There was a very warm welcome awaiting us as we walked into Hansa’s Gujarati vegetarian restaurant, at around 6.30pm on a freezing cold Saturday evening in February.
As we arrived at the North Street venue, in the city’s Northern Quarter, we saw a busy restaurant filled with delightful chatter.
A couple of students held the door open as they had arrived just in front of us. Without wanting to put everyone in the same basket, so to speak, you do find that these vegetarian folk are usually nice, clean living, people with manners, who care about others.
An assumption I know, but I could not help but notice that most of the clientele in Hansa’s were of this ilk.
A couple who turned up with out booking were told it was fully booked, but that they could wait. I had booked around 1pm the same day and felt we were definitely at the place to be for a wholesome eating experience.
And from behind the quaint welcome counter we had a special smile from the lady herself, Hansa Dabhi, who is undoubtedly star of the show. She seems to make an effort to speak to all her guests.
They wanted to make it feel like you were walking into their living room or going round to their house for a meal.
We were shown to our table by a friendly and likeable waitress, dressed in traditional Indian dress in a silk sari.
Flyers for Hansa’s popular cookery lessons and courses were on the table and soon we were perusing the plentiful menu while nibbling on some spicy, crispy pastry pieces already waiting for us.
On the wall are reviews and articles proudly displayed, and one I noticed, said they wanted to make it feel like you were walking into their living room or going round to their house for a meal. And yes, it certainly does have that feel to the place.
It has a somewhat bohemian, relaxing atmosphere with a hippy vibe. The kind of eaterie you could go for dinner alone, if you so desired.
A charming man came to check we were settled and asked about drinks. I asked if he was Mr Hansa but he quickly said that was his wife’s first name and yes he was the other half, then joked, the better half.
We ordered a Kingfisher beer and a glass of rose wine, plus the essential jug of tap water.
My dining partner was an old friend who is virtually vegan and agreed the choice was plentiful and wonderful as we struggled to choose. It was fun to try out something different from the usual vegetarian options on offer elsewhere, he said.
Now there are some new kids on the block when it comes to Indian vegetarian food, but Hansa’s has been here since 1986, feeding generations of Leeds folk.
As I went to the bathroom, I passed the kitchen and saw two lively, chattering ladies busy chopping, cooking and creating dishes for the evening. An all female, multi-cultural staff is what works well at Hansa’s.
We opted for papads and a pickle tray, with three tasty fresh pickles and we chose a mixed platter of starters for two people (£7.95) plus a spice bomb, (£3.95) main picture, which was masala mixture sandwiched between potato pieces then deep fried in batter with a chilli embedded at the end. it was quite a talking point and a delight to look at. We also had a mushroom special (£3.95) consisting of tender mushrooms, marinated in a spicy sauce, served on a bed of golden potato cake with apple chutney.
This was delicious and gave a hint of what was to come. The raita only materialised as I was about to eat the last mouthful of our starter dishes, It was, without doubt, the best raita I ever did taste.
For the main course we opted to share three dishes. The ondhiyu, a traditional Gujarati mixed vegetable curry cooked with fenugreek koftas (£6.95); a tinda-nu-shak, which was baby pumpkin in a lightly spiced sauce (£6.50) plus a chevti daal dish, a creamy tasty daal made with five types of split pulses (£6.50). All were fresh, spicy and moreish.
To go with our feast we ordered vegetable biriyani rice (£3.95), plain rice (£2.25) and a few rotlis, grilled chappatis. This was plentiful and we even took some home for later.
We shared desserts and went for Khiloni’s special, named after Hansa’s granddaughter. The rasmalai and chocolate cake with chocolate sauce was an unusual tasty combination (£4.50) and we also chose the four sisters dish (£4.50) named after some of Hansa’s young family members who inspired this dessert made with strawberries, raspberries and chocolate cake, served with a scoop of Mango ice-cream.
I was glad to see four dessert options for vegans too, including soya ice cream.
It did remind me after seeing the busy staff that it is hard work running an eaterie and how nice it would be if Hansa and her husband could have a wonderful holiday and let someone else do the running for a change, It turns out they now also arrange trips to India in the form of Heritage Tours, exploring the food and sights and sounds of India.
A 10 per cent service charge was automatically included on the bill, which came to £73.00.
My dining partner and I have both eaten vegetarian Gujarati food in India, and this was reminiscent, but also much more so. I noticed on the menu a hint of east Africa is mentioned, and that is certainly true.
The food is exceptional, fresh and tasty. There is something special going on here.
This is a distinctive eaterie, and if you were blind taste testing, would be able to sniff out that the food was from Hansa’s or not.
We spent two hours in the restaurant. Service was very good, but slightly slow, but overall we allowed for it being busy and such a popular, and wonderful venue.