Sunday, 24 March 2013

Hansa's - a jewel in Leeds' veggie crown

First up - an apology. I've been a bit slack with the whole blogging thing over the past ten days or so - it's been a particularly busy couple of weeks! I've spent my time entertaining parents x 2, celebrating my nephew's first birthday, dressing up as a Roman and frolicking round London for ITV2's new show Plebs, winning the Adelphi's pub quiz, cooking up a vegetarian storm in the kitchen, being busy at work and organising the lovely folk who are taking part in our Meat Free March recipe swap. I can't believe my month of meat abstination is almost over - and what a month it's been! Apologies for neglecting this little corner of the internet - a mega blog catch up is more than called for.

Last weekend Ash's parents Sue and Paul came to stay with us in Leeds for the first time ever.  We had a lovely time showing them the sights - from Leeds city centre to Ilkley, Briggate farmers' market to Saltaire. Sometimes having visitors to stay is the best excuse ever to do a lot of exploring, a lot of drinking and a lot of eating, which is exactly what we did. What's more,  showing someone else around the city that you call home is a reason to fall back in love with it all over again - it made me realise how lucky we are to live in such a thriving, diverse area.

Sue is a vegetarian so the weekend offered the opportunity to explore a bit more of Leeds' meat free foodie culture and share it with someone who really loves good vegetarian cooking. Ask any Loiner what restaurant they associate with some of the yummiest veggie food in the city, and Hansa's will always be the answer. The Gujarati restaurant was therefore firmly on our must-eat list for Saturday night. 

Established back in 1986, Hansa's is a Leeds institution that has won award after award for its sublimely tasty vegetarian food. A few years ago I was lucky enough to live a few seconds walk from North Street's lentil heaven, but to be honest it took me a good few months to pluck up the courage to eat there. Not because it has a scary shop-front, but rather because I associate Indian food with meat. Lots and lots of superbly marinated, uber tasty meat.  When a craving for curry came a'calling, the thought of a vegetarian Indian just didn't cut the mustard. However, when Hansa's ran a special birthday deal for two the offer was too great to pass up - and I thank my lucky daal we didn't. Hansa's has been on our list of favourite Leeds restaurants ever since.

We visited Hansa's with Sue and Paul on a busy Saturday night. Luckily we'd booked a table because the restaurant was very busy with diners getting their kicks from meat-free munching. We were greeted by Hansa herself and shown to our table on the second floor, which was a bit of a tight squeeze for four of us and a host of delicious food.

Being completely honest, we've experienced better service from Hansa's staff in the past. We noticed that other diners had been given snacks when they were seated which we weren't. There was also a wait of almost an hour for our starters to be served after our initial order. All in all, I couldn't help but feel that the restaurant was slightly understaffed for a busy Saturday night.

That being said, when our starters (finally) arrived any qualms we had about poor service were swiftly forgotten. Between us we tucked in to a deliciously sticky and beautifully spiced chilli paneer (which more than met Sue's spice test - the hotter the better!), Kachori (spicy coarsely ground peas and channa daal deep fried balls) and Khasta Kachori (sublime bread stuffed with spicy maag-daal, chickpeas and potatoes). The only dish that seemed to miss the starter mark slightly was Paul's choice - a Hansa's Kenyan Special (yam and sweetcorn with coconut sauce, onions and crunchy peanuts) - which we all felt would have been better placed as an accompaniment to the main than a starter. That aside, presentation of all four dishes was absolutely flawless and portion sizes were good.

For our main course, Ash and I decided to share Ful Cobi (delicious cauliflower florets, carrot,
potato and peas) and Hansa's Special (a four bean feast in a spiced sauce). The Hansa's Special had a real kick to it which was beautifully complimented by the sweetness of the carrots and peas in the Ful Cobi. Sue and Paul opted for Bhaji Paneer (spinach, paneer and peas) and Ringan na Raviya (kenyan aubergines, stuffed with spice masala, onions and coarsely ground peanuts) which were filling, flavourful, fragrant and perfectly accompanied by Paul's leftover Hansa's Kenyan Special.

Curry is synonymous with a plentiful array of delicious carbs, and Hansa's doesn't disappoint on this front. We went all out with both rice and bread - opting for Puri (grilled chapatti), Rotli (gorgeous deep-fried bread), cumin rice and coriander rice. The Rotli was the stand-out carby accompaniment - it wasn't overly oily, deliciously crisp and a brilliant sauce-catching tool. The rice was expensive for the portion size served - we opted for one portion between two and another one wouldn't have gone amiss.

Having said that, by the time dessert rolled around we were full to the brim so perhaps it was a good thing that our rice portions were slightly on the small side. I've had dessert at Hansa's before and despite giving it a miss this time round, I can safely say that they are as delicious and as unusual as the other courses.

Accompanied by a fine bottle of Rioja, some good chat and plenty of curry sharing, our meal at Hansa's was a delight despite the initially poor service. It was lovely to be able to share our choices - something that you can't often do as a vegetarian diner at a "normal" Indian restuarant and an element of social dining that I've really missed during meat free March. Hansa's just know what they're doing when it comes to texture, flavour and creating truly exciting food that doesn't empty your purse completely. I'll be rushing back soon - even when meat is firmly on my menu again.

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