IS it fair to review a restaurant three weeks after opening? Some would argue ‘no’ and, indeed, my usual rule of thumb would be to leave it at least six but this was needs-must.
The Missus and I had managed to bag ourselves an unexpected night off and so with babysitters suitable ensconced at our home, we headed out with glee in our hearts and a sense of unbridled optimism - like two giddy twentysomethings who didn’t have to get up the following day (even though we knew we did) - in a bid to find a decent restaurant close by which had not been done already.
Two possibilities sprang to mind in Headingley: The Cats Pyjamas, a new street-food cafe on the Otley-Headingley Road and Khana Bombay Cafe on North Lane. We plumped for the latter, purely because it’s much easier to park around there and it was starting to rain.
Also (although this came to me in retrospect), I do much prefer it when restaurants have lots of space, you know, room to lean back and swing your elbows around as though you were landed gentry and ceilings only reachable via a triple extension ladder and some sort of pulley system.
Khana has got that. It’s also got one of the warmest welcomes I’ve had in ages. Really, it put us in a great mood and was about a million miles away from the drudging reception some maitre’d’s seem to specialise - nay revel - in.
Khana has moved into the building formerly occupied by a branch of the ASK Italian restaurant chain. It would have been a shame for the former picture house to remain unoccupied. Of course, only the facade of the old Lounge Cinema remains (it closed in 2005) but with its elaborate white tiled front and distinctive arch, it’s a building which deserves to be in use. Khana should do well given most of the locals are curry-loving students.
ASK was a split-level affair with a mezzanine up some winding stairs and a perilous view down through the glass balustrade and Khana has hermit crabbed into the same space, albeit with a few tweaks.
There are some nice touches inside, like an incense burner just inside the door on an old rickshaw, various Indian looking ornaments and some nice plush sofas and nests of tables in the waiting area. But where the mezzanine starts, someone - presumably a designer - has hung fairly hefty ropes from the ceiling, the kind Albert Pierrepoint wouldn’t sniff at, most of which already had loose loops tied at the ends. God help them if the tallest man in the world walks in. Or anyone over, say, 6ft 10.
We were seated downstairs against the far wall, although I didn’t care for the chairs - high backs are what you need when you’re sat for an hour.
To its credit, the menu is an uncomplicated affair and our waiter informed us that any of the dishes could be ordered as either starter or main.
I went for the Pakora Chilli (£4.20), a giant chilli stuffed with soft cheese and battered. The menu added: “Called Dyna Bite by our chef Ali.” Noted.
What can I say? I don’t normally like chillies but this being a review I decided to ‘give it a go’. My god, it was hot. The cheese in the middle was nice but the batter on the outside was way too thick and reminded me more of Yorkshire pudding. My partner asked for king prawns from the grill, which were nicely done, the yogurt dip contrasting well with the charcoal bitterness.
Sadly, this is where the evening began to skid a little off-track. We’d already bemoaned the fact our waiter hadn’t left us enough water, although they had left a jug full (with long slices of cucumber in - nice touch) on the one next to us. Instead, we were given two tiny glasses and so we had to go ask for a jug, which came, but the water wasn’t iced.
I ordered a half of Cobra (£2.70), having already quaffed a pint (£4.40). Then we waited. And waited. And at one point I reminded a waitress about our missing drinks. And we waited some more. Then, when the drinks still did not arrive, I went to ask the bartender, who sorted out the whole thing in less than a minute (as he had done earlier with the water).
However, even when our drinks were delivered, our waiter failed to clear the plates. So we waited some more until they were, an apology was offered and orders taken for mains. Then came more waiting. So much waiting in fact, I was forced to play ‘catch the waiter’s eye’, which I always lose. Everyone does.
After some time, we were asked one of the most ridiculous questions I have ever heard in a restaurant, as a waiter teetered over and asked: “Would you like us to start cooking your mains now?”
Resisting the urge to turn into the Incredible Hulk and tear the place apart, the Missus and I opted instead to nip outside... why? To make a phone call, of course. What else do you nip outside for?
Anyway, just as we were finishing our ‘phone call’, a waiter stuck his head out and said ‘Your food is on the table.’
Another black mark - why would you ever deliver food to a table where no-one is sat, especially given we had just been told they hadn’t even started cooking the mains?
I ordered Ruby Karim (£7.50), my partner went for Chicken Karahi (£6.50), both of which were average.
So, some teething problems but then again, the place has only been open three weeks. So let’s end on a high. My dessert was another risk, because it was made of beetroot. But Chikandar Halwa (£4.50) was the stand-out dish of the night. Served with vanilla ice-cream, it had the texture of Christmas pudding, was rich, spicy, warming and not too stodgy. Superb. Surprising. Inspiring, even. Final bill: £66. Great start but room for improvement.
KHANA BOMBAY CAFE
Address: 38 North Lane, Headingley, LS6 3HU
Tel: 0113 278 7628
Opening times: Opening times: Mon-Weds noon-11pm, Thurs-Sat noon-1am (11pm last orders for food), Sun noon-10pm