Warning: this is another gushing post about my love of Leeds’ collaborative spirit. I know, I know. It’s a topic that features regularly in my Leeds-based posts, but that’s because it’s so bloody fantastic. Leeds is a city characterised by the spirit of its independents; independents who work with, not against, each other to create a city-wide food and drink offer that’s earned Leeds the reputation of being one of the country’s tastiest cities. Think Belgrave Music Hall’s Street Feast. Gusto Italiano at Lazy Lounge. The almighty brethren of organisations that make up the Leeds Food and Drink Association. And, as of this July, Bundobust.
Bundobust is a very special collaboration, combining the might of two award-winning purveyors of fine food and drink. On the food side you’ve got Prashad, a Leeds-based Indian vegetarian restaurant that propelled to infamy when it was crowned runner-up in Ramsay’s best restaurant of 2010. All that spice needs a special kind of sup to complement and refresh, and that’s where The Sparrow comes in. A Bradford-based craft beer bar, The Sparrow has racked up an impressive mantelpiece of accolades including a spot in The Guardian’s top 10 UK craft beer bars, Shortlist magazine’s top 10 UK pubs and the title of Bradford’s CAMRA pub of the year in 2012. Beer and Indian food are a beautiful combination indeed, so The Sparrow and Prashad have united to create Bundobust – a craft beer bar with an Indian vegetarian street food kitchen. Lucky Leeds.
Over the past year, Bundobust has been in trial mode, popping up at various street food events across the city. Reviews have consistently glowed, with twitter working itself into a rather giddy state after every Bundobust pop-up appearance. Its permanent opening in Leeds’ Mill Hill has been eagerly anticipated to say the least, but does it live up to the hype?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. As one of the few Leeds folk that hadn’t tried Bundobust ‘s wares before its arrival in Mill Hill, my anticipation was HUGE. I’d salivated over countless instagram pictures, supped many a pint of the craft beers on offer and cooked my way through the Prashad cookbook. But until Bundobust finally opened its doors, I’d never actually tried a bite.
It was SO worth the wait. I got my first taste at one of two special preview nights ahead of its official opening on 11 July, and all the gushing reviews suddenly made sense. This was seriously special food. There were just two dishes to tease us: the Bhel Puri and the Spice and Rice. The Bhel Puri was a cold dish, combining crunchy flakes of samosa pastry that were softened by a sweet tamarind chutney. There were chunks of red onion and tomato, and a crispy shower of puffed rice to finish the dish off. Lovely, lovely stuff, but it could only ever cower in the Spice and Rice’s shadow. Mung beans cooked ‘low and slow’ were spiced with garam masala, imbuing them with a subtle, developing heat that was soaked up by a fluffy, cloud-like pillow of rice. You know when you’re so devastated that a dish has ended that licking a bowl in public becomes a perfectly acceptable thing to do? Yeah, that.
And soothing the spice-induced tingles that mexican waved across our tongues was a Saltaire Gold, just one of many local craft beers on tap. I’m not going to spout some babble about how the hops in the beer perfectly complemented the spice, because it would be a lie. When it comes to beer I know what I like, I know what I don’t like, but I don’t know why. I can’t tell you why the combination of Saltaire Gold and Bundobust’s street food was so good, but take my word for it – it just was. (And if you don’t want to take my word for it, try someone with a more extensive beer knowledge – the folks at the HopZine should do the job.)
The venue wasn’t too shabby, either. Literally. Sending instagram into overdrive during the two preview nights before the official opening, Bundobust proved itself to be the master of effortless shabby chic. And I mean the real shabby chic, not the kind that John Lewis flogs for hundreds of pounds. Walls were adorned with colourful old doors, rice bags were re-purposed into pillows, and benches appearing to be composed of little more than strips of chipped MDF lined the room. Contrasting this were graphic neon signs above the bar, composed of simple typography that proudly asserted Bundobust’s ‘No Beef’ credentials amongst other things. LIKE. I was far too preoccupied with the food to take too many décor pictures, but head to A Tale of Two Sittings to see gorgeous snaps from photographer-extraordinare, Diane.
Just one visit was never going to be enough to sate my Bundobust desires, so I returned last week to try the full menu. And what a menu it is. On offer are no less than 13 street food-style snacks, all of them vegetarian. I could have cried. There were golden bhajis of perfectly-spiced onion, cauliflower and onion; soft masala dosas tucked into a blanket of lightly-spiced lentil soup; spongy potato dumplings bobbing in spiced-mushy pea lake. And the Bundo Chaat. Oh MY, the Bundo Chaat. Imagine soft chickpeas and potatoes, waltzing in your mouth with crisp chunks of samosa pastry and chunky shards of turmeric noodle. Bound together with a sweet tamarind chutney and a cooling drizzle of yoghurt, it was worth the visit alone.
Our mouths awash with a medley of spices, we chose a very special drink indeed to refresh. But it’s not what you think. Perverse as it may sound, we shunned Bundobust’s signature craft beer selection in favour of wine. A rarity for a bar unashamedly touting its beer credentials, the wine selection was just too good to pass up. Ok, one wine in particular was too good to pass up. Vinho Verde. Two very magical words that entered my vocabulary during my first trip to the glorious city of Lisbon earlier this year, Bundobust’s choice of Vinho Verde was dry, floral and slightly effervescent; a light and refreshing wine that counterbalanced the gentle heat of the dishes perfectly. In particular, its sweet notes of peach and apple matched wonderfully with the complementary sweet flavours of the chutneys in the Bhel Puri and Bundo Chaat. And that’s how it’s done.
Injecting some much-needed life into Leeds’ Mill Hill, Bundobust has filled a rare vacant space in Leeds’ ever-expanding food and drink scene. A vegetarian street food kitchen with delicious drinks to match? Bundobust, you can definitely stay.