Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bird by Vineet

Fri 27 March 2009

My first foray into Leeds' new(ish) casino was back in September last year when I was lucky enough to head along to the press lunch. On that day, Vineet Bhatia, holder of a Michelin star (2001, 2006) for Rasoi in London, talked us through a selection of dishes and we were able to stick our noses in the tandoor. Not being a 'proper' journalist (whatever one of those is!) I felt a bit of an imposter, but still managed to be one of the few who paid good attention and asked a lot of questions.

On that day we enjoyed a selection of starters followed by a prawn curry. I had to go back to work before pudding, but left with plans to return.

Six months later - we made it back through the doors!

We arrived at the casino at about half past 6 - half an hour before our reservation and settled ourselves in one of the bars for a drink. The drinks aren't cheap (£3.40 for a pint of San Miguel) but, for your money, you get to enjoy them in a quiet, civilised environment. Yes, as every other bar in Leeds in heaving, the casino is an oasis of calm.

A workmate warned me that the portions were small at The Bird so I decided to go for starter and main course: something I almost never do with a curry. I find that by the time I've eaten pappadums, munched on a bit of salad and had my samosas/bhajis/chicken tikkas I'm pretty much stuffed. Frightened by the prospect of Lilliputian portions I demolished the excellent chilli sauce which came with the pappadums and motored my way through the green herb chicken tikka. This was three large pieces of tender, moist chicken, straight from the tandoor (I know this because I've seen this dish being prepared!) and served with a really lovely mint chutney. As good as this was, it wasn't a patch on Andy's Tilapia masala which was (again) large pieces of fish covered in a spicy batter with a 'garlic pea crush'.

So, there I was - almost full and facing a main course.

I had chosen saag gosht (lamb and spinach) and Andy had opted for the lamb biryani - served with a pastry crust. We shared (well, we ate a bit of) a truly excellent paratha. I am happy to say this was the nicest (because I'm probably not qualified to say 'best') paratha I've eaten. I would go back and just eat the paratha if I could.

Anyway, to complement the carbohydrates, my lamb and spinach curry was excellent. Delicious, loads of spinach, a good amount of tender meat. The lamb biryani was also very tasty. Andy congratulated himself on ordering what was basically a large curry pie. Rather than being served with gravy it was served with a pot of raita which I thought was a refreshing change from a generic curry sauce.

Utterly defeated by our main courses (I was quite embarrassed by how much we didn't eat) we declined desserts and headed out to perch ourselves at a blackjack table for a while.

While drink prices might be high, the food is more than reasonable - with main courses ranging from just £4.50 for some of the vegetarian options, up to just £7.95. The restaurant has a very contemporary feel: it's upmarket, minimal and stylish. The service is really very very good (I really want to say flawless but I did see a couple of things dropped!). The service is attentive, considerate, friendly and helpful. The menu is not massive but it covers all the bases: if you can't find something to eat here, you're just picky!

Most importantly, don't be put off by the fact that The Bird is in a casino. You no longer have to sign up 24 hours in advance and while you're in the restaurant you won't be aware of any gambling going on outside. It seems that The Bird is starting to take off: we attempted a visit a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday night but couldn't get a table until 10pm (too late even for us).

As has been noted in previous comments - there are three curry restaurants at Clarence Dock and one stands head and shoulders above the other two for quality and value for money. For The Bird I would most certainly make the effort to head to Clarence Dock.

1. The Bird by Vineet, Alea Casino, Clarence Dock, Leeds, LS10 1PZ, phone: 0113 341 3200, map.
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