It’s a story worthy of Bollywood. In the opening scene we find four-year-old Kaushy Patel in Pardi in Northern India on the family farm, learning to cook at her grandmother’s knee.
She’s up at dawn picking vegetables for the huge pots, helping to cook for the hundred or so farm workers. Aged seven she takes over feeding the family. At 14 she’s engaged to Mohan, the son of a family friend; the plan is for her to move to England and stay with her uncle while she finds work, and Mohan will follow. She lands at Manchester Airport on a grim, dark day in October 1966. Mohan joins her a couple of years later and they marry and settle in Bradford.
In the early 1990s they buy a laundrette which has a tiny deli at the side, and Kaushy starts making and selling ‘roadside snacks’ – samosas, pethis and dhokra fly out of the kitchen hatch each night, keeping cab drivers and shift workers happy.
Her son Bobby persuades her that she should make the crowd-pleasing food accessible to more; tables and chairs are crammed into the deli, it has a lick of paint and Prashad (‘blessed food’) is born.
Business was brisk even before Gordon Ramsay rocked up in 2010 for his ‘Best Restaurant’ series, but after they reached the final, it rocketed and they moved to the outskirts of Leeds and converted an old pub, more than doubling the covers. Another son, Mayur, turned out to be a creative designer and filled the place with shimmering colour and texture. He’s since gone on to open the award-winning Bundobust in Leeds.
Today Prashad are proud owners of two AA Rosettes, a glowing entry in the Waitrose Good Food Guide, a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and a cabinet of other gongs. Kaushy has stepped aside to write cookery books and Bobby’s wife Minal is in charge of the kitchen, bringing her inimitable take on deeply traditional dishes, following time spent in London at Petrus with Ramsay and Benares with Atul Kochhar.
I’ve been a massive fan of Prashad since the bad old days, when ‘reception’ was in someone else’s house across the road and you took your life in your hands negotiating traffic at rush hour. You’ll find yourself in a far more comfortable and sophisticated place now, but the food is as remarkable as ever. What was once a fairly rustic offer is now a masterclass in careful plating without being outright dots-and-dribbles cheffy. The notion of an amuse bouche back then was a stretch, but tonight we get a spoon of slow roasted dhal with gram flour vermicelli and beetroot chutney, sweet and earthy; it’s the perfect way to kick start dinner.
Gujarati food features super-fresh spices and masalas; cardamom, tamarind and fenugreek form the basis of many of the dishes, and they are added with precision, allowing each flavour to emerge as you eat. Pattra, a sort of leaf parcel, dense in texture and deep in taste fetches up, along with Mausmi Gotta, essentially a crunchy-on-the-outside/cashmere-soft-on-the-inside ball of spiky root ginger and herby mint with mashed vegetables, totally neck-able. Hara Bhara Kebab, mini sausages of mashed pea and cauliflower, crisp and richly spiced are light as air. New to the menu, up pops Sanku, a mixed bean-filled playful take on a samosa, resembling an ice cream cone. Such fun!
Up next, Kofta – sweetly aromatic vegetable dough balls, this time in a slick of tomato coulis infused with caraway – it’s another winner. Masala Dosa has been a Prashad staple since day one, and despite having eaten my body weight in them down the years, I order it for my teenage companion, partly because they’re delicious, but mostly to see his face when it’s put in front of him. I’m not disappointed. “Ah man!” he says, his eyes coming out on pegs. “Epic! What is it?” What it is, Charlie, is a lacy, greaseless lentil and rice flour sour/sweet rolled crepe filled with spiced potato & onion curry. A soft, sweet lentil broth accompanies, along with coconut chutney which I would climb over my mother for. Now Charlie likes his curry, but he admits to not having tasted anything like this before. His verdict? ‘Amazing’.
Gujlawa is baked filo layers filled with crushed pistachios, almonds and walnuts infused with cinnamon, and one of the prettiest plates I’ve seen in a while – and the raisin & nutmeg ice cream is sublime. Another old favourite is Shrikhand, a kind of yoghurt scattered with almonds & cardamom. It’s described as ‘hung’ on the menu. I’ve no idea what this means, but I guarantee you have never tasted anything like it. Forget double cream. This is food of the gods.
The depth and complexity of tastes and textures in these dishes is so vast, the fact that you’re not eating any meat or fish is never a consideration. None of the outstanding flavours have been sacrificed on the altar of ‘fine dining’. It’s Prashad as we’ve always known it, just more finely crafted and artfully plated.
I’ll give the final word to Charlie: “Totally cool. I loved the whole thing”. Yoof has spoken.
Prashad, 137 Whitehall Road, Drighlington, BD11 1AT.
Monday: Closed. Tuesday - Friday: 5pm-11pm. Saturday: 12pm-11pm. Sunday: 12pm-10pm.