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Wood v Food: Lamb to the slaughter at Mumbai 27

Our man can't stand the heat in this kitchen as crazy curry blast beats him.

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 29/04/2016

Sweat it out: Christopher Woodhouse takes on the Mumbai 27 lamb curry. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Sweat it out: Christopher Woodhouse takes on the Mumbai 27 lamb curry. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Christopher Woodhouse with Mumbai 27 owner and head chef Ripon Biswas. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

Food handed me my second humiliation last week to go 2-1 ahead, but this punch drunk fighter was determined not to go down in the fourth.

Hoping to launch a comeback, I decided to play to my strengths and opted once again to put my taste buds on the line with another chilli-fuelled challenge.

The host of this week’s torture session was the hugely popular Indian restaurant Mumbai 27 on Belfast’s Talbot Street, facing the southern flank of St Anne’s Cathedral.

Renowned throughout the city and beyond for its outstanding offerings from the sub-continent, I looked forward to a more relaxed Wood v Food in the restful setting with its subdued lighting and welcoming decor.

After four weeks of causing grievous bodily harm to my guts, how could I be so naive?

Unbeknownst to me a plot had been hatched that would see me act as a human guinea pig in a field test of a terrifying prototype dish, soon to be unleashed on unsuspecting restaurant goers.

Two photographers accompanied me to the venue, both jumping at the chance to see my smug face twisted in pain yet again.

One was there to shoot stills and the other to record a video which, despite my persistent begging, you will be able view on the Sunday Life website in the days ahead.

We were greeted by the owner and head chef Ripon Biswas, with his customary warm smile and friendly handshake masking any hint of what lay in store. All he would divulge is that the meal in question was a lamb curry assembled in a small chemical weapons laboratory just behind the restaurant’s main kitchen.

I was seated at one of the linen-draped round tables in the middle of the restaurant with a few lunchtime diners dotted about the place.

Feeling the heat: The spice gets to work on our man after just a few forkfuls. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Feeling the heat: The spice gets to work on our man after just a few forkfuls. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

As the photographers got set up I ordered a bottle of water, hoping that one litre would be sufficient to dowse whatever heat that may be produced by the mysterious concoction being readied.

The first pang of nerves went racing through me when, in a foolish attempt at small talk, I asked the waiters whether they would have a go at eating the boss’s newest creation.

They just smiled and, to a man, firmly said: “No way.”

After what seemed like a suspiciously long time (psychological warfare on the part of the two snappers, I reckon) everybody was all set and Ripon arrived with the dish.

It appeared to be an innocent looking, albeit quite generous, portion of curried lamb garnished with a sprig of mint. “Wee buns,” I thought.

I decided that the same tactics that delivered victory in the hot wings challenge two weeks ago would see me through this with ease.

I would simply inhale the soft meat like a duck with a piece of soggy Brennan’s Wholemeal and fight off the consequences with a hundredweight of Rennies and a pint or two of Gaviscon.

As a couple of the standard ‘before’ pictures were taken I could feel the pungent aroma from the bowl make a grab for my nostrils.

That was my first inkling that all was not as it seemed.

However, I gave the rusty brown mound a steely stare and scooped up the first forkful.

The Kashmiri chillies hidden in the sauce made their presence felt straight away and my mouth quickly began to inflame as the chilli chemical, capsaicin, got to work on the inside of my cheeks.

The lamb was as tender as wet tissue paper and despite the fiery opener there was no doubt that this was a top-notch example of the curry genre.

Big mouth: Christopher becomes uncharacteristically silent as he gets stuck in to the lethal lamb. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Big mouth: Christopher becomes uncharacteristically silent as he gets stuck in to the lethal lamb. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

If I could stand the heat, I reckoned I could go the distance.

Thinking I had reached this point I threw in a second forkload, quickly followed by a third.

However, after four or five minutes the intensity was still growing and showed no signs of levelling out. Either I had completely underestimated the Kashmiri chilli or there was something more sinister at play in the background.

It now felt as if somebody had taken a belt sander to my tongue and the pain had reached a point where each forkful felt like chewing with the inside of my mouth covered in sunburn.

After another couple of laboured bites the lamb inferno turned a corner as the chilli chemicals began to assault my nervous system.

I could feel my lower jaw start to stiffen, as if I had just walked out of an extended session in the dentist’s chair.

My forehead was glazed in sweat, but removing my jacket did little to reduce the self-inflicted fever. A desperate tug at my tie and top button proved an equally empty gesture.

My fingers started to contract and it soon became a real effort grip the fork properly.

I tired taking sips of water, but I swear it evaporated before it hit my tongue.

Coming off in strips: Christopher struggles to maintian his composure in the face of the caustic curry. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Coming off in strips: Christopher struggles to maintian his composure in the face of the caustic curry. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

I had been here before, in my last series of Wood v Food, with a similarly hot curry at another Indian restaurant in the city. I knew I just had to wait it out and hope for the best.

Watching from the sidelines, Ripon suggested I try some of the cool yoghurt kept on hand for those who find themselves knee deep in a curry they can’t handle.

He could have offered me a tin of Dulux emulsion and I would have gladly necked it, as I feared my teeth were starting to melt.

A piercing pain had also broken out in my stomach, which felt like the Olympic pole vault team were practicing on my belly button.

Ripon arrived with a small bowl of what I hoped would be a magic antidote and I frantically shovelled all of the sweet, cold yoghurt into me, but it seemed to have little effect.

My head was now swimming as if I had just caned half a bottle of whisky and it became increasingly hard to concentrate on what was going on around me.

I was effectively plastered. Three sheets to the wind, but in an unpleasant way.

A second bowl went south pretty quickly, but my memory of the following 10 to 15 minutes skips between scenes like a worn-out LP. There may have been a third bowl of the yoghurt; possibly further sips of water, I’m not sure.

It was obvious I was not going to make it beyond a quarter of the curry and the rest was taken away to be decommissioned.

Shifting unsteadily to my feet I was shocked to hear Ripon remark that the dish will soon be on the restaurant’s menu. An act of sheer madness, surely?

If the United Nations get wind of that curry Northern Ireland could soon be facing international sanctions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the US invades.

Good luck to any of you who dare to try it, but I don’t mind admitting that this week Food blasted Wood off the map.

Have you a food challenge for our man? Email him at cwoodhouse@sundaylife.co.uk

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