the detailed, impassioned responses from our first responders, who have kindly opened up about their experience of curry in Edinburgh. One particular curryhouse gets a lot of love, but there's also room for pop-ups and imagined apocalypses along the way. And there's a very special TATTGOC salute to everyone who took part in our shambolic survey ... you are all now honorary members of the TATTGOC massive. Take it away!

Vic Galloway – DJ, presenter, promoter, raconteur, dude

Although I'm a contented resident of Auld Reekie and a huge fan of the city in general – with its small population, grand architecture, green spaces and annual festivities – I have always been of the opinion that Edinburgh doesn't do curry as well as some other cities. It is hugely cosmopolitan in outlook and has great ethnic diversity, but it just doesn't cut it in the same way Glasgow does. You can eat well in Edinburgh, but when upping the ante on the eastern spice front, it's not quite there yet. Having said that, I've filled my belly many a time and had little to complain about afterwards.

Honourable mentions should go to Khushi's on Broughton Street where I've scoffed excellent Punjabi cuisine that made my taste buds tingle; Bombay Bicycle Club off Tollcross with its sumptuous tandoori delights; and the wonderful Rivage on Easter Road which may have the most fresh and zingy Indian cooking in the city. In fact, Rivage would get my vote as my new, favourite curryhouse in Edinburgh, with its Dal Makhni (Black lentils), Shish Tawouk (chicken cooked in a Bhatti-open fire grill) and Saag Gosht (boneless lamb and spinach) were it not for one place: Kebab Mahal.

"She may not look like much, kid, but she's got it where it counts ..."

Anyone who calls Edinburgh their home or visits regularly, and has any interest in spicy food, knows all about Kebab Mahal. A great example of “don't judge a book by the cover”, this innocuous little shop on Nicolson Square may look a little run-of-the-mill, but it's an absolute revelation! I clearly remember my first visit there and my last, a few weeks ago. The menu looks somewhat uninspiring. The usual names abound – pakora, tikka, bhuna and biryani – with familiar ingredients, uneventful photography and brief descriptions. The staff are friendly, modest and down-to-earth, and as a Muslim establishment all the food is halal with no alcohol served. This matters not a jot, because as soon as your food arrives, all your preconceptions are shattered. Not only are the prices right – nothing on the menu exceeds £7.50 – but everything is cooked to perfection. The dhal has just the right amount of spice and heat; the fish pakoras are mouth-watering and the various combinations of saag, aloo and bindi are delicious. However, what Kebab Mahal specialises in is ... the meat!

Whether squeezing yourself through the door for a takeway; perching precariously on a stool by a Formica table once inside; or queuing at their stall at the Mela in Pilrig Park (always the busiest onsite) you will be blown away by the perfect balance of taste and simplicity. Grilled meats, effortlessly done – is there anything better? Personally, I'd order along these lines (for 2 or 3 people obviously ... ahem!): Lamb Tikka and Fish Pakoras to start, Chicken Jalfrezi, Chicken Shaslik and Shish Kofte Kebabs as mains, with Saag Aloo and Tarka Dhal as side dishes. Stick a Peshwari nan, a couple of chapatis with some pilau rice on the side ... and you'll be unable to move your way out of the restaurant at the end! I guarantee you'll eat every last mouthful too.

So, come to think of it, Edinburgh does have quite a bit to shout about on the curry front after all. If you’re travelling to the Capital for some Fringe action this month, make sure you drop into Kebab Mahal or any of the places I’ve mentioned – you will not be disappointed!

Kebab Mahal, 7 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BH (0131 667 5214) www.kebab-mahal.co.uk

Stephen Jardine – TV/radio presenter and co-founder of Taste Communications

For the last year, I've been working with Mithas in Leith to try to help introduce Scots to a new kind of Indian eating experience. My first taste of curry was with my brother in the 1970s at Glasgow's famous Shish Mahal in Gibson Street. My brother was a student and was used to the exotic ways of the Shish but I was a teenager just off the bus from Dumfries and it blew my taste buds and my mind. Since then I've been a curry traditionalist but in recent years I've been lucky enough to eat Indian food cooked by some of the big names in London like Cyrus Todiwala and Atul Kochhar and it has excited me just like that first dish at the Shish.

Mithas is bringing that style of Indian food to Edinburgh with dishes like Tawa Lobster, Venison Kebab and Monkfish Tikka. It is clever, subtle spicing using top-notch produce and it tastes like no other Indian food in Scotland. Unlike lots of other Indian restaurants, they are committed to local sourcing using Scottish beef and lamb and vegetables from an organic farm in East Lothian. My role is to help promote the restaurant but when they picked up Best Indian Restaurant of the Year at the Scottish Restaurant Awards I was proud as a customer as much as anything else. Mithas is Indian food the way you think it should be.

Mithas, 7 Dock Place, EH6 6LU (0131 554 0008) www.mithas.co.uk

Hilary Sturzaker – nominatrix of Edinburgh foodie blog MyMonkfish.com

I’m originally from Birmingham and moved to Edinburgh in 1998 and initially wasn’t sure if I’d be able to satisfy my balti cravings. I also never imagined I might be involved in helping put together a restaurant event. But that's what happened in Autumn 2011 when mymonkfish.com teamed up with Earthy Foods for the first ever Coconut Curry Club pop-up, and it was a truly memorable night of curry.

In true pop-up style the tables were pushed together so that everyone could meet new curry friends and talk food. An Indian film projected onto a screen as the uber-hungry huddled in ready to sample the delights that the Earthy chefs had prepared. Eastern hints and touches were displayed around the room including appropriately coloured napkins and bombay mix to munch on.

The menu consisted of red onion squash samosas with yoghurt and home-grown mint sauce, followed by South Indian-style organic beef and coconut curry, cardomom rice, hand made flat breads and a side of pomegranate, cucumber and red onion salad. For dessert, there was a delicious semolina and coconut halva, with rosewater creme fraiche and pistachio ice-cream. 

There are a lot of curry fans out there and they’re a hard crowd to please but listening to the hubbub and the chat throughout the evening there were plenty of happy and satisfied people. All agreed that the spice levels hit the spot, the menu design was perfect and above all the quality of the produce in the dishes absolutely made the evening. A particular highlight for everyone was the home-grown mint sauce which accompanied the red onion squash samosas. The organic beef coconut curry was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a delicious sauce which had been bubbling away all day, the kind of dish that gets better the longer you leave it. All of the produce was locally sourced in keeping with the Earthy values ... with the obvious exception of the coconut as none of us have seen a coconut tree recently in Scotland!


Parvez – right-hand man at Meena’s Chai Lounge, Edinburgh’s Indian supperclub

Edinburgh has plenty of curryhouses. Perhaps not as many as our neighbours in the west, but the scene is catching up quickly with the diversity of the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisine now getting a fair and much deserved representation. Only a brute would ask one to pick a favourite child or a favourite Indian restaurant. There is a curryhouse for every mood and occasion. Here is my pick of newbies, flashies and the cuddlies.

Mithas is the newly opened “fancy-end curry house” as we call it, in the shore area of Leith. With a taster menu boasting dishes such as Tawa Lobster and Red Mullet Masala and opening shop in the Michelin quarter of town, the ambitions of the proprietors (who have been feeding the masses through the Khushi’s restaurant chain for decades) aren’t a secret. It’s a perfect spoil for the romantics who like their Valentine’s supper with a touch of spice.

On the other hand if you like the taste of the Indian west coast, Annapurna and Kalpna on the Southside of toon are a no-brainers. Vegetarian dishes never tasted so good. The patra (steamed avri leaves stuffed with spiced gram flour) and the crispy puris are to die for. Annapurna is for a Sunday lunch and who said meat is king? You can get a sumptuous buffet lunch of similar stuff across the road at Kalpna for a mere 8 quid! And after 25 years of doing this they know how to lay a spread.

The new kid on the block is Tanjore, bringing much-awaited South Indian fare to town. I have been dosa-starved for years, making frequent trips to Glasgow since Banana Leaf opened there for my dosa fix. The Tanjore menu is filled with various kinds of doasas, idlis and vadas which in itself brings a smile and water to my gob, but the chettinadu style lamb and chicken curries take matters to a different level.

However, if apocalypse struck, took everything and all and I was wandering around Auld Reekie hungry for food and with a stump for a brain and the most primitive of instincts, I would cross the bridge, past the hopefully still standing magnanimous Old College building, with trembling knees to Kebab Mahal.

When the apocalypse comes ... best head for Nicolson Square

I would fully expect the lovely Khan Sahib somehow having escaped it all welcoming me with a smile and nodding to ask “if it’s the usual”, thus saving my brain stump the pain of any thought. I would eat karahi lamb and nan, and since I wouldn’t have eaten for days, follow it up with lamb biriyani and two poppadams with raita instead of gravy. Thus normality will be restored and humanity will be saved. It is my Mecca, it is my Taj Mahal, it is my El Bulli!

So, we welcome you all to the East, to taste some of our humble offerings. We know you are well fed over there in Glasgow, but you might still be in for a surprise ...

Kebab Mahal, 7 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BH (0131 667 5214) www.kebab-mahal.co.uk; the next Chai Lounge Supperclub takes place in September, click HERE for details

And a brief word from Ian Rankin ...

When you think of famous Edinburghers, Ian Rankin is right up there with Sean Connery. But unlike Big Tam, Rankin is extremely active on social media. Inbetween a Venice holiday and various Edinburgh International Book Festival engagements, he kindly tweeted TATTGOC some curryhouse recommendations, including the favoured haunt of his most famous creation. (Although isn't it about time Rebus investigated the Kismot Killer, since the restaurant is opposite the St Leonard's nick?) Here's where he recommended, in any case ...

NEXT WEEK ON TATTGOC'S AUGUST EDINBURGH EXTRAVAGANZA: The official TATTGOC Edinburgh outing ... where will our burly heroes end up? Find out August 16

AND IN TWO WEEKS: Part 2 of Edinburgh Foodies Recommend Their Favourite Curryhouse, feat. Richard Bath, Jonathan Trew, The Poppadominator and more. Join us, on August 23

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