CROSS Gates could be the next booming area of Leeds.
Confidence in the eastern suburb is highlighted by the recent opening of the postage-stamp bar Assembly, opposite the Arndale Centre, which along with the excellent Locus bar now provide a fresh circuit for lovers of quality craft beer and a relaxed drinking atmosphere. That Cross Gates is just a few minutes from town by train, while bus services elsewhere are haphazard at best, is another reason significant attraction.
The food here is pretty good too. A little detached from the centre, Spice Zone offers quality Indian dining at sensible suburban prices, and makes up with attentive service and a genuinely warm welcome for what it lacks in atmosphere through its simple layout and design. It must be doing something right – it was recently voted the YEP’s Curry House of the Year, after twice before being shortlisted for the award.
From the outside it looks like the kind of low-budget takeaway you might choose to avoid, but stepping inside, you find tables in the window and a dining room which extends away to the right, where smartly-dressed waiting staff are flitting between tables, bearing steaming dishes and pints of lager.
The addition of an alcohol licence a few years ago brought an extra dimension to this experience, though many customers seem to conveniently forget this change, and continue to arrive with their “bring your own” choices, as they were welcome to beforehand. There are just eight tables in the whole place – it must hold 30 at most – each is a dark lacquered wood, with comfortable, high-backed leather chairs. The restaurant is already quite full when we arrive and we are unlucky enough to be seated at the last available table for two, which sits in a rather awkward spot just inside the door, and right beside the brightly-lit bar from where staff pass to and from the kitchen.
Throwing their weight behind a local amateur football team is in the best curry house tradition. I find myself sitting beneath a framed Whitkirk Wanderers shirt, emblazoned with the restaurant logo across the chest. On the wall opposite, the image of horses nibbling on a bale of hay seems as random as the large illuminated stars and the alcove walls decorated with wallpaper to look like Yorkshire dry stone walls. Hanging across the windows, fairy lights twinkle in a hypnotic descending pattern.
There seems little rhyme nor consistent reason to these decorative touches, yet somehow it all still works.
Service here is always swift. No sooner have we crunched through a few poppadoms, slapped up with relishes from the pickle tray (£3), and started to make inroads on our bottle of Valencia house red (£8.95), when the steaming, spitting sizzle of a hot skillet announces the arrival of our starters.
That one is for my partner, and is a red hot plate crackling with lovely lean chunks of lightly-spiced lamb tikka, fried with slithers of onion and coriander leaves and served with a crisp salad and jug of creamy raita (£3.75).
For me, there’s none of this smoking, sizzling drama, but instead a delicious mound of yielding king prawns, draped in a softly-spoken richly-textured sauce of garlic, onions and coriander, and served on a slightly oily puri (£4.25).
These luxurious choices set us up perfectly for the main courses which soon follow. The menu offers most of the curry house staples, as well as a host of less familiar dishes in the list of chef’s specialities, from which I choose the Chicken Taftoon (£7.95), a really fiercely-spiced and alliterative swamp of chicken, chickpeas, chillies and cherry tomatoes in a rich aromatic sauce.
This proved too strong for my partner who was happy to confine herself to the far milder Lamb Rogan Josh (£7.25), tender chunks of lamb in a deep crimson sauce of tomatoes and onions. Pilau Rice (£2.50) is the obvious accompaniment as is the giant garlic nan bread (£2.25), whose vast rolling golden contours seem like the three-dimensional map of an Asian sand dune.
Eavesdropping conversation is always fun. One couple is eager to share their holiday pictures with their friends sitting opposite, passing their phone around to show pictures of their visit to n Andalucian cathedral. One friend is singularly unimpressed: “You go to Spain to lie on a beach and have a few beers, not look at buildings. Whitkirk Church looks better than that anyway.”
As we settle our bill for a top-value £42, on a table around the corner, a rather merry group are singing their way happily through a few old standards, as they round off their evening of beer and spice in style. We leave a few minutes behind them, and as we head back to the car, from a hundred yards or so away along the street, the strains of “Show me the way to go home” ripple back to us in the still, cold night air.
Address: Pendas Way, Cross Gates, Leeds, LS15 8HU
Opening times: 5pm-11pm Mon-Thur, 5pm-11.30pm Fri-Sat, 3pm-10.30pm Sun
Telephone: 0113 264 4121