This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.
This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.
It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.
So what’s it doing?
Indian street food is the simple answer. Specifically the Prashad style veggie end of things.
The name seems to come from Hindi and Urdu terms for system or organization, and not unlike the food, it’s got a real relish on the tongue. You can imagine Melville throwing it around like he didn’t have to look it up. Poser.
Here, I think they’re shooting for that sense of a loose, chaotic assemblage. The decor is upcycled front doors and chipboard – there’s the usual splashes of funky concrete and shared benches. It’s got a covered courtyard, bringing the capacity up to a shade over plenty. It’s a lively vibe, and we barely scraped a table at half eight on Friday night.
Hot damn, I’m glad we did. Let me tell you about some okra that changed my perception of bar snacks.
They’re deep fried hot enough the the okra doesn’t ooze and go gooey. There’s no slime, just crisp outer crunch with just a little softness in the middle. Also they’re £3.50. I think we ordered four rounds.
The texture is amazing, but it’s the amchoor and salt over the crisp of the gram flour that really lifts them. Okra brings a nebulously savoury feel to the party, and then the mango powder brightens it up, softening and sweetening only slightly. These are fantastic with the hoppier beers, especially those with a bit of NZ fruit and bitter.
There were a lot of fruit-sour flavours at play in Bundobust, and some excellent pairings with big and earthy – they are very much at home to curry leaves and tamarind. If I had to criticise, I’d say a few dishes were leaning a bit on the salt, but hey: bar snacks.
You can just keep mainlining the fries and little nibbles, or there are a few more substantial options. There’s no out-and-out main courses, but as well as snacks you can grab tarka dal over rice, skewers of paneer and mushrooms, spiced scrambled eggs, and a lentil soup with dosas. Oh, and Bundo Chaat – we’ll come back to that.
We didn’t get the eggs, instead opting for one of the sharing combos, topped up with extra okra and onion gobi bhajis. I thought the menu a bit audacious in billing them “the ultimate bhaji”, but then they turned up and were the best I’d ever tasted. They come in a tamarind and pepper chutney that has just a little sweetness. The body of the bhaj is firm – it’s kept a little crunch without the onions feeling at all raw. The batter has just that right amount of gentle stodge, and there’s plenty of cumin. They’re great.
Probably the least interesting thing was the paneer tikka, and that was still pretty good. Simple marinated cheesy chunks with mushroom – quality paneer done well. Not thrilling, but it doesn’t matter. Bundobust’s food is Fury Road enough that it’s ok for a few bars not to be to be guitar solo.
The dal soup and dosas were similarly more gentle, but still exciting. The dosas were foamy and light, stuffed with onion and potato, and a shovel full of nigella seeds. The soup was a light lentil and curry leaf delight, with coconut chutney on the side. Measured and balanced, and great to offset the okra and bhajis.
Now let’s talk not-nachos. The Bundo Chaat is something else. It’s this little tub of sordid joy. Except it’s probably good for you or something. There’s all the taste and sauce and crunch of the filthiest loaded nachos you ever wanted to motorboat while nobody’s watching; but it’s chickpeas, chutney, and yogurt. It’s a tub full of samosa pastry, layered through with sweet sour tamarind chutney, potato and crispy noodles, onions, and yogurt dressing. The yogurt and sweetness come together with the citrus and sour, with the crunch pulling it all together. Each forkful is varied, and you will absolutely want another pot.
Nothing here leans on chili, and you won’t find a curry house standard. It’s these amazing little fun snacks that more than roll up into a meal. It costs sod-all, too. I think we paid about £35 for plenty of food for three people. A bit more, if you factor in a few rounds of “I’m going to the bar – who wants more okra?”.
Damn, I love that there’s a place you can go and say that without sounding crazy.
That place is Bundobust – it’s in Leeds, and it’s delicious.