Curry houses in Leeds city centre, to me, have always been a bit of a let down. The menus tend to be the same where ever you go, tikkas, baltis, bhunas etc. They are often full of 'lads' being 'lads' or office workers on a Friday night who have had a few after work and now need something to fill their bellies. The food is made to please the masses with little care or attention taken to make the dishes actually taste different and distincive, if you exclude the spice ratings and meat options (some times not even the latter).
In this respect Tharavadu is a breath of fresh air. It brings something to Leeds that you'd usually have to travel to neighbouring Bradford to find. With typically unheard of dishes, it moves away from the 'traditional British curry' and instead presents to us a true reflection of what food is like in South India along the Karalan coast line (I presume). It shows us what a dosa should be like. It shows us what else there is out there other than a chicken bhuna/balti/tikka masala. It shows us true passion in it's food.
We booked weeks ahead for a Saturday night table for 8 diners at prime time. We walked in and were shown to our seats immediately. The restaurant is fairly small so I would always advise to book ahead. There was only one 'lads' table visible with a large mix of people scattered around, from your hipsters table, to your after Christmas shopping table, to your treating the parents table, to your girls night out table, to your maths geek table... you get the idea.
It was extremely busy. Service was pretty slow that night, we had to ask for drinks after growing impatient with no one paying us much attention at the start of the meal but things picked up a little after then.
Most of the table ordered a pint of Cobra, the standard Indian restaurant beverage. (£3.79)
The menu layout isn't standard either and it took a bit of examining to decide what to have, a few needed help deciphering what were starters and mains.
For starters D and I decided to share a couple of dishes, just choosing two was a difficult task. In the end we decided upon mix veg bonda (£3.29) and Uzhunnu vada (£3.49).
Mix Veg Bonda
The Mix Veg Bonda are almost like the veg pakoras you can find in other establishments, the difference being that pakoras (popular in Pakistan and India) tend to just use one or two whole vegetables and then deep fried in gram flour whereas bonda is a South Indian snack which mixes together a variety of finely chopped vegetables and peas before being deep fried in gram flour.
Uzhunnu Vada are traditionally a breakfast dish in South India and are lentil fried doughnuts. They are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, resembling a slightly lighter doughnut as we know it. When dipped in the available chutneys they transform in taste as the lentils slowly melt in your mouth. Not the biggest of flavours but definitely an interesting dish nevertheless.
Amongst this I also sampled some Idli, another breakfast dish, which is ball like steamed rice and lentil cakes. Extremely filling. I also tried the sauce of the prawn starter - incredibly hot!! Be warned.
For mains D (and two others on our table) went for the only lamb dish on the menu the Adu Cheera Mappas.
Adu Cheera Mappas
This dish contains boneless cubes of lamb cooked with spinach and what they call their 'special Kerala sauce'. A quick google of the name suggests this is made with coconut milk. This is close to the curries that we have grown to love, rich spicy sauce and well marinated meat that breaks apart easily in your mouth. (£8.69)
On the grapevine I had previously heard that the dosas here were the thing to have. So I had to have it, if only out of curiosity. There is a separate dosa menu where I believe that they are served in a pyramid shape of which you lift to find your filling. I instead chose from the 'poultry' section of the menu and opted for the Konkani Kozhi Dosa.
Konkani Kozhi Dosa
This dish is served with three rice dosas, for those who haven't tried them before they are a pancake of sorts, crispy and light. The dosas served here a thinner than others I have tried and were great in my very saucy dish. Admittedly this isn't the type of curry I would normally go for, it has a coconut base and is fairly mild, although thankfully there was a bit of spice in the dish. The chicken wasn't as well cooked as the lamb but I guess that this is because it would have boiled slightly in the milk. (£8.79)
We ordered some Kongan rice to share which paired better with D's thick sauced curry than it did my own. Mixed with spinach, urad dal, vegetables and spices it was better than any boring pilau rice and I definitely suggest spending the extra 20-30p for it. (£2.49)
Across the table I spotted H's accompaniment dish and took a quick snap. Some of the best looking poori I have seen in a while! (£1.89)
Three of us decided we would like dessert and ordered the Mango Kulfi (also comes in pistachio or almond).
A neat little sculpture upon our dishes, creamy and flavoursome. Although not the best I have had (google Indies Ices if you haven't heard of him and want to try the best) it was a nice little refresher after the spicy dishes of the night. (£2.89)
For 8 of us dinner came to £187.41, a little under £25 per head which I thought was incredibly reasonable considering most of us had 2 dishes (at least) and more than 1 drink each too.
Service was a bit haphazard on the night but I think (I hope) that was mainly due to how busy it was that night. I've heard reports that service is actually quite good with friendly staff, being a larger group it was hard to get this same experience.
I definitely want to go again, if not to try the pyramid dosas but the tapas style option (Sadhya) which consists of soup and 8 different curries! Who am I kidding... there is so much I want to go back and try. Just have a look at the menu for yourself, the descriptions alone sound like something straight off of an Indian-esq M&S advert.
Closed on Mondays but open to feast from noon on a weekend I can't wait to go back again and again and again.
7-8 Mill Hill