After trudging through streets of snow slush, we arrived at the warmly-lit Hansa’s Vegetarian Restaurant, located on North Road towards Chapel town, and away from the plethora of chain restaurants that bedeck Leeds City Centre. Hansa’s is a family-run restaurant which prides itself on authentic and distinct cuisine from the Gujarat region of India. Considering that I have never been to a wholly vegetarian restaurant, and embarrassingly have only ever eaten Indian food from a take-out, I was intrigued as to how Hansa’s would perform.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Hansa’s all-female staff beautifully dressed in traditional Indian saris, along with the delicate scent of incense and tealights. The décor was modest and homely, with dark wood furniture, pink striped carpet and a tented ceiling. For a Saturday night the restaurant was reasonably busy with a mix of couples and families, and the atmosphere was welcoming and relaxed.
Whilst the menu was not hugely extensive, for my vegetarian companions who are accustomed to only being able to eat a couple of dishes, they were obviously spoilt for choice! For those unable to pick one of two dishes, Hansa’s offers complete meals to share with your table which would have been a good option. The starters were the most enticing and inventive, and all under £7. My housemate spared the main course options and ordered two; first, a deep-fried beef tomato stuffed with spicy paneer masala and tamarind sauce, and then a Gujarati steamed rice-cake made with red and green-pepper chutneys. I ordered mixed vegetables in a rice pancake, washed down with cinnamon tinged masala chai tea. The pancake was deliciously crispy and offset by the medley of lightly spiced vegetables inside, and all the food was fresh and nutritious, if a little heavy on the spice for my palate.
The main courses consisted of simple fresh vegetable or daal curries, accompanied by rice or chapattis. I ordered a cauliflower, carrot, potato and pea curry which was beautifully cooked but any delicate flavours were overshadowed by the domineering heat from the spice. The dessert menu was vast and included several vegan options, but overall we felt they were overpriced and disappointing; two slices of tinned pineapple sandwiching a scoop of vanilla ice cream felt a little uninspiring compared to the ingenious heights at which we had started our meal with. Nevertheless, my companion’s ‘gulab jambu’ desert of milk powder balls fried and doused in syrup was more enjoyable, if still on the small side.
Hansa’s triumphs in offering traditional and accessible Indian food and for demonstrating the potential of vegetarian cuisine. Whilst not geared to a student market, for those feeling experimental or in need of a nutrient-boost to tide them through the winter, Hansa’s is a pleasant choice with a soothing ambience. The starters in particular offer a tantalising array of unique flavour and texture combinations and a glimpse into the diversity of Indian cuisine beyond the stereotypical chicken tikka masala and poppadum fest!
Words: Charlie Duffield