MOHAMMED ASHRAF has got used to evenings such as these. 'There is always a group who come in drunk. I just hate it when they're difficult and argue over the bill,' he said. 'The bad side of this job is satisfying the customer, but then that's the same in any restaurant.'

Well, not quite any restaurant. But the Cotham Tandoori in Bristol, owned by Ashraf's uncle, is not that different from other curry houses at closing time on Saturday. It does happen on other nights, this ritual of chucking back the beers in the pub, then the chucking-out scene and the short walk to the curry house, to drink some more, eat a bit and be generally abusive. But the groups of lads with slops down their T-shirts only seem to move in droves on Saturdays. If you had been away from the planet for a while you would only need to hear that deep, fizzy-lager belch and accompanying rowdy song, and catch that faint smell of spices, to realise what day of the week it was.

I was in Bristol to see some student mates and reassuringly found myself back in the Cotham Tandoori - reassuring, because I had spent many a Saturday night a couple of years before nestling in its velveteen confines. We had been on a bit of a binge and needed some solids to sort out the liquid lunch and tea.

The waiter gave us the large table in the corner. He then proceeded to placate our rowdy group with the drinks order. 'OK, lager me up,' said one of the boys. 'Yeah,' said others. Lager all round - what other option was there? 'Actually,' ventured a voice, 'bitter me up.' This caused confusion. The waiter retreated; it was obvious that he had witnessed this dilemma before. 'Well,' said the turncoat, 'if you don't choose a hot curry then you can afford to have bitter.' This seemed a reasonable enough argument and two others were won over.

The drinks organised, the waiter moved on to food. There is usually a certain amount of masculinity attached to the ferocity of a curry. When I was a student at Bristol, the really big boy's bastion was the Curry Club. It would meet every term for a session of eating the hottest curries the Cotham Tandoori could produce, without drinking and without your eyes watering. To become president of this most noble fraternity one had to undergo a revolting ceremony involving a frozen banana on the pavement outside the restaurant. The club, I hear, no longer exists; its last president, Simon, has since left Bristol to become a lawyer.

This evening, however, there was a gentle kurma-ing going on, with a couple of tikka masalas, the boys showing a quiet confidence in their virility. On the other hand, the group of 11 on the next table, who had been defeated by their 21-pub crawl round the city, were in serious trouble. It was Michael's birthday and madras all round. They had started at lunchtime so could only manage a couple of paltry pints at the table. 'We're too off our heads to have any more,' admitted Michael, lunging forward. 'Are you good in bed?' he asked, taking a slurp. 'Don't listen to him,' said a dark-haired girl, who was more compos mentis. 'He has the tact of an elephant.' Down at the other end of the table, two girls bickered over a wilting rose in a transparent sheath. 'It's mine,' announced the mousy girl. 'But he bought it for me,' said the girl in the blue jumper aggressively.

Firmly ensconced in a booth to the left were Richard and Anna. They had just been to see 'the new Clint Eastwood'. Richard, a born-again student, was drinking a pint of Kingfisher lager. 'Well, it's fundamental to a curry, isn't it?' Anna, a lecturer, was loving her pilau rice, but did not quite know where she was going afterwards. 'Well, I think we are going to my place, but you'll have to ask him.'

Matt and Simon had been watching the Frank Bruno fight. 'The beer's pounds 2 a pint here and we can't afford that,' said Matt, taking hold of his pint of tap water. Simon was on antibiotics, so he could not indulge. He had a throat infection.

Just as we were getting the hot towels, a hearty laddish song that was being belted out in the street approached the Cotham Tandoori. A stream of boys tumbled through the door, all 10 of them tripping over the top step. 'Shhhh,' said one loudly. 'Don't tell the waiter we're pissed.' The appeal for silence rippled down the queue. They stood, a bit unsteady, waiting for their leader to show them the way to the table. They disappeared around the corner and reappeared moments later. 'Oh, and it's the red card,' compered the leader. 'He's got the red card, he's gonna have to leave the pitch . . . forward, men]' he directed, hand in the air and they were off into the night.