Now I’ll admit straight at the outset, this was a first for me! What does tapas say to you? Me, it shouts Spanish all day long, so imagine my surprise when I’m invited to review an Indian restaurant who offer tapas dishes.
Not only was it a first for me, but I think it could be for Glasgow too. It was a very clever piece of business acumen by the owners who came up with the idea, as it fits right into a perfectly self-created niche market – well it rather had to when there are nine other Indian restaurants in a two-mile radius of Argyle Street’s Green Chilli Café.
Located pretty well equidistant from Sauchiehall Street and Byres Road it sits in a small row of shops near to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. With this in mind, you won’t be surprised to learn that parking is at a premium here, and although there is non-metered off-road parking after 6pm, you’ll have to be quick to grab a space.
Disabled access to the ground floor is fine from street level, but given the restaurant is up two flights of stairs with no lift, disabled guests may find this to be a problem.
On entering, the décor was exactly as might be expected with splashes of reds and gold, subtle lighting, dark wood accents and leather furniture in a rich red, all offset with images of the Orient. Thankfully, the background music was entirely appropriate to the setting. The restaurant can cater for around 60 covers in private booths, table, and wall banquettes.
Service was friendly and welcoming and we were immediately shown to our table, presented with menus, and had drinks orders taken. The air of efficiency was becoming evident even at this early stage in proceedings.
We were asked if we’d like some poppadums, onions and chutney to try while perusing the menu. It took less than five minutes before these were duly delivered along with the drinks. Be aware, that as we were two diners, only two poppadums were provided, however, if I’m being entirely honest, given the quantity of food sampled thereafter, this was actually a good thing!
The poppadums themselves were dry and crispy exactly as they should be, with no oiliness to them. The spicy onions were delicious, with a kick, as well as a sweetness on the tongue, which, along with the chutney, if you’re that way inclined, worked well. The home-made mango chutney was delicious – a subtle sweet flavour as opposed to that cloying sickly stuff you get in jars.
The menu isn’t as extensive as you would normally find in an Indian restaurant, however, there was ample choice. I suspect this allows the chef to be able to prepare the dishes quickly when they are ordered as smaller tapas-style sizes. And on that subject, what a great idea. How often have you eaten in a restaurant and wanted to try something different, but for fear of not liking it and wasting something, have gone for your usual dish? This way you can easily sample several styles of cooking, at minimal cost and decide what you like. I think it’s a genius idea and I’m amazed it hasn’t been thought of before.
We, that is myself and ‘The Wingman’, also sometimes known as my son Euan, opted to make a bit of a pig of ourselves on the starters, with chicken pakora, garlic mushroom poori, seekh kebab, chapli kebab, and chilli chicken. As these arrived one after the other and the table started to swell we did think we had gone overboard – but after all, we were there to sample food, so no point in being shy about it!
It soon became apparent, why the Green Chilli Café’s head chef Sunil Thakur has won the accolade of Chef of the Year at The Scottish Curry Awards 2016. The restaurant advises diners that food may be staggered in its arrival at the table as it’s all cooked to order, and I can testify that this was the case, but with some of the freshest food possible. You just know when something hasn’t been sitting under a heat lamp hoping an unwary customer will ask for it at some point during the night.
Our service was being overseen by an eagle-eyed co-owner, Peter Janampally who was formerly the restaurant manager at Coatbridge’s Ashoka Shak. He told me: “Indian restaurants are very popular in Scotland. Just in this area, there are nine within a two-mile radius so we knew we had to be different. We aim to make our curries authentic, giving each its own distinct flavour and we also make sure we give our customers the best dining experience. So Sunil and I work well as a team.”
Worthy of a special mention was the seekh kebab (minced lamb, onion and spices cooked in a tandoor). This was not only extremely succulent and tender but was well seasoned giving just the right ‘kick’ on the aftertaste. The chicken pakora was so tender it was broken with a fork, while the garlic mushroom poori had a good infusion of garlic overlying a general sweetness to the sauce. The poori itself was a nice light batter with good crispy fried edges and a softer chewy central portion – it’s perfection for a poori maker. To add some heat to these starters, the chilli chicken did the trick, but not to the point that you had to rush to the corner shop for a pint of milk!
After a suitable amount of time – to make notes, or at least that’s what I told staff, whereas in fact we actually needed time to make some room for the mains!
Wingman selected the chicken chasni while I asked if the chef could rustle up something not on the menu – a king prawn Ceylonese korma. The chasni was a nice natural looking colour not that fluorescent orange stuff you get from dodgy takeaways, as was also the case with my korma. You won’t find a kitchen full of e number colours at The Green Chilli Café. The chasni contained around eight good lumps of chicken breast in enough sauce to help mop up the rice. This chef certainly knows how to cook food to just the perfect level. No having to saw the chicken apart, or that stringiness you get with overcooked stuff. This was just prime tender breast meat in a light fruity sauce, which was pineapple and tomato based.
Unfortunately, this is where things went slightly awry. My king prawns simply weren’t king size, and for me there’s nothing worse than ordering king prawn and getting something that isn’t. Oddly some were larger than others, however to find a ‘king prawn’ which measures no larger than, say a 10p piece doesn’t meet my definition of the menu description used of ‘king’. Normally in this dish, the prawns are so large you get four to a serving. My dish had 11 mixed size crustaceans. Despite querying this anomaly, I was told that the restaurant does use size 6/8 prawns in the dish, but these definitely were not. (King prawns are sold as a number to one pound of weight – 6/8’s are six to eight prawns weighing in at a total of 1lb). That said though, it was still a damn fine curry. Light in texture, but sweet with the coconut and a creamy consistency overall. I chose this dish as it’s not the easiest to get right mixing the rich ingredients together with an appropriate spice level to retain the curry edge – and Sunil coped admirably well.
The mushroom rice was very well cooked, light and fragrant with just the correct amount of mushroom and peas added – and it was served piping hot. And to top off the mains, was the almost obligatory Peshwari nan bread. Again I like choosing this, because not only does it work well with dishes like chasni’s and korma’s, but I wanted to see if it was one of those horribly oversweet things filled with a coloured sugar paste. Of course, as was expected, it wasn’t. It had a light, sweetly sugared coconut paste filling and sprinkled with desiccated coconut on the outside. It had been cooked perfectly with just a few of those black charred pieces which give it such a characterful flavor.
Dessert menus were then proffered, but I’m sorry to say were the usual pre-packed and frozen variety mix which have become so common in a lot of restaurants these days. It’s a shame really as India is renowned for some excellent puds, such as, kheer, gajar ka halwa, gulab jamun, and their own ice cream, kulfi. The restaurant did say that they do make a selection of home-made desserts for special occasions such as Valentine’s day, Mother’s day, Christmas and the like.
All in all, even with the couple minor stumbles, I’d recommend you give The Green Chilli café a go. It’s a steal on your pocket, and I’d stick my neck out and say you won’t find a cheaper way to eat Indian food in Glasgow.