A famous Leeds Indian restaurant comes under the Leeds-List taste test – but does Aagrah live up to the fiery expectations?
A balmy Tuesday evening is the perfect excuse to go for a curry – or so it seems in a bustling Aagrah, snuck away in Leeds’ St Peter’s Square.
The Indian restaurant is renowned the county over, never mind just in Leeds, and for over thirty five years has been providing folk with Yorkshire with quality, authentic Kashmiri food. That esteemed reputation is still in fine fettle, and it’s no surprise to see the Leeds Aagrah restaurant as full as it is, with a nice mix of family celebrations and couples invoking a particularly pleasant ambiance.
Saying that, however, there’s little fuss in being seated. Welcomed at the door and quickly ushered to a two seater table at the centre of the vast, authentically decorated room, the immediate service is nicely attentive.
Our drinks order – two pints of Kingfisher since you asked – is taken right away and delivered moments later with an appetite whetting quartet of papadums and assortment of dips. It’s the perfect way to start any meal at an Indian restaurant, and the Leeds Aagrah is all the better for it.
But then, trouble hits – in the hubbub of everything else going on in this Leeds Indian restaurant, it’s a good fifteen minutes and half a pint later before we’re approached again for our food order. While it can be understandable to experience a little wait during particularly busy periods of service, it feels a little like we’re the invisible table.
Eventually, the papadum entrails are cleared and our order – a starter and a main course each – are taken. Having settled in and with the wait thankfully over, it’s now, with the occasional glance around the Leeds restaurant, when you begin to appreciate the achievements of Aagrah over the years.
Few restaurants last for so long, and fewer still expand with the influence that the Indian restaurant has. Leeds is just one of sixteen Aagrah establishments, each as accomplished as the other, and each with a distinct-defined focus on cooking up the complete Kashmiri experience.
The wait for the starters to arrive is thankfully a little less and the raavi and chicken pakora are soon dished up. The former is a fillet of sea bass marinated with a slew of herbs and spices, and size-wise, it’s particularly generous as a starter. In fact, many might be satisfied with it as a main alongside a side or two, but the large cut of the fillet should take nothing away from the dish.
The sea bass is as perfectly cooked as you could ask for – light, yet holding its substance with the correct balance in flavours of the fish and the carefully concocted marinade. There’s a defining subtlety to it, that sizzles out of the hints of nutmeg, mace, carom seeds and red chillies, with the latter adding a belated kick – something of an Aagrah Leeds hallmark.
The chicken pakora on the other hand has the portion size spot on – five crunchy chunks of chicken, wrapped in batter and embellished with hints of onion do justice to a classic appetiser. They’re completed even more so by the accompanying salad of fresh lettuce and red onion, as well as the replenished selection of dips that originally arrived alongside the papadums.
As the starters are attentively whipped away, the waiter, quite cleverly, offers up another round of drinks to which provides a satisfying precursor to the arrival of the mains. And perhaps, the previous wait was noted as it’s barely moments later that the two plates arrive. My own dish is the chicken karahi, a staple of the Indian restaurant menu, but Leeds’ Aagrah ensure that theirs doesn’t get lost in the overpopulated crowd.
Arriving in a hot pan stacked onto a wooden plate, and with the separately ordered pilau rice to the side, it looks particularly appetising, and that’s backed up by the pan spewing out the distinct Karahi aromas.
It’s a pleasure to see those aromas appear to transfer to the taste of the Aagrah dish – from the fragrant coriander and fiery red chillies to the distinct blend of ginger and garlic, the tender chicken is delightfully complemented by the diverse blend within the sauce its smothered in. It is to be noted however that despite it coming alongside a two chilli warning, it’s the aftertaste that holds the kick (and a punch), so if heat is a problem, perhaps it may not suit your palate.
On the other side of the table it was lamb taking centre stage as part of the Lal Mas, a new addition to the Aagrah Leeds menu, and perhaps one of the finest examples of rich Rajastani cooking in Leeds. Taking inspiration from the region to the South West of the already professed Kashmir culture, Rajasthan is noted for its varied ingredients and unique blend of herbs and spices – something evident within the Lal Mas.
The dish is helped by the quality of the lamb – it is as tender as you could wish, a superb cut of meat that finds itself perfectly suited to the Lal Mas marinade, which uses red chillies, onions, cardamoms and the particularly typical yoghurt. It’s through the latter, with its creamy, though not at all overbearing flavour and texture, where the dish ultimately triumphs. An ideal choice for those who appreciate a little less fire in their curry.
Accompanied by a duo of sundries, a garlic nan and a chapati, as well as the constantly refreshed dip selection, the dishes are forensically mopped up, and the general consensus is that it’s another Aagrah experience in Leeds well done.
Yet, there’s something more to this Leeds Indian restaurant than you may find elsewhere. Whilst the professionalism, conviction and attention to detail of each member of staff in the Leeds branch is striking, Aagrah still manages to maintain it’s authentic atmosphere that truly seems best as the tables continue to fill up.
At £52 for two starters, two main courses, two portions of rice, two sundries and two pints of the most refreshing lager on tap, it’s safe to say you’re squeezing every last drop of value out of them.
There’s a reason Aagrah in is still are still at the peak of their powers thirty six years on from their opening. The food, and the ambiance, live up to the name with a consummate ease, and long (though the wait may have initially been) may it continue.
Aagrah Leeds City, St Peter’s Square, Quarry Hill, LS9 8AH.