There is no doubt in my mind that East Bar Lounge & Grill on Richardshaw Lane positively transformed the local curry scene when it opened in a former carpet warehouse more than a decade ago.
In many ways, it was an incongruence. A flashy, bling Indian restaurant with more than its fair share of swagger, opening in an otherwise quite functional building - the kind you wouldn’t blink twice at if you passed it on an industrial estate (speaking of which, there is one just round the corner).
Still, East came in with thunder and not an inconsiderable amount of charm. It took the cliched neon blue and pink of the Indian dining scene and paired them with razor sharp, in-your-face signage. Inside, waiters were clad all in black but some of them still had a twinkle in their eye and there was witty repartee (not always a good thing in a restaurant, it has to be said). East even dared to stick a baby grand piano in the corner and have a musician play it all night. It felt like being in a restaurant scene of a something from a New York drama. And that was just downstairs. Upstairs, toward the much vaunted terrace bar, there was serious mood lighting and even more unabashed garishness, with super expensive bottles of Corvoisier and Louise XIII cognac displayed like museum pieces within glass cases. It was as though US rapper 50 Cent had decided to stage his latest video there.
Still, despite its exuberance, we liked East, if only for its sincerity and self belief. After it opened, other restaurants in the area seriously upped their game.
It’s now over a decade since East threw open its doors. In the intervening years, it has also expanded, opening up a sister restaurant on New Road Side, Horsforth. While this never managed to capture the same vibe as the original, it still held its own, although now I understand it’s less of a restaurant and more of a bar with live bands and an on-trend line in Indian street food, which seems more apt.
Back to East, Pudsey. I have to admit, it’s been a while since we visited but judging by appearances, the interior is pretty much the same. The piano guy is still there, although he has been moved from the end of the main bar to a much more suitable corner of the main restaurant. I am guessing no-one actually ever tells him but the gentle music is really quite relaxing and so bravo to them for keeping him on. I can’t think of another restaurant which has its own pianist. So, USP and all that. East has a fair few of those, though.
I mentioned the swagger earlier. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Confidence is good. A little bit of theatre is acceptable but anything else is beyond the pale. Previous visits have resulted in some concerns in this area, especially to do with the waiting staff, who I note are still predominantly male. However, this time round they were far more demure and much more efficient, by which I supposed I mean effective. Service was good overall: prompt and unintrusive, although we were left alone for a long time after finishing our mains and had to ask for a dessert menu.
Food was excellent. We began with the usual (obligatory but so what?) pickle tray (£2.95) and five poppadums (£3.75), swiftly followed by some truly mesmerising starters, mostly served on wooden platters. There was liver and mushroom tikka (£4.25), dall soup (£4.25) and something called Machli Bahadur (£7.95). The livers were good: earthy, spicy, almost soothing. The soup, full of lentils with just the right amount of heat running through it, was thick and satisfyingly moorish. The machli (award winning, apparently) was the most inventive, pairing lightly spiced haddock, topped with globs of Indian cheese, green peppers and prawns done in something which tasted to me like fish sauce - it was salty and tangy but hot and sweet at the same time.
Mains came in the form of a lamb monty (£10.95) and a hyderabadi (£9.95), along with two fries (£5), pilau (£2.20) and mushroom rice (£3.25) and a conversation stopper (sorry, I mean one of those family-size garlic naans they hang on a metal stand and put between you and whoever you were talking to).
I jest but seriously, I do wonder whether there’s a better way of serving these giant flatbreads, nice though they are. Possibly, seeing as we’re over the ‘look how big it is’ moment, they could just cut it into four and put it on a dish. Mains were all good, the stand-out dish was the lamb monty, which was so smooth it was uncanny. If it was a whisky, it would be Glenmorangie.
Other stuff: I noted a broken tile on the way in, the men’s lavatory had no loo roll and wasn’t overly clean. Also, are we over boiling water being poured on desiccated hand wipes? Maybe. The total bill (plus drinks/desserts/10 per cent service charge) came to just over £90. East is still East. Yes it has a few rough edges, it’s still cocksure but it’s no longer cocky - its a joy to dine there.
Address: Richardshaw Lane, LS28 6BN
Telephone: 0113 257 9991/0113 255 9191
Opening times: Daily from 11am ‘til late