You know that moment, right? When your tongue’s on fire, but you can’t stop eating. That’s where we are, when the waiters start to worry

We’re in tears. All four of us. Four women crying in your restaurant is never a good thing. Curry Club’s CEO Rohit Zachariah looks terrified. He peeks through the door timidly, along with a clutch of whispering waiters. I can only assume they’re playing rock-paper-scissors to determine which unlucky man has to approach us. Rohit finally squares his shoulders and comes up to our table. “It’s too spicy?” We look up, eyes streaming. “No. No.” I smile. “I’m enjoying it.” He sighs. “You’re saying that, yes. But your face tells another story.” Then adds, “I’m so sorry. So sorry,” before turning to the waiters and saying, “Change the food. And tell the chef.” My friends hold on to their plates protectively. “No,” they squeal in unison. “We really do like the food.”

The minute Rohit leaves they turn on me. “Couldn’t you be more convincing? Can’t you smile more widely? Why are you torturing that sweet man?” snaps Friend 1. I stammer, “But… I didn’t.” Friend 2 pipes up. “You’re so difficult. Going red unnecessarily. Such drama!” I’m flummoxed. “But it’s an involuntary reaction.” Friend 3 pouts. “Involuntary, my foot. I’m going to call him back and say you’re allergic to your lenses. And drunk. And have just been dumped. At least he’ll feel better.” I gaze at them open mouthed. I don’t know whether it’s the comfort food or the genuinely affectionate service. But the Curry Club seems to have gained three very dedicated admirers.

We’re eating cubes of creamy paneer accompanied by a cloud of finely sliced onions. And beef with shards of green chillies, tough but tasty. It’s served with a bowl of fluffy Schezwan rice, tumbled with finely chopped vegetables. There’s also a beef roast, slathered in thick peppery gravy. We mop it up with dosas, enjoying the fiery spiciness of the meal. You know that moment, right? When your tongue’s on fire, but you can’t stop eating. That’s where we are, when the waiters start to worry.

The chef arrives in a tizzy. All of us smile brightly. Except for me. Because I’m busy spooning Schezwan fried rice into my plate. “I’m so sorry,” he says, and speeds away. My friends look at me angrily. “Look up and look happy,” one of them mutters, kicking me viciously under the table, as he returns. “To tone down the spice…” he says, holding out a tray of glasses nervously sloshing with fresh frothy watermelon juice. The juice is delicious. The gesture sweet. We smile as brightly as we can. And order some more dosas.

The Curry Club is a restaurant designed around customers. Originally a posh version of Mash (that popular and proudly grungy burger joint on Besant Nagar beach), it’s reinvented itself to cater to the needs of Nungambakkam’s daily lunch and dinner crowd. “Most of the restaurants in this area are quite upmarket, and expensive,” says Rohit, adding market research revealed that people wanted no fuss, reasonably-priced food for daily dining. The solution was to create a multi-cuisine restaurant that offered the favourites of a mass market. Desi-Chinese, with chop suey and chicken lollypops. A pastiche of Indian food, from kebabs to kurmas. And some favourites from Mash’s ‘continental’ menu, offering burgers, steaks and sandwiches.

While they play safe with the menu, listing all the usual multi-cuisine suspects, they also attempt to sneak in some exotica. Think paya curry, and a cheeky paan ice cream. This isn’t destination dining — but then, it isn’t intended to be. The food meets expectations, interiors are soothing, the service friendly. They’re willing to tweak the menu for you. And we find the fact that they offer ‘hot milk’ unexpectedly endearing.

Dessert involves gulab jamuns, springy and luscious, and phirni, not particularly authentic, but pleasing thanks to its simple clarity of flavour. There’s paan ice cream, crunchy with thinly sliced betel leaves. Rohit surfaces again. “Some people love it. Some hate it,” he says, looking at the ice cream apprehensively. Friend 1 loves it. I’m not fan. But I smile brightly. Really, really brightly.

Curry Club is at 3/2 Haddows Road, 2nd Street, Nungambakkam. Call 2821 1555, 2826 6555 and 2827 7555 for details. A meal for two is about Rs. 400.

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