Stalwart of the Leeds vegetarian scene, Hansa’s Gujarati cuisine (with a touch of the owner’s Ugandan upbringing thrown in) is as reliable as ever.
I’ve been eating in Hansa’s for as long as I’ve lived in Leeds, and they’ve been going since way back in 1986. It’s the kind of place that meat-eating friends pay the sort-of compliment, saying “If all vegetarian food was as tasty as this, I could almost consider not eating meat”. The Sunday lunch buffet is a joy, with hearty curries, vibrant salads, and a casual vibe where people wander up for extra helpings as and when, just coincidentally happening to time this to the arrival of a fresh tray of puffed-up puri breads.
The menu is not the longest you’ll find, but the variety of spicing means that pretty much any combination of dishes will give you a satisfyingly diverse meal. Indeed, the menu notes that sharing is encouraged. I’d happily have every meal made up of small portions to be mixed and matched – tapas, mezze, sharing plates – and I find it hard to resist a thali in a curry restaurant. When we visited, it was the day after Diwali, and the celebration thali was still on the menu. No contest, really.
Red chickpea curry brought a good kick of garlic and a rich, creamy sauce with nice heat. Red chickpeas are somewhat harder than their more common beige cousins, and here they had a satisfying bite without any sense of being undercooked. Aubergine and tuwer peas curry was similarly well-judged, in this case meaning the aubergine was rich, silky and almost collapsing into the nicely earthy sauce. Daal sauce, runny without being thin and watery, had the bitter kick of fenugreek seed, and was a perfect foil for the sweeter chickpea and aubergine dishes. Layers of flavour ran deep through these curries, intense but never overpowering, complex, managing to be both bold and subtle. Lentil vadas – deep-fried dumplings of spiced lentil flour – provided a complementary drier texture. Raita and a tangy tomato dip brought acidity to the thali, though the slightly ketchup-like quality of the tomato dip was, for me, the meal’s one slightly duff note. Plain rice, fluffy and light, a papad (poppadum) and puris (thin wholewheat flatbreads puffed up like airy pillows) provided the accompanying starch and balance to the chilli warmth of the curries.
Included with the thali was a choice of sweet or salted lassi, a thin yoghurt drink. (It is worth noting here that while the thali was not vegan, Hansa’s regular menu is loaded with vegan options). I’m fighting what feels like a losing battle to persuade the various people I dine out with of the joys of salted lassi. Fortunately for my companions at Hansa’s, the sweet version was delicious, featuring a heady kick of fennel.
Dessert, served alongside the other dishes on the thali tray (which may catch out the inattentive diner) was lapsi, a sweetened bulgar dish. Its bold yellow colour suggested saffron, though the strongest flavour was cardamom, a common ingredient in Indian sweets, working as well with sugar as it does in savoury dishes. Simple but effective, this sauceless yet moist dessert rounded off the meal nicely.
There’s a welcomingly homely-yet-luxurious feel to Hansa’s, even if taller people may find the swooping linen ceiling in the upper dining room gives them cause to duck on the way to their seats. Service is friendly and never overbearing. The Diwali special may well be finished by the time you read this, but Hansa’s regular menu is still there waiting for you.
Hansa’s 0113 244 4408
Feature photograph by Stan Graham
Other photographs by Thomas Chalk