Sunday, 6 December 2015
The Cat's Pyjamas - Headingley, Leeds
The owner of White's Deli, a former research company owner, has taken on their second venture in to the food scene in Headingley with The Cat's Pyjamas. Alison, the owner, prior to White's Deli had never owned or ran a cafe but her bounding success and her new found passionate for the food and catering scene has led her to take on something a little more challenging, an Indian street food and craft ale joint.
The words 'Indian street food and craft ale' conjure up one place in most Leodians minds, Bundobust, their popularity and just generally being adored by all in Leeds means that The Cat's Pjs are rather unfortunately going to have to live with everyone comparing them against each other.
Two of the most obvious differences are: a) Bundobust is wholly vegetarian whereas The Cat's Pjs is not and b) location.
I'll come on to the food in a moment, I just want to focus on that second point: location.
**Rant Warning Alert**
Bundobust lies down a dark street near Trinity in an area that is trying to be rejuvenated, it takes a lot to make it the most Instagrammed place in Leeds and drag the punters away from the shiny lights of Trinity. The Cat's Pjs has a different type of footfall, students mainly. As much as I'm being told that Headingley is on the turnaround and more and more families are moving back in to the area, every time I visit Headingley I see groups of students parading up Otley road in togas, sumo wrestler suits, Santa outfits and many other absurd fashion choices. There are approximately 45,000 students in Leeds, 30,000 of those are from Leeds Uni alone. Each September there are a new set of fresh faced wild eyed students entering the city trying to fend for themselves and 'be adult'. Headingley and Hyde Park are a hive for bad food places, because no sooner than those who have become wise to their poor food and have left the city upon graduation another 15,000 are replacing them.
As much as the above is still prominent there is another factor to contend with, Social Media. Social media is a part of our everyday lives and used avidly by students as they idle away their time avoiding study (procrastination I liked to call it). If you're doing a good job people will hear about it. I think Boss Burgers can be used as an example here, as a burger bar in student area it wasn't likely that it was going to hit the hype and consciousness of those outside the student bubble, but it did, and I think that social media had a big help in this. Boss Burgers have done so well for themselves they've opened a second place in Chapel Allerton, hitting that young professional clientèle.
So as much as being in a student area can have its draw backs in terms of respectability in the food world it can also be your opener, the 45,000 turnover every year of new students is also a 45,000 turnover of people who are able to offer you free promotion on social media and get the word out there.
Don't even get me started on Trip Adviser.
So what can an English girl who used to run a research agency know about Indian Street food? Probably not much in the grand scheme of things, Alison has therefore employed Alfred Prasad to consult on the food and menu options in addition to this she has also employed the head chef from the former 'Bird' restaurant which was part owned by James Martin (which met its fate when Alea casino closed).
The menu is laid out in two parts (three if you include desserts), small plates and large plates. The unique selling point of The Cat's Pjs is clearly its street food; it's plastered all over its advertising. I have in my mind that street food = small plates, small dishes you can eat whilst on the move or perhaps it's Bundobust's influence with their small pots of food. With this idea firmly cemented in my mind I was always going to order a variety of the small plates and miss out the large plates, being the food blogger that I am I want to try that USP and see it for all it's worth. I would also expect it to be the best thing to have on the menu. Having seen a few others also visit The Cat's Pjs whom too have 'food blogger syndrome' it would seem they have followed suit and ordered small plates over large plates.
So why then when we ordered a whole host of small plates did Alison's face fall? It was later suggested that I could perhaps take a trip to the kitchen after our meal to try a sample of the larger plates, this didn't happen as the kitchen was too busy, but nevertheless I was surprised that it appeared that the small plates were not what I was *supposed* to be ordering.
When the small plates arrived the actual plates were not so small and we struggled to fit five plates and a bowl of poppadoms on our table for two.
Here's what we had:
Spicy coated pieces of chicken served with raita and salad.
Deep fried okra
Pieces of okra deep fried in a spicy batter served with salad.
Deep fried potato pattie served on a tomato, coriander and plum chutney topped with raita.
Scrambled paneer served in whole wheat tacos topped with avocado and a chili chutney
Keralan Beef Fry
Pretty much rump steak curried.
Served with mango chutney only.
Overall the dishes were good, but there are some improvements to be made. I don't want to be too harsh on a new local independent, or on a business that has just opened and may be having some teething problems... but then again I have to be honest too.
So here are my thoughts, the chicken 65 was slightly over cooked and had a bit too much chew, there also wasn't enough sauce in that puddle on the plate to help me swallow down the crisp dry spice coating (this crisp dry coating is not a bad thing).
The deep fried okra was spot on, I could definitely wolf down a plate of these with a pint in no time and the portion is more generous than their competition's (you know who I mean I don't need to write it).
Aloo Cutlet was one of the better dishes but I couldn't help feel that there could have been a better sauce or marinade to serve it with than raita, with it being present on some of the other small plates I was beginning to get bored by it.
The paneer in the taco is scrambled, so much so I struggled to pick out the paneer in the 1.5 pieces I had, D managed to get a big bite so maybe I was just unlucky.
Very rarely do you see beef on an Indian food menu, mainly because it's a sacred animal in most of India, but as Alfred explained to me the immigrants brought it over to Kerala meaning that it is actually possible to find beef curry in India if you look hard enough. The second reason is that beef doesn't cook very well in curries, or at least it's hard to get it to cook well. I have all but given up on my beef curries (okay I tried once maybe twice) as it goes tough and chewy too easily. This example was bordering on tough and chewy.
Poppadoms, give more than mango chutney to dip them, if you like charge me for a separate pot of pickles, it doesn't even have to be your standard options, heck I'd relish the opportunity to try something different on my poppadom.
It's a new offering to Headingley, there isn't anywhere (that I know of) who are offering the same in Headingley (a variety of Indian food and craft ale). In my opinion the concept of the menu is good; it just needs a little tweaking and a bit more clarity on the theme. If I'm sitting downstairs in the bar area the small plates might be a good option, if I'm upstairs being assigned to a table then perhaps large plates are the better option. I feel this needs to be conveyed a little better, but then I guess most people are going to go in thinking The Cat's PJs are a like for like with Bundobust. A little effort is going to be needed on their part to transform this view, students who haven't yet heard of Bundobust might not have this prejudice but a lot of Leeds' homies will.
Just to touch on the large plates, although I didn't sample them, there are fewer options and two of those options include Rogan Josh and Tikka Masala. I know why they have these on the menu, and it was affirmed to me by Alfred, familiarity will bring in the less daring, unfamiliarity will bring in the daring. They're trying to capture both types of diner, especially so in a student area where some will be seeking home comforts and what is known to them and some students will be ready to push all boundaries. My only fear is that by having these options, which are so often berated by curry snobs, they will push people away too.
I guess the proof will be in the pudding (not the literal pudding I can't comment on the pudding as I didn't have any).
I'll definitely pop in again for a beer and perhaps a bar snack to help keep me sober, or quieten my beer fuelled belly. Would I come here for a sit down meal with friends? Not sure...