Edinburghers Recommend Their Favorite Curryhouse – Part Two

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 that we had to split them up into two posts. The first installment is available to read HERE, but here's our concluding part, featuring yet more love for the Kebab Mahal, a wide range of recommendations from all over the city (one of which extends all the way to Dalkeith!) and a delicious detour into the world of bhangra burgers.

The Tramps offer up a very special TATTGOC salute to everyone who took part in our survey ... you are all now honorary members of our Curry Club ... 

Owen O’Leary – author/editor of The Locals’ Guide To Edinburgh

“Khushi” means happiness, but then not all happiness is equal. There are three different Khushi's in Edinburgh all vying for the title of happiest curryhouse in the city. While I can't vouch for the staff I'm pretty sure customers of Khushi's on Broughton St are well content. Actually the staff seem pretty happy too. This Edinburgh institution has been around for over 30 years and not fires, floods or traffic redirections can stem the flow of trade through its doors.

When I moved into a flat a few doors down it became my local curryhouse and to be honest I didn't think about it too much. I knew I was going to go there and it wasn't going to matter whether the food was good or not. After years of living in Stockbridge I was used to the “OK but not great” options so wasn't expecting much. The first meal at Khushis was all the better for it. Huge portions, delicate flavours and naans the size of a cricket bat! The old menus used to actually have that written on them. Cricket bat comparisons weren't the only curiosities on the menu, lovers of fish and chips were told where to go ... straight to the dishes marked “L” for learners, while loyal customers were thanked again and again and again.

"Naans the size of cricket bats ..."

Many of the dishes are cooked in the Tandoor and my faves are the Tandoori Chicken Tikka on the bone, their fab Biryanis and the Punjabi Massala has all of the heat you need but none of the burn. They've streamlined the menu recently so some of the quirkyness is gone but sitting in for dinner you can still tell you are somewhere special. Partly because of the incredible handcarved chairs from Pakistan but mainly because there's a sign outside stating that this is the great Khushi's everyone is talking about and the other ones are but poor imitations of happiness. It's been a while since I've strayed from the path to my Khushi's and found myself in the other restaurants of the same name and I'm afraid I'd have to agree. Happiness begins on Broughton St.

Khushi Punjabi, 32C Broughton Street, EH1 3SB (0131 556 8092) www.khushipunjabi.com
The Locals' Guide To Edinburgh is available from Amazon – click HERE for details

Jonathan Trew – veteran journalist and 5pm.co.uk blogger

I’ve got a lot of time and stomach space for the fresh and zingy tapas-style dishes at Mother India’s Cafe and admire the efforts of Mithas to overhaul the image of Indian food. However, my heart belongs to the old-school charm of the Kebab Mahal.

Proust had his madeleines but I get all misty-eyed at the thought of the Kebab Mahal’s chicken madras, a mere sniff of which can take me back to my days as a young shaver in the late 1980s. The service is welcoming but often shambolic; the decor is basic canteen style and the queues for takeaway mean that eating at the raised table seating by the door usually involves having a student’s rucksack in your face. Naturally, I wouldn’t change any of it.

The food, when it arrives, is generously proportioned. The flavours are punchy; the rice light and the curries are seldom oily. It’s honest, satisfying food. I’m sure they have gone up but the prices seem to come from a much earlier era. Most of the dishes are under £7; a princely sum back in the day but one which makes me feel like a rapacious highwayman when I eat there now.

Donkey’s years ago, I was there reviewing it for one of the papers when a blootered punter came in for a kebab, dropped his kecks and started singing Flower of Scotland. Obviously, it was a shameful and deplorable incident but a gift from a reviewer’s point of view and just one of the many reasons why the Kebab Mahal always burns bright in my mind.

Kebab Mahal, 7 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BH (0131 667 5214) www.kebab-mahal.co.uk
To keep up with Scotland's foodie goings-on, bookmark the 5pm blog HERE

Aoife Behan – co-founder of Jelly And Gin and pop-up dining doyenne

I love curry. Sometimes I’m too greedy to wait until a respectable hour to fulfill my spicy needs and when that happens I head to Punjab'n de Rasoi on Leith Walk. This translates as the Punjabi Women’s Kitchen. It’s a training kitchen run by a charity where women from the Punjabi community learn to cook in a commercial setting. See – my greediness is all in the name of a good cause. I usually opt for one of their thali selection: this mini-feast consists of curry (meat or vegetarian), daal, yoghurt, chapatti, rice, salad and a poppadom all served on a single tray. It’s the perfect curry lunch for a spice addict.

I also have a soft spot for this place because they very kindly let me take it over to host our second Burgher Burger night with Tony Singh. Tony usually cooks western food at his restaurant Oloroso, but there is one thing that stands out on his menu. A £45 bhangra burger. We were lucky enough to convince him to do the same burger with a starter, and dessert AND four beers for £35. Lucky Burgher Burger punters.

The Bhangra Burger in the wild
To say that the bhangra burger is anything less than epic would be an understatement. It was a whole meal in a bun. A spiced, minced lamb patty, sous vide shoulder of lamb on top, spiced onions, devil curry sauce, aloo tikki... epic. This night has gone down in Burgher Burger history. I hear that some people still pound the streets of Edinburgh hoping to get the same Bhangra Burger high.

It was great working with Tony, and we’re planning some more spicy guerilla dining fun, so stay tuned for news on that.

Punjabi'n de Rasoi, 122-124 Leith Walk, EH6 5DT (0131 553 4737) More info at www.sikhsanjog.com
Follow Jelly And Gin on TWITTER and FACEBOOK. Also check out www.burgherburger.co.uk

Richard Bath – Scotland On Sunday restaurant critic and editor of Scottish Field

I’ve got a mother-in-law who grew up in Calcutta and a wife whose idea of a good night in is a king prawn balti with a mountain of freshly-cut green chillis “because they never make it hot enough”, so curry has always played a large part in my life. Edinburgh’s curry scene has always been fairly low-key, but there are several star contenders. The incomer from the other end of the M8, Mother India Cafe, has its devotees (not least Alex Kapranos), and I’m rather partial to the whole concept of Indian tapas so have a soft spot for the place.

The vegetarian veteran, Kalpna, is just around the corner from Mother India’s Cafe and remains incredibly popular with students and fans of authentic Indian cuisine. Mithas, down in Leith, set itself up for a fall by declaring that it was the first Scottish Indian restaurant to actively target a Michelin star, yet with its subcontinent haute cuisine it remains a genuine one-off and is well worth a visit. The granddaddy of them all, Khushi’s Diner at the top of Leith Walk, remains the curryhouse of choice for proper Edinburghers, but while the food hasn’t changed much, I’m still in a sulk about the demise of their fantastic old site on Victoria Street, where you could watch the chefs work.

There are plenty of others, of course, but another soldier in the trenches who deserves a mention in dispatches is trying-to-be-trendy Voujon on the Southside. Finally, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention Itihaas in Dalkeith, which is a commuter town to the south east of the city, but if you ever get hopelessly lost and find yourself in this down-at-heel corner of wild West Lothian, fear not. I should also mention the newly relocated Mosque Kitchen. It’s as much a profound cultural and gastronomic experience as a good meal out; eating there does more for community cohesion than any amount of wishful thinking.

But I’ve been asked to come up with my favourite curry house in Edinburgh, and my choice is none of the above, although I’m a fairly frequent flier in just about all of them. Instead, my hotspot is a fairly little-known Indian restaurant called 9 Cellars Thali, which is right next to The Stand comedy club on Queen Street and which was recommended to me by the inestimable Balbir, the eponymous and larger-than-life patron from Glasgow.

It’s not pretty, it’s rarely full, and with its endless nooks and crannies it’s not exactly conventional, but the food there is startlingly good. The menu isn’t big but it’s dominated by head chef’s Phool Thakur’s sublime dosas – gorgeously light, with a delicate texture that makes you wonder how they don’t simply fall to pieces, they are comfortably the best I’ve ever had. Thakur was voted Indian Chef of the Year in 2007 and has a strong track record of innovation back in India, and that shows in the dishes he makes at 9 Cellars. The Goan fish curry is my favourite, but the lal mars (spicy Rajasthani lamb curry) and the ka chilli (crispy lentil pancakes packed full of spiced chicken) are both worth travelling across town for.

9 Cellars Thali, 1 York Place, EH1 3EB (0131 557 9899)

The Poppadominator – TATTGOC’s token Edinburgh member

Being a member of TATTGOC and living in Edinburgh is kind of like being the gay member of a boy band. You’re part of a gang that celebrates something, be it Glasgow’s curry houses or The Ladies, yet you’re strangely detached from proceedings, like watching through a glass darkly. This must be how Stephen Gately felt.

Discombobulation and curry are common bedfellows in my psyche. Growing up on a farm in Northern Ireland is not conducive to nurturing a love of curry from a young age. In a family where it was de rigeur to have at least three kinds of potato with every meal, Saag Aloo was never one of them. Curry was mysterious, alien, and forbidden.

And then I landed in Scotland. I still remember my first ever curry, a £5 business lunch deal at the Taj Mahal in Stirling. Prompted by my worldly Scottish companions, I had chicken Rogan Josh. To them it must have been like watching Crocodile Dundee on his first escalator. My Oasis T-shirt never quite got rid of that phosphorescent red sauce, and neither did my taste buds.

After university I gravitated towards Edinburgh, rather than curry’s spiritual home in Scotland, Glasgow. Thankfully the capital is home to enough fine Indian restaurants to satisfy this now fully formed curry palate.


Whenever any passing Northern Irish relation comes through town demanding steak, I take them instead to one of my favourite haunts, Mother India’s Café on Infirmary Street. A spin-off of the Glasgow institution, it serves up its fare tapas-style, meaning no major commitments for curry virgins. Instead you can gradually introduce them to the wonders of the Subcontinent. Aloo Gobi is usually the gateway dish before leading up to my personal favourite, Chicken Achari.

So, as much as I love eating away from home in Glasgow, Edinburgh is a wonderful place to be an out-and-proud curry lover.

Mother India Café, 3-5 Infirmary Street, EH1 1LT (0131 524 9801) Visit their website

NEXT WEEK: The final instalment in TATTGOC's month-long Edinburgh adventure ... be there Aug 30 for the earth-shattering conclusion!!

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