In most curry houses of my acquaintance a dull thud after dinner is usually evidence of a drunk passing out.
But at Curry Corner in Cheltenham it’s a sign of confidence as the waiter drops a hefty comments book on your table.
And this is no ordinary comments book. The leather binding renders it mightily impressive from the outside, and a flick through the pages reveals some glowing endorsements from people who would claim to know their bhuna from their bhajee.
They include some very satisfied locals, a few tourists and even a small handful of celebs. Indeed the pages are printed with the testimonials of Rick Stein, Richard Branson and Gordon Ramsey.
It’s all a bit bogus of course because good manners dictate that you don’t spice up the comments book with fiery feedback. If the curry isn’t up to scratch surely you just tell them? Or do a runner?
Imagine Stein writing: “I’d rather have fish and chips.”
Branson: “Powerful enough to fly my balloon.”
Ramsey: “******* brilliant!”
But we know that’s what Ramsey really thinks because this place was the second-best curry venue in his TV challenge last year for local restaurants, beaten only by an even trendier joint in Birmingham.
While I wouldn’t say I have a problem with the concept of Michelin-starred Madras, it is a fair step from my curry house comfort zone.
My long-time favourite, Ray’s Place in Hull, has its roots in Bradford, a city where if you want cutlery you generally have to ask. The norm was, and still is in many places, to dip and dunk with your naan, chapati, paratha or house equivalent.
In some ways Ray’s is more sophisticated than that; in others not. With us it became a tradition during the 80s – plenty of beer in the local, top live music at the Adelphi club and then a curry at Ray’s, same day every week. We called it Ruby Tuesday.
And then there was a place in Attercliffe, just outside Sheffield city centre. I remember the food was great, the cutlery was absent and there were No Waiting cones on the tables, so it must have been a stag night.
In both of those places four or five of us could have eaten handsomely for the prices charged at Curry Corner, but they were much more modest establishments and it was nearly 30 years ago. The beer was plentiful, not that we hadn’t knocked back enough before we arrived. Indeed if someone had presented us with a comments book we’d have struggled to write our own names.
At Curry Corner we couldn’t fault the food or, given the surroundings, the price. But the beer selection was limited to bottles, which always means higher prices, and the serving dishes, when not quite empty, were whisked away before you could decide whether to dip or dunk.
So if we’d contributed to the comments book it would have been with three tips that may (or not) help the place take first prize in Ramsey’s new TV challenge.
- Let’s have some draught beer please instead of just bottles.
- Slow down. It’s not speed-dating (unless it is on a Tuesday night in Cheltenham and no one told us).
- Let’s have a nicer pen please. I bet Gordon Ramsey wasn’t offered a pound shop ballpoint with a broken clip.