The Bollywood Lounge & Indian Restaurant
Colour, glamour and lots of film posters to decorate the walls - Bollywood should be a gift to the restaurateur looking for a handy theme. Henry Hepburn visited a new Glasgow venture.
The gaudy glamour of the Indian film industry seems a parallel universe away as you button up on a dreich Glasgow night and stride past Sauchiehall Street's greasy takeaways and booze-addled hordes down by Charing Cross. Yet, just on the other side of the motorway, hidden away on quiet Elderslie Street, is the intriguing prospect of the Bollywood Lounge, formerly the Observatory and Scaramouche bars.
Neon signs buzz, plasma screens pump out hits from strutting Bollywood stars, and a flashy Tom-Cruise-in-Cocktail central bar bounces light off a hulking chandelier and shiny leather upholstery. Viewed from the outside it's a promising mix of kitsch and cool after crossing the urban gash of the M8, a bit like stumbling upon a Willy Wonka outlet in a grim industrial estate.
Proprietor Tommy Jameel, a veteran of established curry houses like Kama Sutra and Ashton Lane's Ashoka and protégé of Asian cuisine noteworthies Charan Gill and Balbir Singh Sumal, has ambitious aims for his latest venture. A dapper, infectiously enthusiastic chap who could have relied on his law degree were he not so determined to strike out as an independent restaurateur, he's a little sniffy about late-night curry and lager guzzlers. He wants his restaurant to be something altogether classier, populated by well-heeled professionals more inclined to chink champagne flutes than shovel vindaloo down their throats.
Tommy makes no apologies for the long waits between courses, explaining that his dishes are carefully prepared stage by stage, spice by spice, and that nothing is pre-prepared. There are some dishes he insists are to be found nowhere else in the UK, although, in truth, they don't veer too far from the heavy, bubbling sauces that define tried and trusted Scottish translations of subcontinental favourites.
Allo channa chatt is a rich, ruby-red mix of chickpeas in tomato and tamarind with a pleasing edge of sweetness; tali macchli amristari, a less appealing starter, is deep-fried haddock with a spicy crunch but little sign of the advertised thyme. Chicken chettinad, a south Indian dish with tandoori meat, has a subtle lingering smokiness to lift it while chicken nagaziah, another speciality, is cooked with ultra-hot naga chillies, but they're tempered by a chef who doesn't sacrifice the tingle of more delicate spices at the altar of macho heat.
Tommy has been unlucky in his timing, credit crunch and all. A place like this requires big crowds for the right atmosphere to kick in, and on quieter nights the chintz and VIP seating look a little forlorn. But he remains admirably resolute in his vision: monthly Bollywood nights, during which it sounds like he wants to recreate the backstage atmosphere at an exclusive Mumbai film premiere, are starting up soon.
The Bollywood Lounge & Indian Restaurant: 138-140 Elderslie Street, Glasgow 0141 353 6931, Set two-course lunch £5.95; average two-course evening meal £16.