This former YEP curry house of the year continues to dazzle and surprise.
The first moment of revelation comes just before you push open the door. Its unprepossessing location in a red brick development between a row of terraced houses on one side, and a pizza takeaway on the other isn’t suggestive of anything more remarkable than the dozens of perfectly ordinary budget Indian restaurants which scattered through the suburban locations in every LS postcode.
Yet glancing in through the windows as you approach you start to get a sense of the pleasures which await you inside – the subtle lighting, the sumptuous decor, and the fact that it is absolutely packed.
In fact, as we enter the attractive bar area, where drinks are being prepared and waiters, smart in their black uniforms, are busy scurrying past with steaming dishes bound for hungry diners, I wonder briefly if we are going to be disappointed. This is early on a Wednesday evening and we haven’t taken the precaution of booking, but it already looks to be full. Thankfully this doesn’t prove to be a problem - we are shown through to a table in the intimate dining room with attractive black lampshades and a warm bronze glow.
We are quickly presented with menus and a bottle of the juicy, peppery Los Pastos Merlot from Chile, keenly priced at £13.95, which proves an amiable companion during an evening which – for the starters at least – entirely justifies Zoya’s claim to provide ‘Divine Indian Dining’.
The menu offers plenty, and there are sufficient off-the-wall options here to make a return visit inevitable. Perhaps next time we will try the Railway Cinnamon Curry – a style peculiar to the Indian railways – or the Rothwell Special Rhubarb, a fusion of eastern and western flavours which makes good use of produce from the renowned ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ which grows an unfeasibly high percentage of the world’s output of the fruit-hyphen-vegetable. There’s a Hash Special too, though the menu isn’t specific about whether it contains corned beef or cannabis, so we move on.
After some deliberation we make our choices, and fill the gap before their arrival with a crunchy mound of small, curly poppadoms accompanied by a silver tray of seven pickles, the best of which gives the sharp sting of chilli jam.
Starters soon arrive. I’ve gone for the imaginative Mango and Chilli Fish (£4.95), a delicate slice of fillet which has been coated in a rich sticky red mango sauce, dashed with chilli flakes and served with a fresh crisp salad and a wedge of lemon for a little extra bite.
My partner’s Saag Kumbi (£4.95) looks almost too good to eat. Four mushrooms are lined up along the centre of an oblong plate, each stuffed with spinach, a dash of cheese and topped by halved cherry tomatoes. The artistic presentation is completed by a scattering of salad and a sweet chilli dip. My partner desecrates this masterpiece by tucking in heartily, and passing one of the mushrooms to me. It tastes every bit as good as it looks; though it’s lightly spiced, the influence of coriander exerts its presence upon this beautifully delicate and low-calorie delight. So far, Zoya has scored full marks in all categories and I sense another award coming on. But the standards they set with the starters are almost impossible to maintain and it’s with the main courses, they begin to lose that dazzle.
I’ve been enticed by the Chicken Nawabi Khana (£8.95) on the specials list, which is described as a “Mughal’s spicy favourite”. The menu goes on to explain the complexity of its preparation: “21 ingredients are each roasted individually... lending a deep rich colour to this mouth-watering dish”. And though it looks wonderful – lean cubes of chicken in this rich crimson sauce – the cumulative effect of this pontoon of ingredients is a blast of spice so strong, that each of their individual characteristics is utterly lost in a rage of fiery aggression.
My partner has gone for the more prosaic Lamb Rogan Josh (£7.95) and though far more palatable it does look rather unappetising. Essentially this comprises chunks of brown meat wrapped in a moderately spiced deep brown sauce – without any colour or variety – and this from a kitchen which gave us those amazing mushrooms. It gets eaten, but without the kind of enthusiasm we had for our starters. This is more than I can say for mine. It’s not as if I’m a stranger to hot food. I love a madras, can handle vindaloo – and my local takeaway produces a wonderful Chilli Chicken Masala which brings me out in a sweat, but I can easily complete. Yet here I’m totally defeated, leaving my Nawaabi Khan midway through to concentrate on the rice, the naan bread and a few stolen spoonsful of Rogan Josh.
“You did well to get that far,” says the waiter collecting my plate, almost as though Zoya has set this dish as a trap to make the unwary squirm and sink. Next time, I shall certainly choose something else.
Address: 76 Aberford Road,
Oulton, Leeds, LS26 8HP
Opening times: 5.30pm-11pm daily
Telephone: 0113 282 1681