I suppose that it had to happen eventually. I have been to quite a few events at Leeds Independent Food Festivals over the years and the standard has ranged from very good to great.
Kachumber Kitchen Vegan Supper Club broke the mould and only just rated an OK, thanks to dessert.
The event was held at Seven Arts Cafe/Bar with about thirty diners, but even this small number proved too much of a challenge for Kachumber. The start time was 7.00pm and, as I had been to the same venue the previous night when there were two events taking place with similar start times, rendering the dining area impassable, I was there for 6.30. Fortunately, the bar was almost deserted, so I bought a pint of Yorkshire Blonde and repaired to the outside seating area for a bit of fresh air. Being a single diner and the seating being unreserved, I waited until everyone else had arrived so that I might be placed in the final chair once the others had sorted out who they wanted to eat with. I ended up on a table with two very pleasant young women and next to another, where a more mature couple were chatting. I hasten to add that they were more mature than the women but much less so than me.
At about 7.15 the starters appeared, well, at least some of them, and several tables began tucking in. I had another pint of Blonde whilst enduring the wait and turned to my phone for solace, where I googled Kachumber Kitchen, which is described on their website as being ‘a small catering business’ delivering food to your home or workplace. They say that they can cater for a range of parties, home dining and functions. Their focus is on ‘recipes that tickle, taunt, challenge and tease your palate, leaving you wanting to try more.’ At this point, I was just hoping to try any, rather than more.
We received our starters at 7.50. The thick end of an hour is far too long to wait for a first course without explanation, even though we were offered an apology by the hapless waiter from Seven, whose embarrassment was palpable. The menu said that the board on which they were presented bore Kachumber Kitchens (sic) Indian Platter: Crispy, crunchy potato and fenugreek samosa, baked onion bhajis and pea kachori drizzled with sweet, spicy and tangy chutneys. It was served with a Kachumber salad. The items were of variable quality, which I suspect was because of the wait and the way that they had been prepared. The kachori was of a different texture from the ones I have had before, being fairly heavy and doughy, whereas those I’ve been served previously have been light and puffy. I have also only ever had them filled with lentils, whereas this was a pea version.
As they were a novelty to me I googled pea kachori. I had plenty of time to do this as the wait between the starter and main course was also considerable, and I came across a recipe on BBC Food where the kachori are baked rather than fried, I can only suppose that this is the version we were served. The bhaji had also been baked, which made it more stodgy than the deep fried version. Kachumber salad is tomato, cucumber and onion sprinkled with herbs and this one was the basic version, but it was fresh and the dressing was good. Finally, the samosa. Once again the pastry was not what one would expect, being more like filo. I do realise that the recipe varies from region to region and Punjabi ones are particularly flaky, but that was not the problem, which lay inside. The first bite I took from the starters was of the samosa and it nearly blew my brains out. I love spicy food but this was right off the scale, the result being that even when on the bus home, all I could taste was the samosa. If I had been on a night out and ended up in an Indian restaurant it would have been a bonus and the main course would have been equally as spicy, if not more so, but this was supposed to be a showcase menu and the balance was spectacularly wrong.
After the now expected delay of half an hour or so, the main course arrived. Curry Combo. Spring veggies with tamarind, coconut and lime curry, served with rice, soft chapati and a mint and cucumber raita. The rice was fine, the raita what you would expect, but the chapati had begun to harden, which I accept could have been owing to my taking time to photograph the plate before tucking in. The curry was a very ho-hum affair, with hardly any spice coming through and, apart from a piece of cauliflower which still had a bit of crunch in its stalk, the other vegetables had no texture whatsoever, being totally overdone.
Finally, and after a much shorter wait, the dessert arrived. This was the saving grace of the whole evening. It was Vegan Basbousa (semolina cake) served with smooth, creamy coconut ice with pomegranate and caramel pistachios. The cake was moist, with the semolina flavour in evidence. The pomegranate added freshness and the pistachios some sweetness. I have never had coconut ice cream before as that particular nut is not a favourite of mine, but it seems that I’ve been wrong as there was no coconut flavour whatsoever, just a smooth and creamy sweet confection, just as described on the menu. Had the rest of the meal been to this standard I would have gone home a happy man.
I really do not like writing bad reviews, but people pay good money for an experience at a festival and so want something out of the ordinary produced by someone at the top of their game and this was nothing like that. Not only was the main course a let down in quality and quantity, but the menu was ill thought through. Hammering the diner with the strongest taste first is not the way to do it. The idea is that you build up the heat. It was also obvious that Kachumber, an outside caterer remember, lacked the ability to execute service for thirty or so people at once. Had this been a corporate event or a family celebration, then the evening would have been ruined, as it almost was for me and the couple with whom I was chatting. I can’t even blame the kitchen as the previous night we had been treated to five starters and five main courses, all served in large bowls from which to help yourself, all served piping hot and all served simultaneously, with only a short break between the courses, just long enough for the chef to tell us about the food and how to eat it.
I would like to wish Kachumber Kitchen all the best for the future, but please remember that having a passion for feeding people, as your website states, you need to be able to do it properly and efficiently. The road to Carey Street is paved with good intentions.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.