There’s no doubting Saffron Desi in Guiseley is popular. We turned up on a Saturday just after they opened at 5pm and were warmly welcomed at the door and shown to a table in a mostly empty restaurant. That all changed within the space of about half an hour though.
When we first set foot inside the Oliver Award winning restaurant, I thought the background music was possibly a touch too loud. Thirty minutes in, however, and you could barely hear it above the clatter of conversation from the seated guests, not to mention the dozen or so folk near the door waiting for a table.
Saffron Desi is not short of plaudits, as a trawl of the internet will reveal. Nor is it any stranger to winning awards, a summary of which is proudly displayed on the back of its a la carte menu, the most important of those, of course, coming in 2009 when it was voted People’s Choice Winner in the Oliver Awards.
To be fair, most of the other awards listed also came in that year, with two in 2008. That’s some time ago, so we were interested to find out whether the restaurant, which now boasts branches in York and Morley, still lived up to its reputation.
There’s a great feel to the place as you walk in. The ceilings are high, the wall seats look dark and sumptuous and the mood dial is set to snug.
After being seated and drinks orders dispatched, we agreed to the by now obligatory and tray of dips – the onion dip was zingy, fresh and crunchy but the pickle tray was a let down, oozing water as soon as it was put on the plate.
Still picking at the remnants of the poppadoms, we dived into the main menu, which has a good selection of starters ranging from £3.50 to about £6 and the usual suspects on the mains plus about a dozen signature dishes ranging from a still very affordable £8.50 to a snip under £12. I went for chicken liver tikka (£3.95), while my partner ordered the king prawn puri (£5.95). The puri was decent enough and while the tikka itself was good in parts and nicely presented on a screaming hot skillet, there was too much in my view, with some of the larger pieces being overdone and consequently hard and chewy.
For my main I ordered Jhinga Tikka Masala, one of the more expensive dishes but at £11.95 still not breaking the bank, while my dining partner went for Rajma Keema (£8.50). The keema, comprising minced meat and red kidney beans cooked in a special bhuna sauce with tomato, onions, garlic and ginger was decent enough but lacked the ‘curry hit’.
My main, on the other hand, was good, although somewhat on the small side, with five large king prawns beautifully cooked and swimming in a really quite cheery sauce, which to its credit did have a nice kick.
We also ordered a raft of side dishes to accompany our mains, including pilau rice (£2.20), peshwari nan (£2.80), French fries (£2.20) and tarka daal (£4.25), lentils cooked in a spicy sauce with herbs. The standout dish was the tarka daal, which made for a nice alternative to the usual fare with a deep texture and zingy flavours, although it too could have done with another shake of the old spice dispenser.
Which brings us to desserts. We were told by our waiter that owing to an imminent menu change, the only things available from the dessert menu were the ice creams, although it was later revealed that the somewhat unfortunately named Funki Pie was also available.
Now, I know we don’t live under American rule just yet but even here, in the far reaches of Yorkshire, such a name is bound to draw the odd raised eyebrow and even in its most innocuous form conjures up images of badly-lit 80s discos.
It’s a shame much of the pudding menu was off limits because they have some interesting sounding (if not slightly incongruous) offerings, including fresh Belgian hot waffles and a Bailey’s cheesecake.
We were limited in choice and in the end went for Funki Pie (£2.95) and an ice cream dessert called ‘Crazy Zoo’, which was actually from the children’s menu but our thinking being ‘ice cream is ice cream’ and at least you got a chocolate egg with this one.
In the end, both could have been better. The Funki pie was nutty and sweet but it was clearly just out of the freezer, the pastry casing looking rather sorry for itself, while we were somewhat disappointed with the oddly-named Crazy Zoo – an egg with a toy inside was okay but the ice cream in the accompanying cup looked old and had an overpowering syrupy flavour.
The total bill with drinks (house white at £2.75 and £3.75 for small and large glasses respectively, and large Cobra at £4.70) came to a very reasonable £57.90.
I dare say six or even seven years ago Saffron would have been at the top (or near the top) of its particular tree but the thing is, times have moved on. Considerably.
The curry scene has some serious restaurants offering fresh twists on old classics and even breaking into fine dining scene.
Service at Saffron Desi is good but there are little things about this place which draw your attention – the needless table decoration, which consisted of two false plastic flowers stuck together with tape in a small vase, the wall seat moved, the heating was at times almost unbearable and the dishes, while stupendously affordable, are in need of an update.
Saffron Desi has a lot going for it and one hopes after the menu change it will offer something both to challenge and surprise.
Address: 6 The Green, Guiseley, LS20 9BT
Tel: 01943 874411
Opening times: Mon-Thurs 5pm-11.30pm, Fri & Sat 5pm-12.30pm, Sun 4pm-11pm