Tab Talks to The Mahal

ALI LEWIS talks to the people in charge of the oh-so-civilised establishment that is The Mahal.

Cambridge food interview investigates Mahal rowdy swaps

The provisional title of this article was “the other side of swaps”. I wanted to get all the gruesome details about drunkenness, drugs and debauchery. And to find out just how much the behaviour of students really affected the staff of the Mahal, you know, emotionally and stuff. I wanted to hear terrible stories of vomiting and sex in the toilets, to remind everybody of how we would have felt about our own behaviour before we got here. Does judging the Bullingdon club seem a bit rich now? In short, I wanted to look at the relationship between korma and karma.

But this was before I met the new owner of the Mahal, Mamun Rashid, a 25 year veteran of the restaurant business, and much more media savvy than I patronisingly expected. Having just taken over the Mahal two weeks ago, he was understandably reluctant to dish the dirt on his target consumer, and therefore brushed away my eager questions about hand-jobs under the tables with a series of lovely but completely deluded platitudes. I don’t know who he thought he was kidding when he said “Overall student behaviour is very good” but then again I could hardly have expected him to say “They’re all a bunch of stuck-up, badly-behaved bastards” when we’re paying for his new Lexus and holiday in Barbados. (The manager of the Mahal has asked me to point out that he does not own a Lexus or take his holidays in Barbados, so get your arses down there, leave a fat tip, and help him out… maybe one day, Mamun).

Luckily for this article, veteran head waiter Ali Newaz was on hand and he was less reticent with the facts. If you don’t know this man by name, you will recognise him, and you should remember his face because he has more blackmail material on future politicians and leaders than just about anybody else in the free world. Chances are if you see him after leaving Cambridge, he’ll be on the front page of The Star and you’ll be “Scandal hit local MP”.

Anyway, on answering the question “What’s the most damage that’s ever been caused on a swap?”, Newaz revealed that on a single night they “had 50 glasses broken, the ceiling broken, the toilets stuck, water flowing over, urinals blocked”. He also said that on many nights “half the people [are] vomiting, vomiting in the toilet, vomiting on the table, jumping on the tables and falling on the floor” before adding, unbelievably,  “these things happen but it’s very rare….it could happen anywhere”.

Although these things undoubtedly have a funny side, I was keen to find out the cost they came at. On this topic Rashid said that “it is not financially a lot, [but] it’s physically a lot, they cost us hard labour to clean those things” before adding that “every term we need to renovate, redecorate.”

Despite all this, both Rashid and Newaz were keen to emphasise their positive relationship with students who they describe as “so nice and polite”, pointing out that although “they sometimes get overexcited, [and] sometimes they don’t understand what they are doing, if you tell them nicely and politely they are fine”. Rashid, far from being jaded with student antics, says that he perfectly understands that “they come here for a party, they come here for a swap, they come here for shouting and playing some drinking games” and he is happy for them to “do it, but in a gentle way”. Coincidentally, that’s precisely what most guys in the country did for their girlfriends on Valentine’s Day.

Whilst Rashid said he was happy for students to have their fun, he is obviously conscious of their effect on normal customers. Considering that Cambridge students are only around for less than half of the year, it’s not really surprising that the team “want to welcome local people as well” – something that’s not really helped by rowdy students vomiting partially-digested Jalfrezis into their ‘emergency services’ costumes. In fact, the staff say that they get complaints “not every night, but very often” and acknowledge that “we haven’t got that many local customers anymore here because all of them have left, they don’t come here because all of the students can’t sit here calmly and quietly”.

This is just one of the problems that the new management hope to address, by a combination of separation of students from normal customers, and the introduction of some ‘house rules’ that include “no jumping on chairs” and “no throwing curry”. Fascists.

As well as this, Rashid has realised that students calling Mahal ‘The Bombay Brasserie’ is about as likely as us calling Cindies ‘Ballare’, Life ‘The Place’ or, in fact, anything by its real name ever. Therefore, the Mahal will henceforth be known as “The Mahal At Cambridge”, changing literally nothing.

Other upcoming plans include new outdoor Sheesha facilities, which can be enjoyed on their own or with a selection of BBQ style dishes for about a fiver and about a tenner respectively, and a new lunch menu, which will include a £3.95 take-away ‘snack box’.
As always, the Mahal will continue to offer the student swap deal of £10 for a meal, drink and naan bread with “no plans to raise it in the immediate future”.

And finally, for those of you dying to know, the Mahal can confirm that John’s and Sidney Sussex are the rowdiest, whilst Peterhouse and Fitzwilliam “are a bit quieter”. Pussies.