LIF19 – Bundobust Origins

Bundobust grew out of a collaboration between vegetarian Indian restaurant Prashad and Bradford’s Sparrow Bier Café back in 2013. For this year’s Leeds Indie Food Festival , they took a trip back to Drighlington for a night of beer and food.

Spicy food and beer have a long (if not always entirely proud) history together.  The recent boom in craft beer and street food has driven Bundobust’s popularity for the nearly five years they have been open. The impetus for the venue came from a one-off event that paired Prashad’s culinary expertise with Sparrow’s interest in drinks more characterful than the late-night lager that accompanies too many curries.

The trip from Bundobust to Prashad and back was in a vintage coach that was laid on.  Dating from 1947 and with a top speed of about 35mph (downhill), it was a stylish way to make the most of the short drive to and from Drighlington.  For the three or so hours in between, we were treated to a seven-course menu (plus introductory amuse bouche) showcasing dishes from the original Prashad-Sparrow evening, versions of current Bundobust items, and new creations. Each dish that came out of Prashad’s kitchen was paired with a beer selected to complement the food, finding similar flavour notes or counterpointing the spice.

With eight courses, this review could be very long if it describes each one in detail, though it is difficult to pick which were the highlights – and the nearest there was to a low light were two rather sour beers that weren’t quite to my taste in combination with their paired dishes, though a third sour beer, paired with a deliciously not-too-sweet mango sorbet, was an inspired match.   

While I make no claim to great expertise about Indian food, I certainly know a lot more about it than I do beer, and the opportunity to try a range of different drinks as selected by someone who knows more than me is welcome.  Each was accompanied by a short explanation of the style of beer and the reason it had been chosen. Schneider-Weisse’s Tap 5 Meine Hopfen-Weisse has definite notes of banana and paired well with the banana batter on the purple potato bhajis, a reworking of the starter from the original 2013 menu.  Indeed, the wheat beer was more banana-y than the bhaji, nicely bolstering the batter’s subtly sweet fruitiness.  

The smokey charring of tandoori paneer, a twist on a current Bundobust dish, was matched with a smoked porter to good effect. This was a great dish, particularly for the texture of the paneer, perfectly poised between moist and firm, rich and silky and marinated well so that there was flavour permeating right through. 

Pani puris featured a filling of raghda peas – green peas akin to mushy peas – with the traditional tamarind-based sauce that you pour into the crispy shells replaced by a pea broth that brought the heavier sulphurous notes of mushy peas, enhanced by black salt and with chilli, mint, dill and a little acidity.  Delicious, though for me the pairing with a lambic beer – the oldest style of beer in the West, brewed with natural atmospheric yeast – didn’t work, the dry sourness of the drink overpowering the gentler tartness of the broth.   

Two wetter dishes followed, both paired with IPAs (well, one was an NEIPA, the NE standing for New England in recognition of the Vermont origin of its hops, though the beer itself was produced by Leeds’ very own Northern Monk).  A bhaji of vegetables in a tomato-based gravy was listed as having “layers of spice”, and it did indeed build with each mouthful, not just in chilli heat (though it had a good kick of that) but also in depth and complexity. At first it was all lightness and tomato freshness, and then warmth and earthiness crept in, along with the fragrant bitterness of fenugreek seed. Bitterness, used properly, is an excellent thing to have as part of the taste of food when balanced this well, and of course is a taste that beer explores in great detail too.    

A dry curry of slightly bitter bottle gourd sat atop rice and a tangy, slightly-sweet dhal soup, a single shard of fried karela – a more pronouncedly bitter gourd which came with the instruction to nibble in small doses in amongst the rest of the dish as the bitterness could be overpowering.  For me, this may have been the dish of the night. This was where Northern Monk featured: their Glory beer, which clocks in at a hefty 10.5%, brought what Bundobust co-founder Marko Husak described as “a biscuity backbone” that gave it enough heft to cut through the spice. Full credit to Marko for this description, which perfectly sums up the drink’s notes of malty sweetness (faintly reminiscent of digestive biscuits, if those biscuits had been steeped in a potent and satisfying ale).  

The mango sorbet palate followed as a palate cleanser, clearing the way for a dessert of salted cardamom chocolate tart with lime ice cream and a pineapple and coconut imperial stout.  I couldn’t really pick out the cardamom in the tart, though it may have been a contributory factor to the incredible richness of the chocolate taste, dark and not-too-sweet (and, yes, bitter).

The lime ice cream was creamy and headily fragrant rather than acidic – zesty rather than juicy. The beer was rich and dark, with that espresso quality that characterises stouts, interwoven with the lightness of coconut. Chocolate and lime, lime and coconut, caramelly malt and chocolate… I flitted around the combinations of flavours very happily.

A standout menu, and an interesting array of beer pairings – while a couple of the beers didn’t quite land with me, I’d take that risk (and the accompanying rewards of many excellent, well-matched drinks) every time over something more blandly inoffensive.

Bundobust are featuring Prashad-inspired specials throughout Leeds Indie Food.

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