aiyo – a rose by any other name.
Regular readers will know that I normally chose the places I review but now and again Leeds Living ‘suggests’ eateries that may be worth a visit. I must say that there is absolutely no way that I would have ever chosen aiyo and there are several reasons for this. The first one is that it is in a suburban side street and I am of the opinion that the City Centre reviews will be of more use to readers who are looking for somewhere to lunch. The suburb in which it is situated is historically home to the large number of students who attend the various colleges and Leeds University, all of which are close by. I have nothing against writing for students, quite the opposite in fact, as I used to be one myself. I tried to extend my academic career (unsuccessfully) for as long as possible in the 1960s, thus avoiding having to do some proper work and even in the pre-internet/mobile phone/social media days, news of local eating houses spread like wildfire especially if they were good, different or cheap. Actually we did have social media, it was called conversation and was usually carried out in the student canteen or bar and we could make or break a place in the time it took to neck a bottle of Newcastle Brown. There were also several news sheets, some of which were even official, where views on life in general and social venues were aired.
Another reason I would not have chosen aiyo is the name itself. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a Southern Indian word “expressing distress, regret or grief; ‘Oh no!’, or ‘Oh dear!’” Hardly the most positive of names. However, with further research, it can be established that aiyo is also an informal Chinese exclamation for enjoyment or excitement, which is more appropriate for this partricular establishment.
Finally, and this would have been the clincher, this column is called ‘Let’s Do Lunch’ and apart from Friday, Saturday and Sunday aiyo is closed at lunchtime. Anyway, despite my reservations, which are not necessary here as you just walk in, I set off on a Friday to give it a go.
I believe that this is the smallest restaurant I have ever reviewed, having just four tables each with four chairs. I rather think that it is basically a take-away with an eat-in service. I was welcomed by a very pleasant young woman behind the counter who it transpired did every job in the place. She took my order, cooked it, delivered it to my table and took my money. Multitasking indeed.
The menu is displayed on ten cards hanging like laundry from lines on the wall and, although limited in number, the dishes cover a range of options, and not surprisingly in this area most of them were vegetarian. Being my own man I opted for ‘Grandma’s Massaman Rice Bowl’ at £6.00 comprising Slow Cooked Chicken Thigh, Massaman Curry, Chilli and Boiled Rice’. You can tell we are near the university as the apostrophe was in the correct place. Although the dish arrived in a substantial polystyrene bowl it was well presented. The chicken was superb, having been cooked until extremely tender. It is good to see people cooking the tastier parts of the bird rather than sticking to the relatively bland breast. The sauce was spicy but not fierce enough to overpower the taste of the meat and the rice was perfect. The sliced red chillies sprinkled on top gave a little more piquancy without being over hot. Speaking of hot, I have never eaten a meal which stayed as hot for so long. Perhaps all restaurants should serve their food in these bowls.
To drink I had a can of pomegranate juice (£2.00) as the premises are not licensed. Customers are welcome to bring your own alcoholic drinks which I am sure is a great boon to the cut-price booze store next door. The restaurant does not apply a corkage – or ring-pullage – charge, which makes a refreshing change, in every sense.
In spite of my initial misgivings I must admit that I enjoyed the experience of eating at aiyo very much indeed. It’s just a shame about the name, the location and the opening hours.
Photographs by Stan Graham.