70 – The New Taj Mahal

Hungry due to fatigue after my Saturday run, I felt the sudden, almost violent need for curry. A gigantic pile of stinking Madras laid like bitumen on a bed of brightly coloured pilau rice. Curry that’s been cooking in a pan for fifty years. The meat and onions so infused with chilli that if left for long enough, a terrifying creature might one day crawl out of the slime and take over the world.

I walked home salivating. My bowels terrified at the thought of revisiting those lager saturated, vindaloo days of the curry house. Yet at the same time, happy at the thought of welcoming an old friend on board. However, fiery and unpleasant he may have one day been.

After a shower and the symbolic ten pints of lager, I ‘staggered’ off  to The New Taj Mahal on Rue de St. Georges to tranquillize my cravings. I’d purposefully chosen this one as it seemed like the place I’d feel most at home at: a poky, living room sized restaurant with six or seven tables arranged at odd angles complete with a selection of mismatching chairs. It felt more like a rundown second-hand furniture store than an Indian.

Once inside, one of the bone-tired, bad tempered waiters pointed to a table in the corner as though I was a suspect under interrogation. I thanked him and sat myself down at the fragile table to peruse the Dhal splattered menu. It looked good.  A limited range. Just like Abdul’s in Nottingham. A minimal selection so that everything could be cooked on the two ringed electric oven he bought from a catering dealer in Mansfield in 1977.

Despite having just sat down, I signalled to him that I was ready. The meal I use to gauge the standard is always the same: lamb madras, nan, rice, bottle of red. If you can’t get that right, it’s time to open a bookshop.

I knew something was wrong when after two minutes the waiter threw my food down in front of me like he was delivering my mail. Even the bad restaurants make you wait to give you enough time to think the food might be fresh. There’s no pretence here. Straight out. Onto the table. Down the hatch. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir. Next.

‘Next’, being the imperative word here. Because, NEXT TIME, BRING ME CURRY. Not four lumps of gristle floating around in a pond of watery custard. I frowned at the waiter and he smiled back. He must have thought it was all a big joke. But this was before I hacked his head off with a conveniently placed meat cleaver.

But appearances are deceptive. So I tasted it, and my initial reaction was one of, ‘Mm, not bad!’ But the brain can make anything taste good when it’s been deprived of something for so long.

Luckily the deception didn’t last, before the meat disintegrated into the consistency of corned beef and the sauce congealed into a rancid emulsion that coated the inside of my mouth in a gelatinous scum. I put down my fork, reached for the bottle and glugged down a quarter. And then some more. Then the rest.

I hadn’t eaten curry, I’d eaten glue. I summoned the waiter over carrying his head under his arm and tilted my plate so his eyes could see into it. There were no words exchanged. He simply shrugged as best he could and wrote out the bill. A bill for a single bottle of red wine and a wasted evening. Signed The New Taj Mahal, with compliments.


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