With the initial rush of sheer delight at going out when things first opened, now quietening, I am sitting back a little and catching up with what is going on out there.
Even though there’s a rash of new openings, I miss some of my favourite cafés and restaurants which sadly have closed. Plus, I am disappointed with some long-standing places I know, where some of the price hikes I am coming across are eye-watering; I know they want and need to recoup their losses, but sheesh.
So, in my quest for some comforting familiarity and hopefully not someone taking the mickey, I headed to Tharavadu in Leeds. I longed for it to be the same as our visits before our enforced hiatus, but I was not chuffed when I walked in. Downstairs was full, so no favourite spot by the window for me this time, I thought as we were whisked to the upstairs to a huge dining room already three-quarters full.
But it’s hard to stay grumpy at Tharavadu, and I quickly reconnected with how lovely the staff are; they move fast and with purpose, but always with a smile. Drinks arrive in minutes with no hassle about taking time to order no matter how busy it gets, and they couldn’t have been sweeter with my request to turn down the air conditioner blasting down on our table.
The menu is vast, and despite my several visits, I have still not got my head around the names of the dishes and always choose based on the appealing description and narrative on the menu. Tharavadu is a Keralan restaurant, and the food from the slender coastal strip of southwestern India is based mainly around rice and fish, red meat and poultry.
As usual, we over-order; we always say we won’t do it again but do so happily as we want all our favourites. So, I start with the prawn rasam (soup), a natural cure-all in Ayurvedic medicine that is hot and fiery yet remarkably soothing and a mega boost to the system; I really must find out how to make this.
Next, it’s time for the scramble to see who can bag the most Dahi Battata Poori, fat pieces of unleavened bread stuffed with potato, drenched in yoghurt, sprinkled with mint, pomegranate seeds. I win with three. Then the Chilli Paneer, a simple dish yet oozing spice and heat coupled with the fudginess of warm chilli marinated Indian cottage cheese, red peppers and onions; a dish that made my husband a fan of Paneer on our first ever visit here.
We finally moved off our favourites list, happily satisfied that all is as good as our memory. I surprised myself, after all I had already managed to eat, by ordering Kappayum Meenum, a tapioca fish curry made with garlic onions, red chillies, mustard seeds, and curry leaves.
This dish is popular in the Kallu shaps (Keralan, a kind of equivalent of our pub where they serve alcoholic Toddy), and it is easy to understand why; it’s a deep, beautifully spiced sauce with chunky pieces of meaty fish.
Before we collapse in overload, the final dish is another new one to us, Pothu Ularthiyathu; we are speechless at the plate when it arrives; it is a beast of a size, served in a huge messy pile.
The appeal of ordering this, I hear from across the table, it’s the traditional Sunday lunch in Kerala, with the beef picked up and cooked on the way back from mass. The meat, it turns out, is so good, the strips of deep-fried Paratha, Kerala’s answer to chips, becomes a new favourite. By the time he had finished what he could eat (about half the dish), we had declared reaching the end of our feast.
Tharavadu cracked it for me. They fixed my concerns about prices; they had jacked up nothing as our food cost £78 for the two of us, including three glasses of wine and a beer. That is £3 more than the first time we ate here four years ago, and we ate a not dissimilar feast then.
I loved being upstairs and will happily eat there again, and they have restored my faith that not everything has changed in hospitality; it’s a little broken in parts for sure, but it is mending if there is anything to go by here. Thank you.
Tharavadu, 7-8, Mill Hill, Leeds, LS 15DQ, Tel: 0113 244 0500. Open: Mon-Sat: 12 noon – 2pm & 5pm – 10pm, Sun – Closed.