Jenessa Williams swerves the trendy spots in favour of this veteran veggie venue
Nestled between The Reliance and the longer drag into the city centre, you might be forgiven for having overlooked Hansa’s. Trading in the art of vegetarian Gujarati cuisine, they have stood, humble yet stoic, on North Street for three decades, outlasting food trends with their humble ethos of sharing and experimenting, exemplified by their regular cookery school (led by the proprietor and cookbook author, Hansa Dhabi) and heritage tours.
Having recently moved to the area, a trip to their restaurant seems a convenient way for us to temporarily escape World Cup fever. Thanks to an evening fixture, we arrive at 7.30pm to an empty dining room. Each table is adorned with sparkling glassware, neat napkins and bowls of chickpea crisps that are so delicious we’re tempted to sneak extra portions off the empty neighbouring tables.
The highlight is easily the Patra, the waiter painting a beautiful picture of colocasia leaves marinated and pasted in a curried batter.
Attentive without being overbearing, our friendly waitress offers to turn the music down. She’s been enjoying beat-heavy Arabic RnB while the restaurant has been quiet, but understands we might prefer it more ambient as we dine. Far from it, the joy she’s getting from the music sets the tone for Hansa’s, the atmosphere a little like crowding into a neighbour's kitchen; no frills, no artifice, just full of homely personality.
For the starter, we go for the mixed platter (£9.50) – when in Gujarat right? None of the delicate morsels disappoint, from chilli paneer bites, crunchy on the outside and squidgy in the middle, to the Pani Puri, a delicate globe, stuffed with chickpea and potato that burst in waves of tamarind and mint chutney.
The highlight is easily the Patra. Diligently explaining the process to us, a passing waiter paints a beautiful picture of colocasia leaves, native to India, marinated and pasted in a curried batter. Stir fried with onions and sweetcorn, the texture is surprisingly cannelloni-like, and endlessly moreish.
Now we're off, upping the spice for the main with Bhaji Paneer (£7.95). Eclipsing that of the city’s Indian contemporaries, it is highly flavourful, rich in iron with a heat that coats the back of the throat. Chevti Daal (£7.50) has slightly less impact (our daal heart still belongs to Bundobust), but it makes for a great, mild accompaniment to a side of biryani rice, studded with cashews and chunky veg.
With bellies filling, we decide it would be rude not to sample pudding. Endearingly named after members of Hansa’s family, picking a dessert feels a little like choosing a favourite child. We eventually settle for ‘Phoebe’s Delight’ (£4.95), made with coconut fudge and pistachio, and ‘Khiloni’s Special’ (£4.75), a traditional Ras Malai with chocolate sauce.
Swiftly presented by our waiter (in between halves of the Belgium game he’s watching surreptitiously on his phone), they conform to the sickly-sweet style of Indian puddings, but slightly pared back, with the coconut ice particularly pleasing in its warm, cream-coated serving. Though we agree we may never want sugar again, it serves a purpose sweeping the spice away, bizarrely cleansing the palette as we sip upon the final dregs of Kobra Beer (£3.75) and Peacock Cider (£5.95).
Ok so Hansa's isn't as sexy as some of the new Indian openings, it doesn't offer street food and it's not particularly Instagrammable, but what it does do well is deliver good, affordable home-cooked veggie food packed with flavour and a few surprises.
So the next time you’re craving heat, head through the city centre, but keep on walking – you'll be glad you did.
Hansas Gujarati Vegetarian Restaurant, 72/74 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN. Tel: 0113 244 4408
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.
Patra 9, Kachori 8, Pani Puri 8, Patudi 8, Bhaji Paneer 8, Chevti Daal 7, Veg Biryani 8, Pheobes Delight 7, Khiloni Special 6,
Endearing and personable
Quiet (because of footy) but the music banged