I love meat, yeah I do. But I’ll tell you a little secret, I’m actually equally happy gobbling veg as long as it’s cooked well and it ain’t beans. Recently I had some vegetarian food that was cooked to absolute perfection and had me convinced I could go veggie if I really wanted to. That meal was at the ever-so-fabulous Hansas.
Award-winning Hansa’s has won accolade after accolade and yet in my five years in Leeds I hadn’t made it there. Try telling meat-loving dates that you want to take them to vegetarian restaurant and unfortunately sometimes they threaten not to put out and so it was put on the to-do list until eventually, it was done. I’d heard over and over just how fantastic it was and simply had to go before I left Leeds and thank the lord of lentils I did.
On our midweek trip we were greeted by Hansa herself into a world of soft lighting and instant snacks (crispy, spiced, battered veg of some kind). The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, which I didn’t mind a bit after a season of indulgence and I happily ordered a pineapple juice and the waitress offered to bring us a jug of water too (nice service). We arrived very early but there were other diners in there, including a couple who confessed to being regulars unable to stop coming back. At first, we did think the restaurant was maybe a little quiet but half way through some musicians came in and started playing music. This really is a restaurant with everything, except of course meat and alcohol, but the truth is it really doesn’t need it.
I was dining with my friend Catherine, who thankfully isn’t shy of trying new things, in fact, we tend to share meals when we eat out because we both look on the menu and want everything. On this occasion we shared a starter and went solo on the main course.
Up first was Hansa’s Delight (£3.95) – a juicy beef tomato stuffed with spiced paneer masala and deliciously dipped in light batter, served with tomato and tamarind sauce and Patra (£4.25), tropical colocasia leaves pasted with curried batter which are packed with onions, sweetcorn, mustard and sesame seeds. As you can see from the photo we split the goods between two plates, so I can assure you the initial presentation was more impressive. Both starters were flawless – the juicy tomato and silky paneer contrasted beautifully with the light, crisped batter. The tamarind and tomato sauce was the perfect balance of sweet, sour and spice. The Patra was, dare I say it, really meaty in texture. It brought to mind some kind of wonderful vegetarian black pudding, with succulent, chunky veg combining with a little peppery heat in every bite.
For my main course I opted for Bhagat Muthiya (£7.25), which meant crisp, flavoursome chickpea koftas bobbing in a lightly spiced and very fragrant curry sauce. One mouthful in and I was feeling ever so smug with my choice. It was colourful, it was filling and it was flavour-full.
Catherine opted for the Ringan na Ravaiya (£6.95). The aubergines were large and ahem, meaty, without a hint of slime. They came topped with a masala spice, onions and ground peanuts. Catherine did mourn the fact her selection didn’t come with a traditional sauce, but she said the mix of flavours hit the spot and because I’m such a wonderful, giving person, I let her steal a few spoons of mine (that will give me brownie points for extra tries of her food choices in the future).
Our carby curry accompaniment of choice was bread, in the form of Puri (£1.25 for two pieces) and Batura (£1.50). The latter fried bread had fenugreek baked into it. In hindsight we probably could have gotten away with ordering only one lot of bread and had we, it would definitely have been the Batura, which proved a tasty mopping tool.
Greed and our mutual curiosity about vegan puds led us to dessert. We ordered Sweet Sev (£4.75) to share, sweet vermicelli in ghee, with sultanas, almonds and plenty of cardomon. I was full to the brim but the sweet nectar that was masala tea loaded with a little brown sugar. I was also a tad giddy about the fact there was no risk of dairy after-effects.
Hansa’s is real gem in what is now a fairly hefty crown when it comes to Leeds’ restaurants. The range of flavours and attention to detail in mix of textures in the food I ate there is unrivalled by any meal I’ve eaten in any other restaurant. Oh, and it’s damn good value too. Hansa also organises trips to Gujarati, where her style of cooking originates and cookery demos. If I hadn’t left Leeds a mere four days after eating here, I’d definitely have been signing up. As it is, without a doubt I’ll be eating more vegetarian food in 2013 and actively searching out vegetarian restaurants in the North East. All recommendations are officially welcome!