SOMETIMES only a curry will do, and that’s exactly how we were feeling when we decided to visit the newly refurbished Nawaab.
This restaurant has been a spicy staple in Leeds city centre for many years.
However a major refurbishment and new management - announced loudly in recent weeks - was enough to lure Oliver into checking out if the baltis and bhunas lived up to the bluster.
We walked in on an early midweek evening and the place was empty.
Admittedly it was only 6.15pm and we fully expected it to get busier, as it very quickly did.
I had previously visited this restaurant a couple of years ago, for one of the enduringly popular lunchtime buffets, when the decor was heavy on the reds with classic Bollywood posters adorning the walls.
That has been replaced with neon lighting and feature wallpapers, but not in a way that’s overpowering or garish.
I quite liked the blue and purple hues and felt the vibe - with Bollywood music playing softly in the background - was pleasant.
The changes are not overly dramatic, and I wasn’t sure if this refurbishment was a rebirth or just a touch-up.
It could be a deliberate, clever ploy by the new management - make it different enough to cause a stir, but with enough of the familiar not to put off what is probably already a loyal following. Time will tell, but I felt the ‘we’re back’ statement could have been a little bolder.
Then again, Nawaab is part of a very successful chain, so why tamper with a successful formula?
The entrance to the restaurant, which is a stone’s throw from the railway station, leads straight into a spacious bar and waiting area to the side.
We had our pick of seats, so chose a window table on the new, slightly raised area to the right of the main dining space, which allowed us to watch life go by. This really added to the experience and I think having the two levels is a good idea.
Our waiter was prompt, and after ordering soft drinks we perused the menu, which was laid out pleasantly and simply.
There was nothing particularly eye-catching or unique, I have to say.
The fairly small selection of starters included run-of-the-mill sounding Seekh Kebab, Fish Pakora, Tandoori Chicken Tikka and Vegetable Samosa.
However I opted for the Tandoori Prawns and my dining partner selected the Lamb Chops.
The prawns were absolutely massive and beautifully cooked. The portion was also pretty generous, with four fat prawns on my plate. However I did find the spice quite overpowering.
This comes from a masala-maniac who has built up a decent tolerance over decades of curry-loving, so I would certainly advise those with a more unpractised palate to order with caution.
My dining partner’s lamb chops came in a sticky, barbecuey sauce which was more reminiscent of American diner cuisine than the heady flavours of the subcontinent. However the taste was lovely, and the lamb tender and nicely infused with flavour.
Our starters could have done with a better side sauce than the very dreary yoghurty dip we were offered.
The main dishes are broken down by style of curry, such as balti, bhuna and korma, and there is also a ‘popular dishes’ section to guide the uninitiated.
There is also a seafood section, but as is all too often the case with many Indian restaurants, I thought this was the weakest section with more prawn-heavy offerings and the odd fish masala option. I eventually opted for the Chicken Shashlick, a ‘sizzler’ from the grill. This was fat, juicy pieces of chicken breast, cooked in a spicy sauce and served with grilled chunky vegetables.
This was served with a side of pilau rice. The chicken was not overly spicy but had enough of a kick to keep my tastebuds tingling. It was very well cooked, although felt a little rubbery. It probably just needed a little more resting time before being sent out, but that would have lost the sizzle-effect in serving I guess. I adored the big chunks of capsicum peppers and mushrooms, and the addition of onions and tomatoes was a winning touch as the two combined into an almost-chutney which worked well with the chicken.
The rice was a disappointment, low on flavour and slightly undercooked.
My companion really enjoyed his Lamb Bhuna, cubes of tender lamb in quite a thick, dry sauce. The spice in this dish was a little more intensely packed, with more aromatic flavours rather than chilli-kick. My partner enjoyed this with some fresh chapatis which he said looked and tasted very authentic.
We were way too full to consider a dessert, however there was a selection of ice creams and puddings, none of which had any South Asian link. But if I had the room, I certainly would have tried some sticky toffee pudding or coconut ice cream.
Our bill came to just under £42.
Nawaab means royalty or nobility in Urdu/Hindi, and the restaurant and its sister eateries certainly have a very good pedigree.
Although our experience was pleasant, the service excellent and the food generally well cooked, I did leave feeling a little underwhelmed.
There was nothing on the menu to set Nawaab apart from many other good-to-average curry houses.
With a prime city centre location, the bosses could be a bit more adventurous and stamp some real authority. A little more imagination could bring a much-desired wow-factor.
Having said that, by the time we finished our early dinner at 7.30pm, the restaurant was almost full, impressive for a midweek.
Clearly Nawaab can please some of the people all of the time, and that’s not something to be underestimated.
Address: Wellington St, Leeds, LS1 4WG
Opening times: Mon-Tue: 5pm-11pm Wed-Thur: All day til 11pm Fri: 12pm-midnight Sat: 5.30pm-midnight Sun: Closed
Tel: 0113 2442979