Title: The food and service is still fantastic
Publication: Daily Record
Date: July 2009
Photo: Mushtaqs interior and exterior
Let's be honest, folks, Opal Fruits and Marathons have never been quite the same since they were re-branded as Starburst and Snickers.
So, after years of operating very successfully as the Taj Mahal, what sort of success can we expect for the Hamilton curry-house now called Mushtaqs? Well the future is bright and - even better - thanks to the fact that a distinct lack of artificial colourings and preservatives means no old fashioned, day-glo curry sauces, the future's definitely not orange...
Having both quit high-flying jobs in London to take over the family business originally run by their parents, the Mushtaq couple Ajmal and Nisreen have obviously put a lot of faith in the restaurant. And, after just one quick visit, I think they've pulled it off.
Just a two-minute walk from Hamilton West train station, the restaurant is directly opposite Bar West - a friendly wee boozer, perfect for an aperitif, where the staff waxed lyrical about the food in Mushtaqs.
It had been recommended by my hairdressing pals Stuart and Rena who had regularly enjoyed their Monday night curry fix when it was operating as the Taj Mahal.
And so, after sending the pair of them home to get scrubbed (well, there's nothing worse than the loose hair of 101 strangers in your pakora sauce) and imposing a strict ban on any"Are you going on holiday?" chitchat, I invited my two crimping companions for a curry.
Mushtaqs is small but (almost) perfectly formed. The stylish, modern interior is bright and spotlessly clean and the restricted space - I make it they've got just 36 covers - helps to trap those tantalising Indian aromas. The busy buffet - plus the queue of customers waiting for carry-out curries - made the restaurant (barely bigger than Stuart and Rena's salon in the west end of Glasgow) appear a little cramped. Still, in these troubled times, you can only admire a place that's struggling to squeeze them in on a Monday night. Yep, when it comes to pulling in the punters, Mushtaqs has clearly got it sussed.
Teething problems? Well, there was no tonic water for Stuart's G& T (told you he was a hairdresser) and the wine list hadn't yet arrived back from the printers.
Also, if the chairs at Stuart and Rena's salon were as wobbly as our table at Mushtaqs, I'd have a hairdo like Archie Macpherson's. As for the menu, I think it's quite refreshing to find a curry house these days that's NOT doing Indian tapas. Surely the wheels are due to fall off this particular bandwagon? Offering "proper Indian food" Mushtaqs has adopted quite a retro approach and, using only 100 percent natural ingredients in the kitchen, they promise it's "simply the food we eat at home". If the enormous nan bread is anything to go by, they must have some size of hoose!
I liked the sheer simplicity of the menu. Unlike some hefty volumes in Indian restaurants that look like leather-bound editions of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, one easy to-navigate page covers all .
Choose from eight traditional starters (no surprises) and then select a curry base (chicken, lamb, veg or king prawn) cooked in any one of 10 different styles from mild korma to hot garlic chilli. While the aforementioned buffet (starters, nine main dishes and all the usual sundries) is just £9.90 for three courses, the a la carte was also great value and it cost £70 to fill three of us with food and wine.
To start, the chunks of gluten-free vegetable and chicken pakora were noticeably smaller than usual, but this meant it was much lighter and crispier. When pakora's the size of golf balls, I think this classic Indian appetiser is too dry and stodgy.
To follow, Stuart and Rena both enjoyed their personal favourite - a rich chicken bhoona that benefits from Mushtaqs' guarantee about not using processed meats or artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives. My lamb garlic chilli was also very good - ditto the fluffy, freshly-made chilli nan.
Dessert? Don't be daft. When do you ever order one of those after a curry? Although, if you take a notion for something sweet the minute you leave Mushtaqs, why not pop round the corner to Peter Equi's which, as Lanarkshire readers will testify, sells the best ice-cream on the planet. We just got the bill and, when the waiter asked if we enjoyed our meal, Stuart replied: "Great, thanks, smashing."
That's how I usually respond when he's finished cutting my hair. But at least I know he meant it...