In the short space of just a couple of years, craft beer and street food have gone from being fringe areas of interest to serious mainstream demands when it comes to dining out.
Therefore the fact the city centre is home to so many bars specialising in rarefied ales and so many restaurants specialising in small-size dishes should tell visitors that Leeds is not the kind of city to settle for second best and indeed is one which expects the best every time.
Ten years ago the idea of the city centre having two Indian street food and craft beer venues would have been laughed out of town, but The Cat’s Pyjamas, based on Eastgate, is aiming to give the much-loved Bundobust a run for its money, albeit by offering non-vegetarian food as well.
The restaurant itself has Alfred Prasad, famous for being the youngest Indian chef to ever receive a Michelin star, as its food director.
Mr Prasad has crafted the menu and the whole experience is designed to use his food and vibrant decor to evoke the unique and colourful experience of an Indian city.
As an avowed fan of South Asian cuisine and a lover of a well-crafted glass of beer my expectations were high as I arrived on a chilly Sunday night for a meal with my wife.
The city centre outlet runs alongside one in Headingley and heavily plays up the use of Indian pop culture.
Its walls are adorned with fading Bollywood posters and low hanging lights give the restaurant a cool vibe which will be hard to replicate.
We’re quickly shown to our table which affords a good view of both the street outside and into the bustling kitchen where a small army of chefs are hard at work.
The first thing to note is the beer selection.
The Cat’s Pyjamas styles itself as a specialist in the world of street food and beer, and as such, the fear is that you will be handed a drinks list a mile long that would befuddle even the most ardent of beer aficionados.
Thankfully the restaurant avoids this. The beer list is wide-ranging and strong, but concise enough to not be intimidating. More importantly each beer is accompanied by an explanatory paragraph outlining its tasting notes, written in a way so as to appeal equally to beer lovers and newcomers.
On the name alone I opt for a Crazy Mountain Hookiebobb, a refreshing ale.
Next up comes the food selection. My favourite course of any meal is always the starter and the range on offer here is great.
We order between us three dishes; a paneer taco, an onion bhaji and a plate of pani puri - the latter being a dish of Puri which has been fried and ﬁlled with a mixture of ﬂavoured water, tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. It’s a much-loved dish in India but seldom seen commonly in the UK-based Indian restaurants.
It is extremely refreshing and an ideal starter. The other two dishes, the paneer taco in particular, are very good indeed too.
The Cat’s Pyjamas is off to a flying start and I am already in my mind thinking how Leeds’s Indian restaurant scene is increasingly one of the most modern and innovative in the UK. However, I am afraid to say, the salutations must end here.
The main courses come next, Keralan Prawn Moilee for me and Vegetarian Malai Kofta for my wife, accompanied by a naan and some regular steamed rice.
It is at this point when the quality, like the plot of a below average Bollywood film, takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
The food, having thus far been good and interesting became dull and uninspiring. It is not that it was bad per se, just unremarkable.
My wife summed it up best when she remarked: “It’s like the kind of curry you would get in a pub” - implying a mass-produced dish, lacking any sense of vibrancy or panache.
How the mind of a Michelin starred chef and the kitchen which produced our wonderful starters, could have created such boring food is baffling, and very disappointing.
Could it be that the kitchen was having an off day? It has received good reviews from other critics so maybe this was the case. It was Sunday after all and there was only ourselves and four or five other tables dining at that time.
Even so, it is unacceptable. Restaurants, like great musicians, should hand in their best performance whether the audience is one or 10,000.
The other probability is that the menu has high points and low points and that we hit the jackpot for our starters and then ran out of luck with the main course.
Either way it was a shame that such as a stylish restaurant could not hit the back of the net with their food.
It also has to be said that when we reviewed the Headingley branch in May, it received high praise on all fronts.
In terms of atmosphere, the venue itself is one of the nicer spaces to eat and drink in that you will find across the city. It’s a stone’s throw from the new Victoriagate shopping centre, having opened back in 2017.
However, the sad reality is that there is already an Indian street food and craft ale joint in Leeds which is doing the job to a far better standard than The Cat’s Pyjamas. They probably hate the comparison but Bundobust is simply a superior proposition, particularly in the kitchen.
Until this place gets it right with the food, it is always going to stand in its vegetarian friend’s shadow and that would be a real shame. So, in essence The Cat’s Pyjamas on Eastgate was less of a grinning Cheshire and more like the cat the got the soured cream.
The Cat’s Pyjamas, Eastgate
Address: 9 Eastgate, Leeds, LS2 7LY
Tel: 0113 234 0454
Open times: Mon & Tues closed, Wed-Fri 4pm–11pm, Sat & Sun 11am-11pm