Manjit’s Kitchen takes humble ingredients and makes them sing and your taste buds dance, writes Jill Turton.

Manjit's Kitchen, Leeds
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Ten years ago, Manjit Kaur began delivering home-cooked Indian food to her neighbours in north Leeds. Her calling card was the homely Punjabi dishes she had learned to cook at home beside her grandma and for big family weddings, cooked on a gas ring in the garage.
Manjit’s tweets have charted the ups and downs of her business, from her frustrations with the bank manager to troubles with the gas man. They’re mischievous, irreverent and funny: “I have… Phil the plasterer… Phil the electrician and Phil the plumber… you try sending the right text to the right Phil on a Monday morning…” As word spread about Manjit’s food, she traded up to a food cart made out of scrapyard finds which she towed behind a vintage Leyland DAF van and later from a yellow horsebox, taking her street food to festivals, farmers markets, parties and weddings.
In 2016 when Kirkgate Market developed a food court, Manjit joined a band of other small food producers and opened a little daytime cafe where time-strapped customers could come for her lunchtime wraps, thalis, bhajis and her trademark dosas, proper street food, freshly cooked and served, she claims, within six minutes and all at just a whisper over a fiver.
In 2018 Manjit’s Kitchen collected a BBC Food and Farming Award for Best Street Food and Takeaway. It proved to be the catalyst she needed to think about opening a restaurant proper. She launched a Kickstarter appeal to raise funds and before long her army of Twitter followers had pledged the full £40,000, which is why I’m now looking over the menu in her little restaurant on Kirkstall Road.

Beetroot & Paneer Tikki, Coriander Chuntney.

With my friend Helen, we are pondering the snacks of curried parsnip crisps and smashed chickpea dip at £3.50, and starters of potato and pea rolls, onion bhajis and Masala corn chaat at £4.50, but we go for the daily special of mini puris; five little puffed-up, paper thin pastry cases so fragile and delicate they provide the perfect foil for a soothing filling of potato, onion, cucumber and yoghurt which has been finished with tamarind for a sour kick and then given a scattering of sev, those crunchy noodles you get in Bombay mix.
Beetroot can be a hard sell, all that purple juice bleeding into anything it comes into contact with, but Manjit’s beetroot and paneer tikka prove to be one of the loveliest things you can do with the humble root, its earthiness balanced by the mild cheese, formed into a patty and fried.
For mains, there’s a choice of rice and dahl or chili paneer wrap at £6.50 and our choice, a thali of three different little curries. The chickpea and potato is mildly spiced but flavourful, dhal is as comforting as a warm blanket and my favourite, the gentle, creamy kofta, is studded with deep fried nuggets of butternut squash. I could have taken more obvious spicing, but with rice, coleslaw and roti at £8.95, I’m not complaining.
We wash it down with beer from a Yorkshire-sourced list that includes Northern Monk IPA, Horsforth Brewery and Magic Rock, whose Salty Kiss is a pale wheat beer, with a hint of sweetness and salt, and a good match for the curry.
There are puddings too: chocolate pot, mango and lime cheesecake and kheer. What’s kheer, I hear you ask? It’s Indian rice pudding, this one a vegan version made with coconut milk, a touch of cardamom and topped with spiced pear.
So just a month after opening and Manjit’s Kitchen has hit the ground running with a menu that replays most of the market cafe dishes with the addition of snacks, specials and a choice of desserts, though no dosas until her cast-iron dosa pan arrives from India.
It’s not entirely streamlined yet, but you’ve got to admire someone who preps and serves lunch at the market cafe and then dashes back to Kirkstall Road for evening service.

Mango & Lime Cheesecake.

You’ve also got to love a place that brings out a freshly baked roti to a mother with a small child or sends customers to the Cardigan Arms across the road when they’re full, then texts them when their table is ready, or a menu that takes humble ingredients, fresh spices and turns them into the best kind of family food.
In the meantime, Manjit is still tweeting: “Promise… I will get a website… I will let you know our opening times… I will get a menu online… But it might be January… In the meantime… just come down and enjoy the organised chaos.” We will, Manjit, we will.
Manjit’s Kitchen, 333 Kirkstall Road, LS4 2HD, 07941 183132, www.manjitskitchen.com. Open: Wednesday to Thursday, 5-10pm, Friday and Saturday, 12.30-10pm, Sunday, 2-10pm. Price: dinner for two, including beer and service, £45.

About The Author

Jill Turton

Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel journalist who writes for numerous publications. She inspects restaurants for national food guides and is a regular reviewer for the Yorkshire Post. Jill is author of Good Food in Yorkshire and the Time Out Guide to the Lake District and with Mandy Wragg writes the Yorkshire online food guide www.squidbeak.co.uk'

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