I’ve been to a few Aagrahs in my time but nothing prepared me for entering the one in St Peter’s Square in Leeds. It was the aroma. Never have my nostrils been so thrilled to be inside a restaurant.
Now the Aagrah is established as one of the premium brands in Kashmiri Indian dining and while the price might be steeper than some of its lesser-established rivals, the quality is consistent. Basically, you know the food will be top notch and so will the ambience, service and setting.
The Aagrah at St Peter’s Square is underneath where the BBC is now based, and next to the Wardrobe bar, a stone’s throw from Northern Ballet, the Playhouse and Leeds College of Music. If Leeds has a cultural quarter, then this is it. We found ourselves sampling said culture - including drinks in the Wardrobe first - one Saturday afternoon. Now you can eat at the Wardrobe but I’m sorry, the scent of the Aagrah was just too strong.
One bugbear: the menu at Aagrah is so comprehensive you wonder how the chefs can be able to create such a myriad of dishes at a moment’s notice. Another, it took a while for us to be served. Service was leisurely, which might be worth knowing if you have theatre or ballet tickets, but we were in no rush. That said, it was a busy with pre-theatre visitors, the late lunch crowd and, like us, early evening diners. Luckily we had and despite it being so busy we had plenty of space. You see, like its menu the Aagrah is big, so there’s plenty of elbow room.
We started with a fairly standard set of dishes. Chicken chaat (£4.50) and prawn paratha (£5.95). The chaat was exceptional. This is a plated version of a snack traditionally sold as street food. The paratha was OK. On to our main courses, and we chose murgh makhana (£9.95) and murgh palak (£8.95), bolstered by chappatis (£1.80), pilau rice (£2.80), stuffed aloo paratha £3.20) and saffron lemon rice (£2.80).
All the dishes were wonderfully presented but the star was the makhana, which is made butter milk and cooked with onions, tomatoes, sultanas, almonds, pineapple, fresh cream, butter, and a selection of mild spices. It’s a very simple but tasty dish. The palak was exceptional, too. It is a classic north Indian dish with pureed spinach cooked with chicken, spices and fresh coriander.
Drinks were a pint of Cobra and a bottle of Pinto Grigio (£18.95 – I know, expensive but probably on a par with restaurants of a similar ilk). None of our party was a vegetarian but there are plenty of meat-free and fish-free alternatives.
Our bill for four two-course meals and a couple of drinks came to just over £26 each. That’s not bad for what we declared was the best meal we had enjoyed in ages.
Aagrah, St Peter’s Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds. 01132 455667