Bundobust’s Christmas menu has become as much a part of the Festive Season in Leeds as the tree in City Square or the lights in the arcades.

There is a good reason for this, the Christmas Specials list is small but beautifully formed. There are only four food items and three Party Drinks but they all sum up the feeling of Christmas better than the longest menu in the swishest restaurant.

No matter what your religious beliefs, or lack of them, there is no denying that the source of the holiday has been commercialised and manipulated so as to become unrecognisable as the day on which a baby was born in a stable. This pared back plant-based feast puts everything back into perspective with its simple, seasonal food bursting with flavour because it hasn’t travelled half way round the world to fit in with the marketing men’s vision of what Christmas should be like. Please don’t get me wrong here, I will be doing the full spread on the big day, even if it is only for one, but it is good to be reminded of the humble origins.

When I was asked if I would like to write about the Christmas Specials I jumped at the chance because I love the integrity of the place so I knew that the food would be presented for what it was rather than masquerading as fake turkey or pretend pigs in blankets. What it was was amazing! Simplicity is definitely one of the most difficult things to get right.

First up I ordered a pint, well it would have been rude not to, especially as it is brewed by the restaurant in conjunction with Thornbridge. It was a hand-pulled Impromptu Ladder Convention Hazy Pale Ale at 4.0%, just right for a session but also with enough clout to be satisfying even if you are just having the one, as was I. It tasted like a traditional beer, the hops not making it taste too citrus and the malt adding depth. It turned out to be a great match with the food.

I do love the ceremony of having a proper pint pulled and served, the anticipation adds so much more taste to the ale, giving it a good head without pumping it full of gas.

On to the food. I began with two of the three savoury dishes; Sprout Bhajis and Festive Curry. The prices could not be faulted being £4.75 for the former and £7.25 for the latter, which included Jeera Rice. The third dish was the legendary Sprout Bhaji Butty which was a version of my first choice but served in a vegan brioche, just a bit too much for me. This comes in at £6.00 but for every one sold, £1 is donated to Simon on the Streets, the charity for the Homeless of Leeds.

The food arrived in card pots with plates and serviettes made from paper, and wooden ‘cutlery’. Everything was recyclable which again added to the ethos of the establishment.

The food arrived a little longer than my self-restraint could hold out so the head had been taken off my beer before I took the photograph! Who says that plant-based food can’t look spectacular, even when served in utilitarian containers. This was a feast for both the taste buds and the eyes, and that is before I discovered the hidden elements.

The Sprout Bhaji was made from – you guessed it – Sprouts which were accompanied by Broccoli and Onions spiced with Fennel and Chilli. The hidden extra was Cranberry Chutney which was lurking beneath.

The vegetables were perfectly cooked as was the bhaji dough which was just on the right side of moist. This delicacy can be spoilt by the batter being undercooked, making the pieces too stodgy, no such problem here which was just as well because I called before going to see Grease at the Grand Theatre. Fortunately that was the only grease I experienced as the balls were well done and wonderfully crispy on the outside. The Cranberry Chutney added a fruity twist, well it would, wouldn’t it, and wasn’t too sweet and cloying. The Fennel gave a seasonal liquorice aftertaste to the dish providing yet another dimension.

The Festive Curry was also beautifully presented with a decorative swirl of coconut sauce on the top. This dish also had a secret which was revealed when a couple of spoonfuls had been transferred onto the plate with some rice. When in its pot the impression was of a smooth curry but it was full of large chunks of vegetables including Parsnips, French Beans and Swede. It was cooked in a Tomato and Coconut Sauce and spiced with Cinnamon, Star Anise and Curry Leaves. These vegetable chunks were perfectly cooked, soft but still retaining their shape and texture. The curry was spicy enough to let you know that it was more than a stew but not so much so that the flavours of the ingredients were masked by heat.

There is one dessert item on the menu, Christmas Kulfi at £2.50 which I really had to try. It was served as a lolly so it was fun as well as delicious. Kulfi is Indian Ice Cream and this version was flavoured with Nutmeg, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Orange Peel. As the menu describes it ‘Christmas on a Stick!

As already stated, I was there as a guest so the food was provided and I realise that I have been raving about everything but I hope that you will believe me when I say that there was no connection between those two statements. I would have been as gushing about the food had I paid double the amount on the menu for it. I have slated restaurants in the past where I have been a guest as I don’t want to send my readers anywhere that does not come up to my standards. This philosophy has meant that I seem to be persona non grata with a couple of PR companies but I don’t care. I feel as though Bundobust and I agree that the most important word in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘integrity’, and that can sometimes be a burden but in the long run it pays off. It certainly has done here.

The Christmas Specials Menu continues until New Year’s Eve so pop along to Mill Hill and fill your boots, or Christmas Stockings. Don’t forget, the normal menu is still available, including their lunch time deals. Go to https://bundobust.com/ for details.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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