THE LOOK of barely-concealed disdain said it all.
In fact, from the expression on my soon-to-be dining companion’s face, you might have thought I’d suggested stepping out to eat whatever we could find on the pavement.
In actual fact, my restaurant of choice for the evening was one of the most well-established, popular and respected establishments in the city.
Ever since Hansa set up her charming venue on North Street 30 years ago, the Gujarati restaurant has gone from strength to strength, scooping countless awards and being lauded as one of the city’s finest vegetarian venues.
And therein lay the problem.
My dining companion is a die-hard carnivore.
His motto, which I’ve heard him wheel out on several occasions, is ‘no meat, no meal,’ and if he could have steak for breakfast, I’m pretty sure he would.
However, after months of debate, I finally convinced him to break the habit of a lifetime and join me at Hansa’s.
It was no easy feat, let me tell you, and as we pull up to the restaurant I start to worry that I’ve hyped it up too much.
Nonetheless, we clamour out of the taxi and run through the rain to Hansa’s – the twinkling window lights luring us into the warmth.
We are greeted first by the delicious smell of the food, and second by a friendly waitress.
She shows us to our table – up the small staircase to the mezzanine area – and hands us menus before taking our drinks order.
Only the house wine is available by the glass, and a range of Indian wines are available by the bottle – all of which are organic.
I go for a glass of the house white, at £3.75, while my companion goes for a lemonade.
The smells coming from the kitchen get our tastebuds tingling, and we quickly dive into the menu.
We find it a little confusing, with the starters separated into starters, larger starters or side dishes.
I eventually go for the pani puri for £4.95 – miniature bite-size puris, stuffed with slightly spiced chickpeas and chopped onion.
The menu suggests the mini puris should be eaten in one bite, with the accompanying tamarind and mint sauce poured over.
That’s exactly what I do, and it works a treat.
The light, crispy puris look like a piece of art all lined up on the plate, and the texture adds the perfect crunch around the tasty filling.
I’ve never had anything like it before, and, as I explain to my dining companion, I doubt I will find it anywhere else in Leeds.
My companion chooses the chilli paneer to start, for £4.50.
The paneer cubes are marinated in a spicy chilli sauce and served on a bed of lettuce, and it goes down a storm.
As he devours the Indian cheese cubes, we are both delighted that despite there being no meat involved, it still hits the mark.
After such a promising starter, I feel I’m beginning to win him over.
It’s a matter of minutes before our mains arrive, and we’re excited to see what’s in store.
I go for Hansa’s Special Thali – a mixture of curries and side dishes (great for those feeling indecisive) – all served on a silver platter.
You certainly get your money’s worth, with two curries, rotli or puri, plain or pilau rice, daal or kadhi, farsan, shrikhand or mango pulp, papad and a glass of sweet or salty lassi.
With such a feast in front of me, I don’t even know where to start.
The vegetable curries are potato and aubergine and are absolutely delicious.
The sides have a bit more kick to them – which the sweet lassi (a yogurt-based drink) helps soften.
Across the table, my companion is tucking into bhaji paneer, which is priced at £7.25.
Using the rotli to scoop up the spinach and paneer, he gets full quite quickly – something that is also quite rare.
It was perhaps unwise for him to choose both a starter and a main with paneer, and he explains that if he returns in future, he’ll try something different.
Much to my disappointment, I struggle to finish my platter of mains.
Every single dish on the plate was faultless, and I’m in somewhat of a curry coma as I admit defeat.
The waitress kindly boxes up the leftovers for us to take home, and offers us a dessert menu.
We politely decline, feeling completely satisfied and fit to burst.
My carnivorous companion says he is pleasantly surprised by Hansa’s and he thoroughly enjoyed his meal, although he adds a disclaimer, saying that he ‘felt something was missing’ (ie. meat, of course).
That is a far more glowing review than I ever thought he would give, and for me, Hansa’s lived up to all the hype.
The only thing I would say is that it would be good to see some changes and new additions to the menu every now and then.
Looking online, it seems the menu hasn’t changed since it was the ‘new menu for 2015’.
That being said, you can understand why they may not want to change a winning formula.
As the bill arrives, we discuss when we will visit next, which speaks volumes for how my companion feels about the successful dinner.
The bill comes to a very reasonable £42. Despite the stubborn meat-eater’s dietary habits, he was completely won over by Hansa’s.
I think I can confidently say I won’t be hearing that ‘motto’ again any time soon.
Address: 72-74 North Street, Leeds. LS2 7PN
Phone: 0113 244 4408
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 5pm-10pm, Saturday 5pm-11pm, Sunday 12 - 2pm
Child friendly: Yes