There’s something very comforting and nostalgic about Nawaab Khan.
Nestled in a parade of shops on Roundhay Road, and overlooking Roundhay Park, it has none of the gaudy elegance of some of the big name Indian restaurants that seem to dominate the current market in West Yorkshire. You know the ones we mean, all chandeliers and chaise longues and fancy overpriced mocktails.
In fairness though, the decor at Nawaab Khan is probably ready for a bit of a livening up.
The long bar area is inviting, as are the wide smiles that greet you on entrance and the lively bhangra-infused mood music.
However the red-black faux-leather dominated layout is basic to say the least, and two separate dining areas - a main room and an overflow room - are clunky. The mirror-effect ceiling is also slightly disconcerting, and the carpet looks dated and a little shabby.
But despite these little imperfections, I found myself looking forward to a good dining experience - I just had that feeling.
We were dining on an early midweek evening, having stopped off for dinner before a later engagement.
There was already a steady trickle of customers, but it was far from bursting.
However I know from passing by on previous occasions that it gets very busy later on.
We were seated next to the large window, with a pleasant view of the park across the road.
The menu has many of the staples of a good local Indian restaurant, but with a few surprising little twists that draw you in immediately.
Unfamiliar styles of cooking like ‘nihari’, ‘Afghan’, ‘Nosheri’ and ‘puthwari’ scream out to be sampled and we took our time to choose.
The name of the restaurant is probably a clue to its overall mission.
‘Khan’ is a popular surname used by people from the subcontinent with pashtun heritage, and ‘nawaab’ is the Urdu word for a Muslim nobleman or a native Governor in India during the time of the Mogul empire.
So, though the aesthetics might be less than regal, the culinary intentions definitely are.
For my starter, I opted for the fish pakora, succulent squares of haddock fried in a spicy chick pea flour batter. The fish was beautifully flaky and the coating was crispy and just thick enough to give some body to the seafood portions.
My companion ordered an intriguing looking Special Chaat, the name of which was somewhat deceptive. It was actually a spicy concoction of lamb, chicken and prawns served alongside a light and fluffy puri, an unleavened deep fried bread.
Proof of the puri is in the eating, and when I looked up from my own starter to ask for a bit of my companion’s, he was already at plate licking stage. He said the spicing was balanced, and the thick gravy was beautifully concentrated, giving real depth of flavour to the overall dish.
All of the individual elements were well cooked, with none overpowering the other, he said.
We ummed and aahed for a while over our main but opted in the end to share the Alu Bukhara Chicken. This was succulent pieces of chicken breast in a deep, earthy fruit infused gravy, the fruit element being the plums (alu bukhara} of the title.
This one was a real test, as I am unaccustomed to fruit in curries, although I have no objections to them and was keen to give something different a try. My dining companion was even more sceptical. However we both agreed this dish was delicious. The sweet notes were perfectly balanced with even handed and nicely concentrated spicing. And what elevated the whole thing was a delightful pair of side sauces. The tangy tomato-infused coriander and chilli yoghurt chutney, and a more intense green salsa verde version, further helped awaken both the dish - and our tastebuds. My accompanying garlic tandoori naan was crispy, delicately flavoured and the perfect way to mop up every last bit of that delicious plum masala gravy.
By now, we were pretty full but couldn’t resist a cooling dessert to follow the earlier masala party. We shared a ‘matka kulfi’, an evaporated milk ice cream served in an earthenware pot and topped with pistachios. The ice cream had a gorgeous densely creamy texture. It wasn’t the most creatively inspiring of desserts, but boy did it pack a flavour punch. The perfect end to a satisfying meal.
With a plethora of new wave curry houses out there, it is quite easy to write off simple, soulful enterprises like Nawaab Khan. But what it lacks in sophistication, it more than makes up for in flavour. I really liked the attempt to liven up and diversify the flavour offering, without losing sight of the basics.
There is a daily £11.95 buffet offer and a thriving takeaway delivery element, so business is clearly good. However a little more emphasis on presentation and decor could easily lead to heady heights of cashflow and culinary kudos. Having said that, the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ might be an appropriate one here. There was a sense as we left that the staff are probably on first name terms with many of their clientele, and the restaurant is a beloved local institution.
Service was immaculate, and we were in and out within 75 minutes.
Our bill for the food alone was just £25, and even with a couple of drinks each it was just £38 in total. Far from the princely sum that the regal name might demand. But we certainly enjoyed a royally delicious dining experience - and will be back for more.
Nawaab Khan, Leeds
Address: 496 Roundhay Road, Oakwood, Leeds, LS8 2HU
Telephone: 0113 240 9911
Food served: 6pm to 11pm daily; takeaway service available