Mr Greedy ate the enormous chilli in one gulp, eyes twinkling, a flash of fear tangible as it disappeared down his gullet, like a snake swallowing an electric eel.

Quick as a flash, his challenge was matched on the other side of the table. For a split second their eyes met, a mutual understanding of what was to come, like two silver-backs beating their chests.

As they turned puce, beads of sweat dribbling down their brows, all that was missing was the plume of comic book smoke blowing out of their ears. It wasn’t until their tears welled up that the ‘eedjits’ realised the full extent of their folly.

It had been blatantly obvious to the rest of us that the enormous green chillies were a garnish, a decoration, a reminder of the heat implications of the dishes we’d ordered. We weren’t supposed to eat them, anyone could see that!

But bolstered by the numerous cocktails Mr Greedy had consumed before entering Majliss in Cowley Road, caution had been left by the door.

The more sensible in our party carried on regardless, ignoring the streaming eyes, coughing, fanning and perspiration emanating from their general direction as we munched our way obliviously through our starters, ploughing through the king prawn puri starter, with crustaceans hot-housed by titans, and a labra kebab (a good mix of lamb, onion, chicken and prawn pakoras) accompanied by the usual poppodums and dips.

I had never been to Majliss, despite it being a stalwart of the ever diminishing Cowley Road curry house scene, standing firm while other, less-favoured, competitors shut up shop. Judging by the packed dining room, its reputation for top notch food and charming service remains buoyant, Raymond Blanc singling it out as one of his favourite local restaurants.

However, it took Chopping Chillies, a new play staged at Majliss by Playhouse Plays Out, with a meal included in the ticket price, to bring it to my attention properly.

That was a fairly chaotic experience, the restaurant having to cope with all the customers arriving at once, doling out mixed starters of onion bhajis, samosas and lamb tikkas, accompanied by giant plates of salad, and pints of Kingfisher, as performer Clair Whitehouse relayed the story of an immigrant from Kerala who inherits a house in Camden and arrives grief stricken, only to be revived by a street food restaurant opposite.

Once concluded the audience was still famished. Majliss envisaging this, the mains arriving promptly; seven hearty dishes placed along the communal tables: a rich lamb rogan josh, an earthy dal, a zingy vegetable curry, a creamy chicken passanda, a mixed vegetable rice and some keema naans, all shared with friends and strangers, families and youngsters alike.

But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to return and try Majliss out for real, taste something different, order what I wanted and experiment with the menu. Which is how we came to be eating curry with two grown men weeping like babies.

This time around we opted for the intriguing sounding ghost podinah (a rich lamb curry cooked with mint), the chicken luknavi (spicy with a hint of garlic), a vegetable bhuna (tomato, coriander and mixed herbs), and a ‘Majliss marvel special’ galda chingri ruposhi prawns accompanied by a wonderful tarka dal (lentils fried in garlic with butter) some earthy spinach panir (with Indian cheese) and bindi bhaji (wonderfully green, fresh okra cooked in garlic), plus the usuals: rice, raitha and some keema and Peshwari naans. A veritable feast.

I presumed it would all be wasted on Mr Greedy and his fickle partner in crime, their taste buds having been burnt to a crisp. But they perked up when the food arrived and began ploughing in as if nothing had happened, revelling in the rich sauces, the strength of flavours, the top-notch ingredients.

And while ‘old school’ in approach, what Majliss does, it does brilliantly, it’s sparse decor veiling a real commitment to food.

A word of caution however: if you go, leave the chilli on the side of your plate. You have been warned.

Majliss, 110 Cowley Road, Oxford


01865 726728 or