Simon Richardson discovers his Desert Island Starter in one of Leeds’ oldest surviving restaurants
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t love a good curry. The sheer diversity of flavour and texture of Indian food is something that awakens a powerful sense of possessiveness in many of us. Find your local curry house and fall in love with it. It’s brilliant. The best, in fact. Yours won’t be as good... it simply can’t be.
I can’t eat anything else because I might die, and I’ve heard that's not the done thing in restaurants
Corner Café has traded on this mentality for over 40 years, so it has to be doing something right. Run by Kate and Karim, whose father opened the original restaurant in the 70s, it has a large base of regulars, mostly professional and student types.
Walk in and you immediately feel at home, quite literally, the restaurant looks like someone’s house (albeit with a touch more red), with a mezzanine that reminds me of a flat I lived in for a bit. The welcome is homely too, all smiles, handshakes and comfort. Are you warm enough? How are these seats? Can I have a hug?
We get a few poppadoms (£0.65 each) with a thick, sweet mango chutney (£0.90) and a light, creamy raita. As we’re ordering, the table next to us gets a couple of massive gin and tonics (£4.65), served in those ubiquitous goblets. Sold, to the borderline alcoholic with the lack of self-control. I’ve never been able to find space for beer with curry. If you’re luckier than me though, the beer menu here is superb – chock-a-block with Yorkshire ales and craft options, along with the mandatory Cobra and Kingfisher.
For starters, the keema paratha (£4.25) is an addictive texture. My teeth sink slowly into the outer casing as the fresh, intense spices grab my tongue in a warm embrace. The fish pakora (£4.95 – weekends only), meanwhile, is up there with the best Indian starters I’ve ever tasted. The crispiness gives way in an instant to pieces of white fish that melt like butter on the tongue. I could try for the rest of my life and fail every time to get close to that kind of texture. This is my Desert Island Starter.
The menu is extensive, to say the least, and cleverly done. It’s arranged by meat (or vegetable – the vegetarian list is equally as extensive), then you choose your style and decide on the level of heat on a familiar scale of “mild” to “Oy-Oy! #Ladsladslads!”
I ask for fish masala (£8.75) with pilau rice (£2.95) to come as madras strength. The flavour is superb, no instances of spices battling each other or failing to come through, and it’s not blowing my head off. Everything in this dish is pure, unadulterated flavour. Refreshing but rich, spicy and almost sweet.
My partner has a tandoori tikka masala korma (£9.55) – a true mouthful in every sense. I’m no fan of kormas normally, but this one is medium-hot and not overly creamy, the familiar tandoor flavours permeating the sauce, the plate, my mouth and most of my clothing for the next three days.
We have a side order of daal too (£4.70). According to the menu, they use seven different kinds of lentils. There’s that depth of flavour again. It’s like you order, then they get in a time machine and cook your food for seven days before popping out and serving it to you. Voilà! It’s earthy, rich and buttery. And the garlic and coriander naan (£3.20) is ever-present as the mop to hide my crimes against tidy eating. It’s warm, doughy and crispy around the edges – pretty much faultless.
Now here’s the dilemma. I can’t eat anything else because I might die, and I’ve heard that's not really the done thing in restaurants. Fortunately, Corner Café is famous for Kate’s Kulfi and you can take it away in tubs (£12.50/l). There’s a Christmas pudding special on, so we take it home and attack it after a couple of hours lying around in very stretchy clothing. It’s boozy, the fruit is exceptionally juicy, and I ate far too much of it.
So, how can I persuade you to abandon the delights of your local curry house and give Corner Café a go? Probably nothing, we are creatures of habit after all, and in curry there lies a fierce, dark habit that spans generations. I’ll tell you what though, this is one of the best in Leeds, without doubt. Plus it’s only ten minutes away from my house... and it’s definitely better than yours. So there.
Corner Café, 104 Burley Rd, Leeds LS3 1JP
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Poppadoms 8, keema paratha 8, fish pakora 10, fish massala 8, tikka massala korma 9, daal 7.5, kulfi 9
Excellent; almost too attentive
Homely, relaxed and full of laughter