Today we go back to where it all began. You see, I wasn’t always a “kebab muncher”. In fact, there was once a time when I didn’t even eat meat.
Yeah, you read that right. From about 16-ish to when I was 19-and-a-bit, I eschewed meat. I can’t remember exactly what prompted this move, but I did eat a hell of a lot of vegetarian bacon butties. Turns out, the particular brand I ate was mainly GM crops, so that’s me f’ked in 30 years time. Then I moved to Glasgow. The vegetarianism lasted about a week.
For some people, it’s relationships that go west when you start university. For me, it was my relationship with Quorn. As pleasant as their fake southern fried chicken is (and it is), it was only a matter of time before the freedoms of young adulthood and living in a far away place would combine with alcohol and knacker the lot, and despite some early resistance to post pub takeaways, I completely caved in and got a kebab. Where did this happen? You’ve probably already worked it out – if you haven’t, please check your pulse – it was Cafe India in Glasgow’s West End.
Oddly, it was never really a big student favourite – that accolade went to the now closed Alladin’s about 4 doors down, which did an absolutely dreadful kebab but their pizzas were good. Cafe India circa 2001/2002 did a kebab approximately the size of a micronation and charged £2.50. There was no arguing with the economics of the matter – you got a lot of food for not a lot of money, and the food was good. Fast forward 15 years, what’s it like now?
Good Lord, that looks grim dunnit? The poor lighting doesn’t help, but that salad looks like it’s seen better days. And the meat – doesn’t look particularly appetising. This, I had realised, was to be the first ever Cafe India kebab I’d had sober. I wasn’t exactly filled with dread at this point, but I did question whether or not I’d made a huge mistake and whether I should cut my losses, chuck it in the bin and get a sandwich out of Waitrose or something.
Luckily, looks can be deceiving, this was every bit as nice as I remember, albeit not quite the same (notwithstanding my sobriety) – the meat was delicious. Perfectly seasoned, not too tough, nor did it fall apart as soon as you shoved the white plastic fork into it. The salad – perfectly edible provided you try not to think about it. The sauce – and there was sauce on this, you can’t see it – was key. In 15 long years, the chilli sauce has not changed one bit – and I’ll be willing to bet it’s gone through several owners since, and it’s the sauce that really makes it. Not all that spicy, but full of good old teeth knackering sugar, think warm, watered down Heinz ketchup with a few chillis in it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was exactly how they made it. Then there’s the naan.
The freshly baked naan bread is what set this place apart from its competitors back in the early noughties – nowadays fairly common, but in the West End back then most kebab shops were pitta bread merchant – truly an inferior and woeful bread to shove meat on/in. When I looked at my purchase, I was concerned to see that the bread was a little thinner than it used to be, however I guess that’s the luck of the draw – the same great taste of their naans came through in the bite, though I would urge caution if you wish to discard the tray and eat two landed – it looked like it might collapse.
Much like anything else from the past that you remember fondly through rose tinted glasses, this kebab, like Wagon Wheels and Freddos, had shrunk. Whereas before one of those would have done me breakfast the following day as well, this was consumed whole within 5 minutes. Only four pounds for a small one though, which is far from unreasonable these days.
All in all, was it good? If I were to be totally objective, probably not. Istanbul on the Southside has raised the bar of what is a good kebab – and the kebab here is nowhere near as good. But so what? Horses for courses – Heinz Tomato Soup is nowhere as good as a mixed grill, but both have their place in the world – and like Heinz Tomato Soup, Cafe India kebabs are dependable, and have that unique, consistent, reassuring flavour. Sod it, this *was* a good kebab, not an excellent one, but it ticked all the right boxes. And, as things stand, it’s the best place I’ve been to in the West End thus far during the lifetime of this blog. Know anywhere better? Do get in touch.
Cafe India, Great Western Road
Doner Kebab, £4.00. Seating available.