Stan continues his exploration of lunch-time eateries – and adds his own special ingredients of humour and memories of an earlier Leeds.
Leeds never ceases to amaze me. It is the City where I was born and for the past 66 years it has been springing surprises. The latest one came right out of left field – if anything can be right and left at the same time, but you know what I mean……
A week or so before my review I was making my way to the bus station when the heavens opened and down came a deluge. If you are going to get caught in the rain then Leeds is the place for it. What with the various shopping centres and arcades you can just about get all the way from City Square to the bus station undercover. The last leg of this journey involves a stroll through the market. It is a route I have taken many times over the years, usually to visit Butchers Row for a decent steak or the Fish Market to get the mussels for a starter. Both of these institutions are sadly a shadow of their former selves but still well worth a visit. Another part of the market which is not what it used to be is the bottom end, which was rebuilt and extended after the market almost all burned down in 1975. Fortunately, the top end and the beautiful facade on Vicar Lane were spared but the lower part was gutted. In the past year or two this has been left fallow, being just an empty space, but during my storm dodge I saw that it has been turned into a food court with central tables and chairs and exotic kitchens surrounding them.
What a cool space in probably the most uncool place imaginable! There is a tea and coffee shop but the other outlets are stalls providing fare from Vietnam, the Middle East, the West Indies, Thailand and last but not least, India. I was wondering which one to choose when I realised that in the year and a bit I have been writing these reviews I have not had an Indian meal, so my mind was made up for me.
Manjit’s Kitchen offers the perfect menu for lunch. There is a chilli and paneer wrap, grilled cauliflower and red lentil hummus wrap, both in thin naan, or a thali comprising two to three curries. I went for the fully loaded version of the latter at £5.95 and a can of orange at £1. The first thing which struck me was that everyone on the stand was smiling; it made me want to enjoy my lunch before I had even ordered. There was a list of five curries, three of which were available for the thali, so the choice was made for me. Everything on the menu is vegetarian but I don’t mind a meat free nosh now and again. For anyone who is not familiar with thali it is a dish, literally, like an hors d’oeuvres plate divided into sections. The idea is that you are given a small sample of the kitchen’s produce in each part, a bit like an all-in-one tasting menu. My thali comprised cumin rice, carrot and coriander salad, raita, roti and the three aforementioned curries; temple dhal, mattar paneer and a mixed vegetable curry. A veritable feast!
I worked in Bradford for thirty years so I have sampled a fair amount of Indian sub-continental dishes but this selection was right up there with the best I have ever had. The salad was fresh, the raita creamy, the roti was thinner than I am used to and was like a small thick chapatti but just right in proportion to the rest of the meal. As for the curries, wow! Just like Leeds, paneer never ceases to amaze me. How can you cook cubes of cheese in a curry without them melting and amalgamating into the rest of the dish? Possibly because it is unaged, unsalted and made with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or vinegar, but whatever the reason I don’t care – it is delicious. The sauce it was in was just the right degree of spicy so as not to overpower the delicate taste of the cheese. The mixed vegetables in the eponymous curry were cooked to perfection, retaining an element of bite rather than being cooked to death like your granny’s Christmas sprouts. Undoubtedly the star of the show though was the temple dhal which was made with green mung lentils and the flavour of the sauce has to be tasted to be believed. I am not sure of what was in it but it had a fruity background taste which may have been tamarind. The queue was too long for me to waste the owner’s time by asking him so I just ate it and enjoyed. The only dhal (?) I can think of which I would have rather spent my lunchtime with would be Sophie of that ilk, but Jamie Cullum got there first.
I cannot recommend this place highly enough and I have made a mental note that when the weather takes a turn for the worse and a walk around the City Centre looking for somewhere to eat is not an enticing prospect, I will stay near the bus station and work my way through the other alternatives here. Roll on winter!
Editor’s Note: Manjit’s Kitchen has set up home at 37 New York Street.
Photography by Stan Graham