Drake and Zouk go way back. The Canadian rapper first ate at the Manchester restaurant in 2012 as a guest of troublesome Manchester City footballer Mario Balotelli. Balotelli himself was already a fan. A few months earlier, he broke his club's curfew by staying out at Zouk til 1 AM, receiving an estimated fine of £150,000.
During his 2014 UK tour, Drake came back for more, this time bringing then-girlfriend Rihanna for a romantic meal. Then after his gig in Leeds earlier this year, Drake and his entourage snubbed the Yorkshire city's local restaurants, choosing to travel across the Pennines en masse for yet another meal at Manchester's Zouk.
So, why does Drizzy keep coming back? Zouk isn't one of Manchester's typical celebrity haunts. It sits on a quiet street off Oxford Road, far from the flashy VIP venues in Deansgate favoured by reality TV stars and minor celebrities. But as Manchester locals know, Zouk is the place to go for unforgettable Indian food.
Brothers Tayub and Mudassar Amjad opened the restaurant in 2009. It's a bright, roomy place with an outside shisha section and a large open kitchen that spans the length of the venue. The vast menu goes a step further than standard Indian cuisine.
"The way Zouk is set up is quite multicultural," says Tayub. "We've got a lot of Spanish and European front-of-house, as well as Iranian and Arabic kitchen staff. Our cuisine is predominantly Punjabi Lahore, but we've got chefs from all over the Indian subcontinent—Bengali, Sri Lankan, Nepalese—so their specialities are on the menu too. We've even got some Mediterranean dishes on there."
The diversity of Zouk's food is reflected in its design, with huge glass windows and chrome steel fittings. This isn't your standard curry house.
"When you walk in, apart from the tandoori, you wouldn't realise it's an Indian restaurant," Tayub adds. "My brother and I wanted a restaurant that isn't defined by the type of food."
Tayub is also unfazed by Zouk's celebrity endorsements.
"If they come, they come. We treat them as normal customers, let them enjoy their evening. We'll do what we do for everyone, give them good food, good service, and hopefully they'll keep coming back."
When I ask what Drake orders, Tayub answers instantly: "The chilo kebab. He has it every time."
This £5 starter is an Iranian dish made from lamb loin sliced into 1 centimetre-thick pieces. The marinade consists of green chili, red onion, tomato puree, garam masala, crushed coriander, tandoori masala, and a garlic and ginger paste. The meat soaks in this for half an hour, before being cooked over hot coals for ten minutes.
As you'd expect from this lean cut, the lamb is moist and tender, full of dark earthy flavours. There's a subtle kick from the spices and charred edges from the coal fire cooking. It's a simple dish and a worthy showcase for the meat.
Fittingly for a man who once described himself as "the only 23-year-old wine connoisseur," Drake doesn't wash down his kebab with a Kingfisher.
"He was drinking something unusual last time, actually," remembers Tayub. "It was a passionfruit mojito, but with vodka instead of rum."
A song about the tropical fruit appears on Drake's recently released More Life album. He's clearly a fan.
RECIPE: Butter Chicken
Tayub recreates Drake's customised cocktail. It's an impressive mix that keeps the kick of a standard mojito, but with Grey Goose vodka making a better match for the passionfruit.
Of course, Champagne Papi can't live on cocktails and lamb starters alone.
"For mains, Drake usually has the butter chicken—one of our most popular dishes," says Tayub. "Plus a selection of naan breads."
This creamy chicken dish is one of the restaurant's more complex curries, with the meat going through two separate marination stages. The first of these involves lemon juice, ginger and garlic paste, mustard oil, and a touch of salt. The second takes in a vast number of spices, along with yogurt and tikka paste. The accompanying sauce isn't for the faint-hearted, incorporating hefty amounts of cream, butter, and honey.
But it's not just global pop stars and footballers who eat at Zouk.
"Peter Kay comes quite a bit," laughs Tayub. Posts on Twitter not only confirm this, but suggest that Kay was actually in Zouk during Drake's first visit back in 2012.
Drake, Mario Balotelli, and Peter Kay walk into a curry house. If that's not the greatest ever first line of a joke, I don't know what is.