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Kerala, 2 Eastgate, The Headrow, Leeds

Indian with a twist

Sometimes you have to go off the beaten track to find something different and, despite being in the heart of Leeds, Kerala is one of those ‘blink and you miss it’ locations.

 

While all around the latest major shopping and car park projects keep the builders busy and re-invent the city centre, Kerala is on one of those increasingly rare stretches of prime real estate untouched so far by the rush of progress, and is found by a modest illuminated sign above an open doorway, leading up a flight of stairs.

 

Not too brash then, but it became clear from the rising hubbub of human voices as we approached the landing that we weren’t alone in seeking out this unassuming eatery.

 

So what is the attraction? For me it was the prospect of reacquainting myself with what Kerala proudly calls authentic South Indian cuisine. This means a preponderance of black pepper, cardamom, chillies, cloves, coriander, ginger, tamarind and turmeric and a cuisine where the clean, sharp taste of the spices is very much to the fore, with no thick gloopy sauces or heavy starchy breads to slow proceedings down.

 

If you haven’t tried this kind of food before, call it Indian with a twist. One of the specialities is the dosa – a South Indian crepe made with rice and lentils. It’s huge but light, slightly crispy and doesn’t fill you up. One of our starters was the topi dosa (£4.99), a cone-shaped pancake served with spicy sauce and coconut chutney. We shared this and something called chicken 65 (£5.99), chicken breast pieces marinated in spices and fried. This was so tender and delicious I was reluctant to share; in fact a double portion as a main course would suit just fine.

 

When it comes to drinks there’s a reasonable wine list and the usual crowd-pleasing chilled beers, but don’t miss out on the refreshing yoghurt-based beverages that also play a key part in this cuisine. I tried something new with a glass of sambharam (£2.79), a very unusual mix of yoghurt, curry leaf, onion and chilli. Every single ingredient listed was very much present in each mouthful so think of that before you order; I found it a refreshing way to start the meal before switching to Indian lager, while my companion would not even contemplate a sip.

 

Luckily we found common ground with our shared main courses. Nadan chemeen curry (£9.79) was for me the star dish of the night, a prawn curry where roasted coconut is used to take the edge off a serious chilli kick that would otherwise have been overpowering. You get a generous portion of large, juicy prawns, too. Kerala lamb (£7.49) was milder, quite rich but again full of the flavours of fresh herbs and spices and not too heavy.

 

To mop up those delicious sauces, we shared pilau rice (£2.99) and kerala parotta (£2.99), a flatbread that is a cross between a naan and a chapatti.

 

Service is swift and very friendly. If you need help negotiating the menu, the staff are eager to offer help and suggestions. It would be easy to walk straight past Kerala without a second glance, but don’t miss out.

 

Kerala, 2 Eastgate, The Headrow, Leeds LS2 7JL

Tel: 01132 340033

www.kerala-restaurant.com 

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