Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tony Naylor and reader Gareth Gibbon compare notes on Bundobust in Leeds.
Tony Naylor is a Manchester-based journalist who regularly writes for olive, as well as Restaurant magazine and The Guardian. You’ll also find him blogging online for The Guardian’s Word of Mouth.
Gareth Gibbon is a designer living in Leeds. He eats out once a week, and says his best recent restaurant experience was the tasting menu in the experimental kitchen at Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham.
Modestly calling itself ‘a bar that sells Indian street food’, Bundobust is big on craft beers, providing a platform for independent brewers such as Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Monk, and offering limited edition ales and collaborations. Its menu is succinct, tempting and all-vegetarian, from spicy nuts to massala dosa, a mini crêpe with potato and onion dry fry, lentil soup and coconut chutney. The room is thriftily decorated with upcycled corrugated plastic and woodchip, old rice sacks and no-frills wooden benches.
Where there is any – you order at the bar, and collect your own plastic cutlery and paper napkins – service was terrific. The bar staff were knowledgeable about the extensive craft beer range, offering tasters and opinion while explaining the ‘randaliser’ (a bar-top contraption that infuses beer, in this case with fruit, as it is served). *I was recognised.
You choose your own table, then order food and drinks at the bar (you can set up a tab). The staff were friendly and helpful, talking me through the huge range of ales, offering tasters and recommendations, and suggesting how many dishes to order. Service was fast and efficient. Tap water was available, when requested.
If your previous experience of Indian food is of oily, one-sauce-fits-all curry houses, then Bundobust’s vegetarian snacks and sharing plates (served in dinky, waxed-paper tubs), will blow your mind as comprehensively as – picking just one classic from the beer menu – Sierra Nevada’s 7.2% Torpedo IPA. From addictive popcorn seasoned with garlic, turmeric and chilli, to a lentil-thickened, idli sambhar that boasted a serious depth of flavour (think supercharged, meat-free mulligatawny), this is elegantly spiced food whose heat is expertly modulated. Even the onion bhajis are beautiful: aromatic with garam masala and ajwain, filled with lush onion and cauliflower, the batter lifted by threads of spinach. The only really challenging dish is a mango kulfi ice-cream: rich and lactic, but packing a peculiar almost savoury edge. Pawa bataka – warm spiced rice and peanuts – and the ragda pethis mushy peas are more satisfying. Likewise, the bhel puri, a cold ‘salad’ of puffed rice, potato, sev and samosa, bound in sourly tangy and sweet tamarind sauces. I could eat buckets of it.
The menu consists of 12 vegetarian Indian street food dishes. We ordered five, then another two later on, as we were still peckish. Our clear favourite was the bhel puri, a cold dish of crumbled samosa pastry with rice and turmeric noodles in a tomato and tamarind chutney; it was tangy, crunchy and very moreish. Living up to their description, the ‘ultimate’ bhajis, made from onion, spinach and cauliflower, were crisp with a moist but light centre – an intense savoury hit, without being too spicy. The ragda pethis sounded a little odd (potato cutlets in mushy peas), but came with a tamarind sauce that cut through the stodge wonderfully. The massala dosa were tricky to eat (rice crepes filled with onion and potato, in a lentil soup), but the fresh coconut chutney was fantastic – thick and raita-tasting, great for cleansing the palate. Popcorn and pops (garlic and chilli popcorn with poppadom shards), and crispy okra fries were perfect as side dishes or snacks with a beer. Finally, we had the bataka vada, spiced mashed potato fried in batter, which provided the chilli kick I’d been craving.
The Bottom Line
The design is clever – stylish even – but Bundobust is a no-frills space: essentially, it’s a chipboard canteen. I loved it; your gran may not. The food is excellent, the beer on point, and the staff are enthusiastic ambassadors for both. If I lived in Leeds, I’d be in every week. Great curry, great beer. It’s a no-brainer, right?
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 9/10; TONY’S TOTAL: 24/30
Bundobust has latched on to the street food craze, adding a great range of ales and cocktails, all served in a buzzy bar, with padded benches, cushions made from hessian rice sacks, and walls decorated with chopped up doors. With drinks, food and service this good (and this cheap), it’s easy to see why there were queues at 7pm when we left.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 9/10; GARETH’S TOTAL: 26/30
Bundobust Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
As a vegetarian restaurant, Bundobust scores well for healthy eating – most menu items are vegan. But many of the vegetables it uses, like okra, are sourced from outside the UK and are airfreighted. The chefs are encouraged to use every bit of the vegetables and the restaurant recycles everything it can.
Written November 2014