Bengal Brasserie is one of the newer players on the dining scene in Leeds’s flagship arena quarter, and it is clearly trying to make its mark - and succeeding to some extent.
We arrived early on a Wednesday evening to find the restaurant about a quarter full.
The modern decor is dominated by faux leather chairs, shiny, panelled wooden walls and big comfortable high-backed booths.
A plethora of neon lighting and big plants ensures the vibe is deliberately and successfully removed from the standard balti house.
The spacious bar and waiting area is especially fun, with white leather sofas giving you a VIP feel.
The food menu is traditional Bangladeshi, with a good mix of specials and classics.
I loved the sheer romance and creativity of the names of some of the offerings, with the Murgh-e-Dilruba (roughly translated as Chicken for my Beloved) particularly calling out to me.
For our starter, my companion and I chose to share the Bengal Special Combo platter (£8.90).
The highlight of the dish was the Prawn Chotpati, a huge, plump, juicy tiger prawn encased in a gorgeously crispy batter. The chunk of chicken tikka breast was also well cooked and lightly spiced, just to my liking.
Unfortunately the lamb chop was overcooked and dry, and the onion bhaji was dripping with excess oil. The same went for the additional potato pattie, which was covered in spicy batter and deep fried. The flavour was lovely but there was too much oil.
My companion, a lover of offal, had also ordered a chicken liver tikka starter (£3.95), which had a rich and earthy flavour and was very well cooked. The accompanying crispy onions added further depth.
For our mains, we were tempted by various intriguingly named dishes as well as by a huge range of classic karahis and kormas.
There was also a selection of duck dishes, biryanis and even healthy no-fat options, which was a pleasant surprise.
We opted for the Shabji Chameli (£7.95), a mix of aubergine, cauliflower and okra in a thick curry sauce with onion, garlic, tomato and simmered with pickles.
I loved the intensity of the additional pickle flavour, but was perturbed to find a huge chunk of pickled mango (clearly just chucked in from the jar) in my plate. I had expected the pickled flavours to be added in a more subtle way. But I loved the way the vegetables were cooked, not mushy at all and just the right side of al dente.
We also shared a Salmon Dhubhaja (£12.95) from the special ‘Connoisseur’ menu. This was the highlight of the meal for me. Beautifully cooked salmon fillets were served in a chunky medium spiced sauce with tomatoes, peppers and a side of pilau rice and salad. An additional tomatoey gravy made with the offcuts of the fish was thrown in by our hosts as a surprise. We were told this eminently dippable accoutrement was a staff special. It went beautifully with big chunks of crispy coriander and garlic naan bread.
I’d urge anyone with a delicate palate to ensure they double check intensity levels before they order. I’d asked for medium hot, but the dish was way too strong for me and I had to ask for some cooling yoghurt on the side.
Despite some flaws in the food, the service throughout our visit was exceptional, with the staff pleasant and attentive.
Our total bill, with a coffee each and a shared slice of Oreo Cheesecake to finish the meal, came to £43.
I felt this was a decent value for money overall.
The food offer is a lot more ‘balti house’ than the owners would like to admit, but the service and nice ambience - with a mellow Bollywood inspired soundtrack - raised this a notch for me.
Ueber-sophisticated South Asian dining this isn’t. But if you’re after a tasty and warming curry meal in a city centre location, then this is a satisfying and reasonably priced dining experience.
Merrion Way, Leeds