Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cafe Aagrah

Fri 03 Oct 2008

I'm not entirely sure what's going on in Leeds at the moment but things seem to be creative, to say the least, in the bar and restaurant stakes. We have @Larocca and Chilli White competing on the "strange-name" front and now we have Café Aagrah: "tapas and fusion dining" Asian style. This isn't the only venue in Leeds serving you tapas curries (or should that be curried tapas?) and Image (in the Old Police Station in Chapel Allerton) I think got there first.

Still, I guess in a competition market you have to find your 'unique selling point' (USP) and if tapas curry works for you, then why not?

My first visit to Café Aagrah was a while back on the very first Friday lunch it was open. It really showed. The service was comedic and while the food was good it hit the table at different times, beers managed to get muddled, and we ate our whole meal in less time than it took a table of our workmates (who had arrived before us) to get any food at all.

Still, things should have bedded down by now and, with the experience of the Aagrah chain behind it, everything should be ticking over nicely.

Or so you would think.

We arrived to find a lunch time special on the door: three dishes, one from each of three short lists, for £6.90. That could be the ticket, we thought. We were seated, handed some menus and offered some poppadoms, which we accepted. No sign of the lunch special. I had a wander around and couldn't find any details inside the restaurant. Our waiter appeared brandishing four plates of rice papri, with some pickles. OK, not quite what we were expecting but we could live with it. We asked about the lunch special, but he had no knowledge of this. He asked one of the chefs, he went outside to read the note posted in the window, the chef went to read the note posted in the window and finally it was decided that we could order any three dishes from numbers 1 to 28 on the menu for £6.90. But we'd already had the rice papri so we could order two. WHAT? We thought we'd been ordering a plate of poppadoms to share, not a component of our meal!

We settled down to ordering and awaited our food. While waiting one of our party discovered an alarmingly long hair in his rice papri. When he pointed it out it was inspected carefully, and we were told that they would make sure they let their supplier know. So that's one thing they're not making on site. To the restaurant's credit, the aggrieved individual did receive a complimentary bowl of rice with his curry and I got to watch one of the chefs go through a massive plastic box of papri inspecting them for hairs ...

I ordered lamb bihari tikka and dahi vada, white lentil dumplings soaked in yoghurt. While I was surprised that the dahi vada was cold (that gap in culinary knowledge now rectified!) it was all very tasty and the level of chilli heat was spot on: a pleasant tingle but not so hot that the flavours of the spices were obliterated. The menu covers many things you won't see on standard curry house menus, and it's definitely worth giving new things a try, as we've done that on both occasions and the food has all been very good. So far the only dish we wouldn't revisit is the papri!

What seems to cause us most problems is not what to order but how much to order. As a rule, big eaters seem to leave disappointed. Yesterday, one big eater on the lunch offer left peckish and another big eater, who ordered curry, probably would have been hungry had it not been for his free rice. While the food service is quick, it's probably not quite quick enough (especially at lunch time) to eat, pause, decide you're still hungry and order more. As a gross generalisation, if you're a bloke and starving, I'd say choose at least three dishes (not including those papri).

But once we'd finished eating we went back to the comedy service. Our waiter did an impressive job of piling up our plates and taking them away in one go - even though I'm not sure that that's the wisest approach. There's just far too much opportunity for spills and breaking a lot of crockery. No customer is going to mind a few visits to the table to clear. The bill arrived and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was wrong. We took a little while to work out what exactly was the problem, but eventually spotted that it was being charged twice for the rice papri.

Eventually the bill was sorted out and we were back in the office.

So ... the verdict? To be honest, while the food is tasty I'm not convinced that Café Aagrah represents good value for money. The menu format is confusing and the front of house staff don't have the communication skills necessary to ensure you order appropriately. Yesterday we spent about £10 a head, and for that money you can't guarantee you'll be leaving sated. That, combined with the bumbling service, hairs in food and errors in the bill, means I'm not in any hurry to return.

Café Aagrah is likely to face some stiff competition in the coming months: The Bird is open at the casino and a Mumtaz is opening soon. Time for some staff training ...

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1. Café Aagrah, 1 The Boulevard, Clarence Dock, Leeds LS10 1PZ, phone: 0113 242 4040, map.

Looking for a more conventional curry? Try Akbar's, Aagrah or Shabab.
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Blogger Katie said...

What a shame! It sounds like a great idea - curry tapas, but if the service is bad it makes eating out a chore rather than a pleasure.

As for chilli white... have you seen it? Completly white interior and white sofas outside. I hope they're not letting students in, it will be messed up in no time!

6:32 pm  
Blogger Jon Nettleton said...

It's worth mentioning that @Larocca, - just next door - still does it's £4.95 lunch menu which although it is now more limited in choice than it used to be will definately leave you satisfied.

12:34 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Well, Katie - I hope Cafe Aagrah do get their service sorted out sooner rather than later! Fortunately diners at Clarence Dock won't be stuck for curry!

Jon - I visited Larocca back in July and was a little ho-hum about it. I've been since for the lunch time special and really enjoyed their pizzas. I keep on meaning to go back for a proper evening meal but haven't quite managed it yet!

1:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have eaten at Cafe Aagrah twice now and have been delighted with both the service and food. The concept is very good and the restaurant is very nicely finished. I will certainly be revisiting again.

2:42 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks, anonymous. I agree that the concept is good but your experience of the service sounds vastly different to mine!

1:38 pm  

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