Friday, 11 January 2013

Curry and Blackjack - a review of The Bird by Vineet

As you might have guessed by now, I like eating food. I also like talking about food. And reading about food. And going out to new places to eat food.

My colleague and friend (and Diet Coke and cake eating companion) Fay also likes doing all of these things. She runs a brilliant blog - Food Fables  - which is a must read for those of you who live in Leeds and like to do all of these things too. I should probably point out that although Fay currently lives in Leeds, she's off back to her homeland of Newcastle soon - cue massive sob from me. But I mustn't be selfish and Fay's food writing talents must be shared with the rest of the North. 

Anyway, I digress. The reason that I'm telling you about Fay and her love of food is because she's the one that I turn to for Leeds restaurant suggestions - and she's the one that first told me about the Indian restaurant that's the focus of this blog post  - The Bird by Vineet.

After Fay gave me a verbal review of her curry at The Bird over a can of Diet Coke (and probably a slice of cake), I thought I should probably do my very best to check it out. Vineet Bhatia - the proprietor of the Bird - was the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star, so eating there was definitely on my must-do list.

The Bird by Vineet - a classy affair (photo courtesy of
When a voucher for said establishment came up on Travel Zoo for two courses, a side dish, a glass of sparkling wine and a £5 casino chip (all will become clear) for £25 for two, the time was right to splash some cash. 

And so, on a cold January night, Ash and I ventured out to Clarence Dock for a meal at The Bird. For those of you that don't know Leeds, Clarence Dock is a shopping, leisure and city slickers' 'destination' just outside of the city centre.  For a plethora of reasons (including high rent, limited reasonably priced car-parking and, of course, the recession), it's never really got off the ground, and currently sits empty with the exception of a Pizza Express, another Indian restaurant, a Tesco Metro and an Alea Casino.

So where's The Bird, I hear you ask? Well (as my mention of Casino chips may have alluded to), it's in the Casino. Would I usually choose to dine in a Casino? Nope. It's a pretty surreal experience. Having said that The Alea cost £13million to build and it's actually quite impressive- it also hosts James Martin's Leeds Kitchen.  

However, it was with some trepidation that we entered the Casino and walked up some escalators and through to a giant (and pretty empty) Vegas style gaming room. To a complete Casino novice it felt a bit like I was in a Brad Pitt-less Ocean's Eleven. I have to admit that I didn't feel entirely comfortable, although I relaxed when I saw the slick entrance and elegant decor of The Bird that was nestled in the back corner of the room.

Despite the restaurant being unusually empty for 7:30 on a Thursday night (there were only two other tables of diners apart from ours), we were immediately put at ease by a very friendly and attentive waiter (Matt) who showed us to our table by the window. Looking out over the sparkling tree-lights of Clarence Dock, it was a spot that was perfect for people watching and almost felt Parisian. 

Although we were dining with a voucher, we were impressed by being offered a choice of starters and main courses from the full menu. The menu was very compact and well thought-through - a mix of unusual and  traditional Indian dishes, all with a slight twist. 

We made our choices accompanied by a glass of (very quaffable) sparkling wine. Pretty much the best thing about having a boyfriend (apart from sharing bills and all the mushy stuff) is the fact that when we go out to eat, I rarely get food envy because we often order two dishes and share them between us. This was exactly our strategy for The Bird, and it worked a treat.

Smoked Paneer Tikka (excuse the photo quality- mobile tastic!)

For starters, we went for the Smoked Paneer Tikka (£5.25) and the Popcorn Chicken Tikka (£5.25). I am a big fan of paneer and the dish didn't fail to disappoint. Delicately spiced, with a hint of smokiness, it was accompanied by red onion and a coriander and yoghurt dip and was truly delicious. The Popcorn Chicken Tikka, on the other hand, was slightly too gimmicky for my liking. Although pleasing on the eye (it was presented in a large cocktail glass), it lacked a certain something. I'm not a fan of overly spicy food, but I couldn't help but feel that the chicken was slightly under-spiced and a little bland, almost as though the chef had forgotten that it needed to be deep-fried. The accompanying chilli ketchup added to the taste, but I expected more from the dish.

Popcorn Chicken Tikka

 We chose the Fish Hirvi in a Herb Masala (£9.25) and a Keralan Black Pepper Chicken Masala (£8.25) to follow, with cumin pulao rice and a plain naan. The Masala was extremely tasty -the chicken was tender and the sauce not too heavy, hitting the right notes of being both slightly sweet but with a definite spicy kick. The Fish Masala was a hit too - the herbs didn't overpower the taste of the fish and the smooth sauce provided a good alternative to the kick of the Chicken dish. The rice was beautifully flavoured, with hints of both cumin and cinnamon, and the nann bread wasn't overly heavy. Portion sizes weren't overwhelming and I finished my meal feeling comfortably full.

This tasted a lot better than this photo looks

Including a glass of wine and a pint of beer, service charge and a charity donation, we paid a purse-pleasing total of £37 for our meal (including the initial £25 Travel Zoo voucher). The levels of service that we received were very good - our waiter was both approachable and non-invasive. Our food came speedily and was very well presented, with attention to detail throughout - even to the placing of the spoons on our dishes. All in all, The Bird by Vineet offered good food and great value for money. 

After we finished our meal, we headed to the Casino's gaming room to try our hand at a bit of gambling using our free  chips and attempt to win back the cost of our meal. The closest that either of us had ever been to Roulette before was playing Game of Life and real Roulette seems to have a lot more rules, so after watching some serious players for a bit we decided to give that a miss. Ash is a mathematician so we thought that Blackjack would come a bit easier to him. After losing the entirety of our chips on it, that clearly wasn't the case...apparently the odds are always in the house's favour, or so he kept assuring me on our walk home!

All in all (despite being rubbish gamblers), we had a fun night that was certainly different to how we usually spend a Thursday.

So, the killer question remains - will we be going back to The Bird? The only thing that really let the restaurant down was a lack of atmosphere. I can't help but think that if it was located in the middle of the city centre, it would be buzzing on a Thursday night and getting a table would be a struggle. However, situated at the back of a casino in the middle of the ghost-town that is Clarence Dock, the restaurant clearly struggles with footfall. Leeds is a city that's fit to burst with excellent restaurants that have a great atmosphere (even in the middle of January), so - despite tasty food - The Bird wouldn't be our top choice when compared to others of a similar ilk. Maybe The Bird will soon (deservedly) be discovered for the food gem that it is, but until that time I'm not sure we'll be in a rush to pay it another visit.

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