“ Address: 1 Bishopgate Street / Leeds / LS1 5DY „
This December we are burning the candle at both ends. Take Saturday: we had already agreed to dinner with friends in Newcastle when I noticed that my local branch of Unison was running a coach down to Leeds for the day. It's a city we both enjoy visiting and there were a couple of shops we particularly wanted to go to. We thought of lunch at one of the city's Indian restaurants but changed our minds on the grounds that we'd only spoil the evening meal if we did.
We decided instead on a light lunch and a couple of beers in the Brewery Tap on New Station Street but when a member of staff very rudely turned us away because we arrived two minutes before the official opening time (and the door was unlocked) we ended up walking (or limping on my part) round to Bishopsgate to have a nose at Shabab, a place that had been recommended to us.
It doesn't look much from the outside and it's proximity to the train station is also a bit off-putting. In big cities, at least, the area round train stations tends to be less than salubrious. The photographs of the interior and the good value 'Saturday shoppers' lunch' persuaded us to give Shabab a try. If we needed any more persuasion we'd certainly have been swayed by the fun carved figures in the foyer, a pair of handsome Rajasthani princes complete with twirly moustaches.
The interior is surprisingly vast and we were the first customers. A waiter appeared from the gloom and showed us to a table. We were given the main menu and a few minutes later our waiter returned with another menu outlining the lunchtime deal. This stated a price that was 40p more than the price advertised outside but, on the other hand, it also listed more menu choices than listed outside.
There was a choice of three starters, (or a "shopper's mix") - onion bhajis, chicken wings or. Although there had been four curry sauces listed outside, there were about eight on the menu and these were a good mixture of heat levels. The choice was between chicken and lamb but, although a vegetarian option was not specifically listed, I'm pretty sure you could ask for one. You get a choice of rice - plain boiled or pilau - or naan bread. I chose one, Himself the other.
A big screen was showing cricked when we arrived with the volume turned down to a discreet level. We couldn't really see it and we were craning our necks to see when the channel was changed to the Newcastle - Chelsea game. The waiter asked if we'd like to move and happily helped us move our stuff.
The interior décor is has plenty of character but is quite contemporary. There are nice touches such as colourful glass lampshades all over the ceiling and intricately carved partitions breaking up the restaurant space. I loved the model of a brightly painted decorated Indian bus sitting on a high shelf just above the stairs.
I asked for a mango lassi and was presented with a very big glass of it - at only £1.60 this was a bargain. Himself opted for the Cobra which is available on draught.
Our starters arrived fairly quickly. My three onion bhajis were a good size and came with a nicely dressed salad garnish. The bhajis were tasty; perfectly spiced and crisp. Himself had chosen the "shoppers' mix" - an onion bhaji, a samosa and chicken wings: the samosa made a satisfying crunching noise when bitten into and the pastry was wonderfully thin. The filling was generous and full of flavour. The chicken wings had a good kick to them and a slightly barbecued flavour that we both liked a lot.
When the starter plates were cleared away the waiter asked whether we wanted the main courses or preferred to wait. We asked to wait five minutes after which time the waiter checked again before bringing the food. Brilliant service!
My only criticism of the presentation of the main courses would be that because they were served in shallow dishes the food got cold quite quickly and really needed to be on a plate warmer. I had chosen the lamb rogan josh with was a very dark red colour, looking more like a chilli than any rogan josh I'd seen before. The dish is usually characterised by the inclusion of fresh tomatoes (though traditionally it should contain bone marrow) which are mixed through the sauce but this one had slices of fresh tomato laid across the top. Himself had chosen a lamb madras which while it did not look unappealing, could have done with a sprinkling of coriander over the top to make it look a bit more exciting.
Both dishes contained lots of well cooked lamb; there were no fatty pieces, just pure meat, and it was cooked to perfection. The rogan josh had a good depth of flavour of which cinnamon was the most noticeable ingredient but this was backed up with warm cumin and rich ground coriander. The chilli kick at the end was stronger than I'd expected but very much enjoyed. The madras was also a success; I didn't try it myself but Himself reported that it was excellent. The tasty naan bread was enormous, too big if I'm honest but it was just the right thickness and not at all doughy, as they can often be; the portion of rice easily enough for two people and nicely cooked.
For £7.90 a head this was excellent value. There's plenty of choice and we got much more food than I'd expected for a lunch time offer. The food was well cooked and full of flavour, only the presentation was a little disappointing. The service was really exceptional. Our waiter was really friendly and helpful, chatting about the football game and our reasons for being in Leeds that day.
This branch is located right beside the main train station and a five minute walk from the main shopping area. There is another branch at Eastgate, also in the city centre, which I'm sure is as good as this one at Bishopsgate. I would not hesitate to recommend it.