Prashad has had a lot of hype.
I approach hype with a healthy amount of scepticism.
I’m good at scepticism – it’s a speciality – and the world of food is littered with things that don’t quite live up to the mark, that aren’t quite as good as they claim to be. For every stellar food experience, there are a dozen more that are passable at best, if I’m feeling very generous.
This all stems from a Gordon Ramsay TV programme a couple of years ago to find the best neighbourhood Indian, Italian, French, etc. restaurant and to whittle them down into just simply the best neighbourhood restaurant in Britain. A couple of local restaurants, Salvo’s in Leeds and Prashad, then in Bradford and now just over the border in Leeds, went ridiculously far in the competition, and were heaped with praise by Ramsay. Neither won, but both were clearly right up there.
All this media hype is matched by some more down to earth Northern truths – I simply couldn’t find anybody who had anything even remotely bad to say about Prashad. Responses were either profusely enthusiastic or non-existent through having not eaten there.
No in between at all … just either ‘haven’t been’ or completely won over.
Prashad is a slightly different take on Indian food. It’s mainly Gujarati food, and entirely vegetarian, and is that rare example where that most definitely does not equal bland, unappetising rubbish. The last vegetarian café I ate in, a diabolical place in York, put me off the idea of vegetarian restaurants for a long time, not that I dislike or even mind vegetarian food, I just think that sometimes it isn’t particularly good, or interesting.
Prashad challenged this view robustly. Challenged it in the sense that it tore it apart and trampled all over it, laughing at its stupidity and the narrow-mindedness of it all.
“Hate vegetarian food? Well, have a try of this stuffed, chickpea battered chilli. You complete fool”.
And so it went on, dish after dish of superb, elegant, beautiful, refined food, food so polished and perfectly cooked it deserved just to be gazed at in admiration rather than eaten. The crappy iPhone photos I took were an embarrassment and do no justice at all, and they ended up on the digital cutting room floor, but believe me, everything looked fantastic, and tasted even better.
A platter of starters provided a breakneck tour of the first half of the menu, and included stuffed chilli, a sublime samosa, pattra – a stuffed colocasia leaf, among others.
The next course bridges starters and mains, and is titled ‘roadside snacks’ on the menu. I had uttapam, a rich, thick rice pancake served with a spicy daal soup and a coconut and yoghurt chutney. It was closer in size to the mains, but tasted and looked incredible, all thrusting chilli laced soup battling against cooling yoghurt, rice and coconut.
Vegetarian starters and snack food is easy to work out – plenty of frying, chickpea batter, samosas and the like. Brilliant stuff, but mains must be more of a challenge, the absence of meat more apparent.
This is where real cooking skill shines – the mains we had were complex and deep, with big flavours and plenty of bite. My Bombay bataka was a beast of a dish, potatoes cooked in a rich, spicy tomato sauce, flavours of tamarind nudging around with the acidity of tomato. It was astonishingly good.
The food at Prashad is first-rate, and it’s backed by friendly and discreet service. We were seated on a table next to a stairway, but the waiter moved us somewhere else, that he modestly described as ‘better for him’, but which was quite clearly infinitely better for us, away from the stairs.
Ramsay commented that Prashad’s food is better than that served in a lot of Michelin starred restaurants in that London, and whilst I’m up for the challenge of eating in every Michelin starred restaurant in London to validate his claim, I’ll take his word for it and simply add that I’d agree.
Wonderful food, wonderful service and – by a country mile – the best vegetarian food of any kind I’ve ever eaten, and probably ever will.
137 Whitehall Rd,
0113 285 2037