Crowded Indian restaurants within a minute’s walk of a large train station aren’t generally known for their appeal, but there are several compelling reasons why Tharavadu is an exception. The first, and most important, is the talent of the born-and-bred-Keralan chefs. We’ll elaborate, but suffice it to say here that every dish we tried was outstanding, and those of neighbouring tables looked just as tempting.
Then there’s the service. Smiles don’t come any bigger than those of the waiting staff – who are also all native Keralans – and nothing is too much trouble. Lastly, the proximity to the station merits a mention since it allows out-of-towners to justify a trip to Leeds for the sole purpose of dining at this gem of a curry house.
Aside from the numerous awards displayed in the window, Tharavadu resembles a classic Indian restaurant. The brown and beige interior, while brightened by traditional Indian artwork and the odd faux plant, is nothing special; but once the aromas from the kitchen hit you, we guarantee you won’t even notice your surroundings (not least because your head will be buried in the menu).
Fish curries are in abundance, thanks to Kerala’s long coastline, backwaters and strong fishing industry, but there are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options too. Traditional south-Indian pre-meal snacks and starters on offer include deep-fried plantain, fried lentil doughnuts, and a spicy prawn soup that’s so healthy, it features in ayurvedic medicine.
Depending on how hungry you are, you might also consider a dosa to start, though be warned: they are immense. We opted for a masala dosa, which was perfectly crisp, filled with spicy vegetables and potato, and served with sambar and coconut chutney. It was as authentic as they come and substantial enough for a main course, though if you really mean business, you’ll go ahead and order the thali anyway.
Comprising soup, seven small portions of different chefs’ choice curries and side dishes, rice, and a puffed up poori, the thali is a feast in every sense of the word. Flavours range from smoky to sour, to sweet and coconutty, and culminate in a small bowl of semiya payasam – a traditional Keralan dessert made from vermicelli that tastes like Christmas.
The drinks list, as with the food menu, is nicely varied and includes a decent wine list that’s helpfully categorised according to the level of spice you’ve chosen for your food. There are even a few vegetarian and vegan bottles, as well as draught and craft beers, eleven different gins, and softs including three types of lassi.
Such exemplary dining at an affordable price has to have a catch though and Tharavadu’s, rather endearingly, is its popularity. Expect to queue if you haven’t booked, and get ready to shout once inside. Most of all though, prepare to be impressed.