Since my son became a vegan 12 months ago the Stelfox family has faced a dining out dilemma.
Many of the restaurants we previously patronised on a regular basis have failed to step up to the challenge of providing a choice for someone who no longer eats meat, fish, dairy products or eggs.
While most eateries today have embraced the notion of vegetarian food, the token dishes are, more often than not, laden with cheese, which is disappointing and shows a sad lack of imagination.
And so when eating out as a family we tend to fall back on Asian cuisine. Thai, Indian and even Chinese restaurants are much better at vegan than traditional European or modern British cuisine. (The Thai Sakon in Huddersfield is a good example).
But unless I am mistaken - and I stand to be corrected - Huddersfield has yet to acquire a fully vegetarian restaurant, so when we want the best choice possible we usually venture further afield.
Through the power of the internet my first born found a gem of a place in Leeds called Hansa’s, a Gujarati vegetarian restaurant that was founded in 1986 and has won awards for the quality of its food. It also runs a cookery school and the proprietor, Hansa Dhabi, is the author of two cookery books.
Situated a short distance away from the Leeds Grand and Opera House it’s a 10 to 15 minute walk from the station so provides a bit of exercise before and after dinner. We’ve enjoyed eating there so much that, having embraced much of our offspring’s vegan preferences, we now go to eat there on our own from time to time.
While Hansa’s is not a vegan restaurant - with some dishes containing yoghurt or paneer cheese - most of its dishes are. Gujarat is predominantly a Hindu state and the religion forbids the killing of living creatures for food.
The cuisine is heavy with daals and curries made from beans and pulses but offers a wide range of starters (sharuaat) that ring the changes from the usual Indian pakoras and samosas.
We’ve tried almost all of the starters but my favourite is the patra, made from colocasia leaves rolled with rice flour and spices - a sort of hot, moist and savoury Swiss roll. I’d only come across it once before - at one of the region’s other vegetarian Gujarati restaurants, Prashad’s in Drighlington - and I can’t recommend it enough. It may not look particularly appetising, but it absolutely melts in the mouth.
Many of the dishes at Hansa’s are unfamiliar to those used to eating in generic Anglicised Indian restaurants with their chicken tikka masalas, poppadoms and onion bhajis. I have found Gujarati dishes to be a revelation in terms of what can be done with vegetables, humble pulses and clever spicing. They are also far less oily and, I would imagine, therefore much healthier.
The mixed starter platter, with patra, stir-fried sweetcorn, bite-size crispy puris and marinated paneer (which can be substituted for something vegan) is an excellent way to try several dishes. In fact, one platter each at just £7.95 per serving would make a more than satisfactory and complete light meal. But all dishes are reasonably priced - from £4 for a starter to £7 or so for mains – so it’s possible to try a lot for relatively little.
I like patra so much that on our last visit (just myself and the Man-in-Charge) I ordered the patra special main course, which comes with a mellow sauce, enriched with sweetcorn. My husband had a dish of Kabuli channa cooked with cinnamon and red chillies. We shared, of course, and thought the two dishes complemented each other well, although this was more addicental than by design. His curry was hot and packed a punch while mine was succulent and sweet.
We washed our meal down with a couple of glasses of Cobra beer and feeling quite content declined a pudding. But we could have gone for chocolate cake with fruit and ice cream, a traditional kulfi, rice pudding or even a soya ice cream. Next time, perhaps.
Hansa’s is now on our list of Stelfox-approved restaurants and it’s one that I want to share with friends - both meat eaters and vegetarians. It has that feelgood factor, for the ethical content of the menu, value for money, and its wholesomeness. But, more importantly, when vegan food is as delicious as this who needs meat?
72/74 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN
Tel: 0113 2444408
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 5-10pm;
Saturday 6-11pm; Sunday 12 to 2pm.
Disabled access: Difficult - toilets on lower floor down a flight of stairs
The bill: £35.65 for two inc drinks and 10% service charge
Would you go back? Without a shadow of a doubt