My favorite story in the newspapers the last couple of months has been coverage of a trade magazine for the Indian-restaurant industry, Tandoori. Last month, editor-in-chief Iqbal Wahhab wrote an editorial condemning the somber, unfriendly service in many curry houses: “Walk into an Indian restaurant, no matter how posh, and more likely than not you will be ‘greeted’ by a miserable git.” Predictably, newspaper reporters did not have any trouble finding indignant Indian-restaurant waiters willing to go on the record about their extreme dislike for Mr. Wahhab.
Some background here: there are lots of Indian restaurants, all throughout the UK. (Tandoori circulates to 8,000 restaurants in the country.) Many of the waiters are borderline surly, because traditionally, there are two seating shifts in the evening. The first is maybe a half-full restaurant around 7 or 8 PM. But the second comes at 11 PM, the instant the bars have last call and close for the night. Pissed (that’s drunk, not angry) pub patrons stumble into the nearest Indian establishment, wanting a curry and a Kingfisher to wash it down with. So from dealing with sloppy drunks night after night, many curry-house waiters have a thinly veiled contempt of the entire world. But since Mr. Wahhab accused friendly waiters of “fawning and crawling,” there doesn’t seem to be any way to win with him.
This month, there’s another wave of coverage, because Iqbal Wahhab has been sacked! And Tandoori magazine–whose slogan is “The Voice of the Industry”–spends their new issue busily apologizing. The table of contents leads off with “Apology–please see pages 14 and 15.” But wait, there’s more! The next entry: “Also see pages 3 and 54.” There’s four full pages of apologies, running over 2,000 words. Here’s seventeen of them: “No one today can knock the curry restaurant sector in a one-sided manner and be taken seriously.” Page 15 sports an enormous bold headline: “TANDOORI MAGAZINE APOLOGIZES.”
Some newspapers are pointing out that this may not be because the Tandoori publishers actually feel any sense of shame, but because the publishing director is an importer of Cobra Beer, and restaurants had been threatening to stop stocking it.
Final note: when you’re craving spicy food, going to a curry house for a vindaloo is really your best bet. British cuisine has improved in recent years, but it’s still largely a case of the bland leading the bland. I have even spotted, in the local supermarket, the oxymoronic product that is mild Tabasco sauce.