Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

I draw the line at a coffin lunchbox

This week Michael visits Balbir's in Glasgow, but is not too impressed with dinner served in a coffin and elusive poppadoms

Published 24 July 2011
News Review
940th article

Michael at Balbir's with, from left, Sonia and Shazad Bakhsh and the owner, Balbir Singh Sumal (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Billy Connolly said: "The great thing about Glasgow is that if there's a nuclear attack, it would look exactly the same afterwards."

My new best friend, the 33-year-old selfmade multi-millionaire Shazad Bakhsh, who was brought up in a Glasgow council hostel, drove me around the city he was proud of. A few lovely old houses, the central George Square good, but they've put some stupid additions on top of one of the old buildings. Glasgow is a great place for the Glaswegians. I like them. Not crazy about the town.

Shazad had arranged for a friend who owned three of Glasgow's Indian restaurants to open the best one, Balbir's, for Geraldine and me to eat Saturday lunch. It's in a faceless, ghastly street, with interior decor to match. Mostly black with some tacky chandeliers.

Balbir Singh Sumal, the owner, greeted us pleasantly. Nice man. No idea of how to decorate restaurants.

Food started well with a Bombay dish called bhel - puffed rice, roasted pulses, tamarind, apple and mint. Cold. Good.

They took the poppadoms away. "Bring them back," I said. "I can't believe this place: they've got no customers but us to give them to, and they remove the bloody poppadoms." Geraldine said they were the best she had ever tasted because they weren't heavy.

"Shall I bring the next course?" asked Balbir.

"Yes, I've got to keep moving. Just throw them in," I requested.

Balbir responded: "People usually say we rush them."

"Nobody could rush me in a restaurant," I replied. "The speedier everything is, the better."

Along came scallops with an exquisite butter and masala sauce. "Local?" I asked. "Very local," said Balbir, adding: "For you now, the most successful dish talked about in Oban."

It was a piece of salmon roasted in the tandoor, with three blobs of colour. "The red one's my wife's carrot and tomato chutney, the green is apple and mint chutney." I never learnt what the third one was. All together okay, not great. I won't be talking about it in Holland Park.

Balbir announced he once took cod liver oil and it came back to him all day from his stomach. "Just what I want to hear when I'm eating lunch," I said. "If you've got any other medical problems, keep them to yourself."

I asked him to turn the piped music off. Some local mussels arrived in a very spicy sauce, the whole thing rather like a soup. Pretty good. I'd asked for chicken biryani but got lamb biryani. So-so.

As restaurateurs often do, Balbir tried to give me everything including the kitchen sink. So up came some buttered chicken tikka chasni central Indian style. Balbir told me this was the most popular dish in the west part of Scotland. I thought it was sickly-sweet. The west of Scotland is indeed beautiful. Foodies can forget it.

The bread arrived late. Balbir said: "It goes very well with the biryani." But we didn't get it with the biryani.

There was nice yogurt with mint, which had a cooling effect. Balbir offered: "We can make a chicken biryani but it'll take a few hours."

"I'm getting on a private jet. Can't wait," I explained.

Dessert was gulab jamun, like a little rum baba. That was excellent. The "best Italian ice cream" with it was the worst vanilla ice I've ever eaten in my life.

A patchy meal. Would have tasted better if it wasn't served in a coffin.

PS: Two days after I left Glasgow, Shazad was on Loch Lomond in a friend's speedboat. His friend drove into the wash of a bigger boat. Shazad reckoned the boat rose 30ft in the air. When it crashed down he was seriously injured. Dislocated back. So bad Shazad will never be more than 90% mobile again. I'd sue. He's too nice.

  • I recently had the non-pleasure of returning to hospital. First was a major emergency (won't tell you what) when I ended up on the national health at the Chelsea and Westminster. I was saved. In for four nights.

    As usual, if the illness doesn't kill you, the hospital food will. So the saintly Geraldine went out into Fulham Road and got from Tray Gourmet really good baguettes with tomato and basil, a croissant aux amandes and yogurt. Coffee from Starbucks. Once a morning, croissant. Strangely Starbucks did raspberry, strawberry, apple and blackcurrant jam but not marmalade. Also superb soups from Carluccio's.

    A week later they had to give me another general-anaesthetic operation to check what had been done. That was one day in the London Clinic. Food from the greatest deli ever, the nearby Reubens of Baker Street. Amazing fried fish, chicken soup with trimmings.

    Funny way to review restaurants, really.

  • From Don Roberts in the Wirral: A policeman comes to Hymie's front door holding a photo of his mother-in-law. "Do you know this woman?" he asks. "Yes," replies Hymie. The policeman says: "I'm afraid it looks as if she's been hit by a bus." "I know that," says Hymie, "but she has a lovely personality."

    Michael's missives

    You seemed uncommonly comfortable reviewing the restaurant at High Down prison last week. How about the restaurant at the House of Commons next, another place of dubious characters?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    Has anyone realised that with Vat increased to 20% the "discretionary" 12.5% added to our bills is now the same as the 15% minimum in the USA? When is the service here even half as good as in the USA, where they really work hard for their tip?
    Neil Stevens, Hertfordshire

    How lovely to learn from the ST that not only Placido Domingo but you also have no hang-ups about signing autographs. All that remains is for you to pop one of your blank cheques in the post to me with your autograph on it!
    Nick Jones, Drome, France

    These top-shelf restaurants see you coming, invariably serve you unsatisfactory dishes and provide indifferent service at inflated prices. You seem to return, like Oliver Twist, asking for more. I wonder what your score to date would be on the satisfactionometer?
    Peter Black, York

    I'm about to be arrested by agents of British Gas because I haven't paid for a smoke detector. Please can you send me £30 in stamps? I know that you're in a parlous financial state, but I'll pay you back after a spell in Dorchester prison, or use the stamps to write to you about the food.
    Geoff Reakes, Dorset

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk