An inspired marriage of Indian street food and craft beer is behind The Cat’s Pyjamas, a new restaurant on Ecclesall Road.
Clever Leeds-based entrepreneur Alison White set up her first restaurant in the city’s suburb of Headingley three years ago and is now pushing out across Yorkshire.
She teamed up with Alfred Prasad, the youngest Indian chef to ever receive a Michelin star, and he came up with a menu based on popular street food from around India, explained restaurant manager Simon Champneys.
Alison also owns a market research company and her skill comes from spotting gaps in the market. She’s also set up a craft beer shop called Growlers in Headingley, so that may be the next brand to head our way.
You first thing you notice when you walk into the Cat’s Pyjamas, not far down from Hunter’s Bar roundabout, is the fantastic bright decor created by graffiti artists.
A tiger prowls right above your head on the ceiling when you first come in and the big cat can be seen everywhere, although not in pyjamas.
It’s probably the only place where I’ve grabbed my phone to capture the art in the toilets.
Elsewhere the feel is more a gastro pub, with lots of bare wood and brightly-decorated cans of cutlery and napkins and little plates already on the tables.
“We’re trying to break the mould of the traditional Indian restaurant. We’re trying to be a lot more upbeat and not have the traditional white tablecloths and sitar music playing. We want to be busy and bustling, like it is in India,” said Simon.
The atmosphere was pretty lively on Sunday evening but it’s a pleasantly laidback buzz. The clientele on our visit were a mixture of groups of friends and families, probably including a lot of parents who had just dropped off their university student children.
Simon was a bit vague about the name, although he said he gets asked a lot. The phrase means something top notch and there’s an obvious link to India’s iconic big cat.
When the waitress took us to our seats, she suggested a beer and directed us to the bar that runs along one side of the restaurant to pick what we fancied.
The front of house staff are all friendly and helpful and you can see the chefs at work in an open kitchen at the bottom of the restaurant.
My friend Cate commented that she’d love to see women in the kitchen, as well as on the floor and behind the bar.
I tried the house beer, the Karma helles lager brewed by Ligitimate Industries in Leeds. It was light and fresh, a great thirst quencher and accompaniment to spicy food.
Phil went for that Indian restaurant standby, Kingfisher, and Cate had a light, fruity-tasting guest beer, El Dorado.
They also serve wines, ciders, soft drinks and even spirits if you prefer.
We started off with poppadoms and the pickle tray. The poppadoms were broken up into interesting curvy shapes and the little bowls of mango, mint, tomato and vegan chutneys boasted plenty of fresh flavours.
Our shared starters were kolkata chaat, pani puri and masala fried squid.
I really enjoyed my choice, kolkata chaat, a spiced chickpea salad with pomegranate, sweetened yoghurt, mint and tamarind chutney. Sprinkled on top were what looked like pieces of baked spaghetti, called wheat crisps on the menu, rather like you get in Bombay mix, that added to the great textures.
We all loved Phil’s choice, masala fried squid in its crispy, spicy coating, and it was a generous bowlful.
Cate chose the puri, little hollowed-out thin-shelled crisps filled with a spicy potato mixture and chutney and served with a thin dipping sauce. A great mouthful.
By this time I was really looking forward to the main courses and I wasn’t disappointed.
My colleague Ellen had mentioned trying the pork belly vindaloo, which she thought wasn’t spicy enough, and it certainly doesn’t pack the usual heat of the dish.
However, you do get tender meat in a rich sauce with plenty of aromatics instead and I enjoyed it.
The Hyderabadi murgh tikka from the tandoori section of the menu was the only under-sized portion, but the pieces of yoghurt-coated chicken were very rich in taste and delicious.
We visited Kerala next for the mean molee, a great fish curry made with meaty Nile perch cooked in a coconut and ginger sauce. The flavours were very delicate and sophisticated in the saffron yellow sauce.
The sag paneer was a revelation as you could actually taste the spinach in the sauce. Usually it’s hidden by spices but here you get both.
We also had a lovely, soft garlic naan bread and good pulao rice.
Unfortunately the pistachio kulfi had run out so we decided against desserts, as I find gulab jamun too sweet. Other options include ice cream or sorbet.
Our bill came to £83.10 including two rounds of drinks. There are vegan, vegetarian choices and gluten-free options and it’s also family friendly with children’s meals available. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.