Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Sat 13 Sept 2008

In all the curry eating we seem to do I (at least) have never made it to Akbar's on Eastgate. It always seems so busy and my one experience of booking a table at the Akbar's on the Leeds Bradford Road (about seven years ago!) lead to a great deal of disappointment (of the 'would you like a drink and wait for about an hour?' kind).

However, everyone raves about how good the food is at Akbar's so I decided it was time to get out of my very comfortable Shabab rut and try it out.

Things didn't start off too well when we found out they don't take bookings. If you want to book, you can go to the restaurant on Greek Street (on a Saturday night - are you crazy?!). This meant that our early evening activity finished and we found ourselves wandering around town. In a moment of madness, we decided to give Akbar's a shot ... there might just be a table for two.

We arrived around half seven and the restaurant looked full. I thought I spotted a spare table so we stuck our heads round the door and, miraculously, there was a table for 2 ready to go!

I'm going to get all the bad stuff out of the way first, so we can finish this review on a high note. The very first thing you're likely to notice is that the restaurant has something of a personality disorder. This is a curry restaurant, and the menu (and website) are proud of its unique dishes and heritage.

So ... why the Egyptian décor?! I am not joking: busts of cats and Tutankhamun and generic mummies abound. There's a gold and black theme in the decoration which, normally, I'd say works quite well with the lighting and pale walls. But there is only so much Egytiana I can take - especially when I'm tucking into a curry ...

On a Saturday, the restaurant seems a little unsure if it's a restaurant or a nightclub. The hard surfaces and lack of soft furnishings mean that this is a noisy venue - particularly when combined with an eclectic (I'm being kind) and rather too loud soundtrack.

So there we were, bellowing across the table, waiting for our beers to arrive. They turned up without glasses, so then we waited for the warm glasses to arrive. By this stage, we were starting to realise another human comfort flaw: the air circulation. Those first beers went down very quickly, as we started to wilt under the oppressive conditions.

By the time our food arrived, we also managed to have a waiter's bum in our face. The tables are packed so closely together that there's little room for personal space and usual restaurant niceties.

Right - hopefully I've established that Akbar's isn't perhaps the ideal venue for a quiet dinner for two. And that's a shame because ... as everyone says ... the food is very good.

We began by sharing the keema samosa, which was delicious. It wasn't a huge portion: 2 quite small samosas, with some salad, but enough to whet our appetite for our (much larger) mains. Andy had the lamb handi (meat on the bone, and named after the cooking vessel) while I played safely and chose lamb and spinach. While we both agreed that my meat was more tender we both thought that respectively we'd won on flavour. It speaks volumes that this was one of the very few times that I've actually eaten my whole dish. We shared a pilau rice and decided against breads (Akbar's specialises in the massive naan breads which hang from comedy trees - walk past the restaurant any evening and you'll see what I mean!). In terms of flavour I think my sole criticism of my dish would be that I wouldn't have minded a little more chilli heat.

As we finished our meal, a flower seller turned up and made his way through the restaurant. The waiter collected our dishes and managed to spill a little rice mixed with curry on me.

Yes, the food is very good at Akbar's and it comes at reasonable cost (our final bill was around £30). But, from our experience, almost nothing else is. We were hot, uncomfortably close to our neighbours, and the service was harried. All the restaurant needs to do is turn down the music, take out a few tables and maybe hire an extra waiter or two - and then I'd go back in a flash.

But until that happens - I'll be heading over the road to Shabab, where I can eat my curry without being able to inspect every morsel on the adjoining table's plates.

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1. Akbar's, 15 Eastgate, Leeds, LS2 7LY, phone: 0113 245 6566, map.

Other curry restaurant reviews: Hansa's (vegetarian), Aagrah, and, of course!, Shabab.
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