Yorkshire Evening Post
The Korma Cafe
By Chris Murphy The Corner Cafe – an institution beloved of curry lovers across Leeds – has re-opened to a wave of nostalgic emotion.
It is 10 years since owner Karim Ghauri concocted his last round of bhunas, shimlas and massalas.
But he's back to a loud chorus of approval from fans of Indian food and of the original laid-back atmosphere that has always complimented the cuisine.
Karim, 38, along with his wife Kate Ghauri-Moore, has also maintained his old approach to alcohol, where customers can wander in with a pint of ale or glass of wine from the Queens Arms pub from across the road or even bring their own.
"It's been fantastic so far," Karim told the YEP. "We've no pretensions here and aren't trying to be something we're not – we just love cooking, as well as the people and the atmosphere of the place.
"People who used to come in 10 years ago have been back already because they had heard we'd re-opened, and customers have been bumping into people they haven't seen since we were last open. There used to be such a great mix of people.
"We'd have a couple on one table who were still in their overalls having been decorating all day and at the other end a bunch of musicians in dickie bows and dinner jackets – and all of them would feel equally at home."
The first Corner Cafe, on Buslingthorpe Lane in Leeds, was opened in 1976 by Karim's father Muzamil and became a legend in its own lunchtime.
Originally a transport cafe it changed when Muzamil started injecting his own authentic Asian cuisine into dishes churning out countless curried shepherd's pies and kebab sandwiches, alongside more traditional truckers fayre such as bacon butties.
In the mid 1980s the family opened The Corner Cafe on Burley Road which drew a cosmopolitan mix of students, young professionals, families and the odd celebrity guest, such as former YEP reporter turned rock star Mark Knopfler.
After leasing the building 10 years ago the couple decided to give it another go when it came up for renewal earlier this year.
The menu shows a wide variety of sub-continent treats including an extensive vegetarian choice, and many of the old recipes created by Karim's dad.
"We're not here to conquer the world or set up 10 more Corner Cafes, we're just happy doing what we are doing now," added Karim.
The Corner Cafe is open in the evenings between Tuesday to Saturday. Call the cafe on 0113 234 6677 for more information.
Published on the 12 November 2004
Wednesday night and Burley Road’s Corner Cafe is getting close to being full. Diners range from large groups of students to a gathering of friends and couples having a romantic dinner out. Each one of them receives a truly warm and friendly greeting as they enter. Co-owner Karim goes out of his way to make everyone feel welcome and seems to know half his customers. Corner Cafe clearly has a lot of ‘regulars’.
The reason for the return custom is obvious: there are few eateries quite as nice as Corner Cafe. The restaurant itself is warm and, since the summer, has been modernised significantly, with a new mezzanine level meaning they can fit it many more happy diners. But there are still a few traditional touches on the cream and red walls to make it clear that this is indeed a curry restaurant.
The other change since the summer has been the addition of a drinks licence. While previously thirsty customers were welcome to bring their own, or buy a pint from the pub across the road, the restaurant now stocks a small but well-selected range of local beers (by Saltaire Brewery and Leeds Brewery) alongside some choice wines as well.
The menu is wide-ranging, if a little unusual. Coming in two pages – one full of meat, the other full of veg – rather than offering your typical madras, jalfrezi, dopiaza and so on, all you get is a list of the potential meat or veg combos in your curry, then you’re asked how hot you want it, and then the rest is a surprise (although you can make most dishes into a korma for a small supplement). We try and get a handle on the menu while chomping at some tasty poppadoms (45p each) with mango chutney (80p) and complimentary mint yoghurt.
The starters are easy to figure out, and I get a huge, meaty shami kebab (£3.15), while my partner takes a similarly impressively-portioned pakora (£3.25). In fact, the portions are perhaps a little overwhelming, but over-catering is always a good idea if your restaurant is popular among the local students.
Our main courses also arrive in generous portions (although not so generous that I don’t happily polish mine off). After being unable to make up her mind between spinach and potato, and spinach and dhal, in her curry, the ever-helpful staff suggest they could combine all three for my partner, and so they do, while I stick with the menu and take a medium-spiced meat and okra dish (£8.15 and £7.20 for my partner’s).
The dishes seem to be made using the same base, just differing in their key ingredients. The curry is well spiced – initially fiery, with a slower-burning, deeper, more complex flavour coming through underneath that hints at a clever mix of spices. My dish comes with rich, tender chunks of lamb, and huge, fresh and juicy chunks of okra. We mop it all up with pilau rice (£2.75), some gorgeously soft, doughy chapattis (80p each) and a couple of Cobras (£2.75) to keep us refreshed.
We’re almost tempted to indulge in the homemade kulfi, but resist for the sake of our groaning stomachs. As we leave it’s approaching 9pm, and still the restaurant is filling up with people wanting a sit-down meal or coming to pick up their takeaway – but despite it being busy, each customer is still given a friendly welcome.
While the food is certainly good, it’s not the main appeal of Corner Cafe. As a dining experience, it’s an absolute delight – friendly, helpful and attentive – and it’s clear this family-run restaurant (which dates back over two generations to the 1970s) is a true labour of love for the owners.
We can’t see any reason why this particular eatery won’t still be in place in another 40 years.
Posted on Wednesday 8th December 2010
The best curry house in Leeds? It might be...' - Corner Cafe, Burley Road, reviewed
Simon Richardson discovers his Desert Island Starter in one of Leeds’ oldest surviving restaurants
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t love a good curry. The sheer diversity of flavour and texture of Indian food is something that awakens a powerful sense of possessiveness in many of us. Find your local curry house and fall in love with it. It’s brilliant. The best, in fact. Yours won’t be as good... it simply can’t be.
Corner Café has traded on this mentality for over 40 years, so it has to be doing something right. Run by Kate and Karim, whose father opened the original restaurant in the 70s, it has a large base of regulars, mostly professional and student types.
Walk in and you immediately feel at home, quite literally, the restaurant looks like someone’s house (albeit with a touch more red), with a mezzanine that reminds me of a flat I lived in for a bit. The welcome is homely too, all smiles, handshakes and comfort. Are you warm enough? How are these seats? Can I have a hug?
We get a few poppadoms (£0.65 each) with a thick, sweet mango chutney (£0.90) and a light, creamy raita. As we’re ordering, the table next to us gets a couple of massive gin and tonics (£4.65), served in those ubiquitous goblets. Sold, to the borderline alcoholic with the lack of self-control. I’ve never been able to find space for beer with curry. If you’re luckier than me though, the beer menu here is superb – chock-a-block with Yorkshire ales and craft options, along with the mandatory Cobra and Kingfisher.
For starters, the keema paratha (£4.25) is an addictive texture. My teeth sink slowly into the outer casing as the fresh, intense spices grab my tongue in a warm embrace. The fish pakora (£4.95 – weekends only), meanwhile, is up there with the best Indian starters I’ve ever tasted. The crispiness gives way in an instant to pieces of white fish that melt like butter on the tongue. I could try for the rest of my life and fail every time to get close to that kind of texture. This is my Desert Island Starter.
The menu is extensive, to say the least, and cleverly done. It’s arranged by meat (or vegetable – the vegetarian list is equally as extensive), then you choose your style and decide on the level of heat on a familiar scale of “mild” to “Oy-Oy! #Ladsladslads!”
I ask for fish masala (£8.75) with pilau rice (£2.95) to come as madras strength. The flavour is superb, no instances of spices battling each other or failing to come through, and it’s not blowing my head off. Everything in this dish is pure, unadulterated flavour. Refreshing but rich, spicy and almost sweet.
My partner has a tandoori tikka masala korma (£9.55) – a true mouthful in every sense. I’m no fan of kormas normally, but this one is medium-hot and not overly creamy, the familiar tandoor flavours permeating the sauce, the plate, my mouth and most of my clothing for the next three days.
We have a side order of daal too (£4.70). According to the menu, they use seven different kinds of lentils. There’s that depth of flavour again. It’s like you order, then they get in a time machine and cook your food for seven days before popping out and serving it to you. Voilà! It’s earthy, rich and buttery. And the garlic and coriander naan (£3.20) is ever-present as the mop to hide my crimes against tidy eating. It’s warm, doughy and crispy around the edges – pretty much faultless.
Now here’s the dilemma. I can’t eat anything else because I might die, and I’ve heard that's not really the done thing in restaurants. Fortunately, Corner Café is famous for Kate’s Kulfi and you can take it away in tubs (£12.50/l). There’s a Christmas pudding special on, so we take it home and attack it after a couple of hours lying around in very stretchy clothing. It’s boozy, the fruit is exceptionally juicy, and I ate far too much of it.
So, how can I persuade you to abandon the delights of your local curry house and give Corner Café a go? Probably nothing, we are creatures of habit after all, and in curry there lies a fierce, dark habit that spans generations. I’ll tell you what though, this is one of the best in Leeds, without doubt. Plus it’s only ten minutes away from my house... and it’s definitely better than yours. So there.
Leeds Confidentials - 8 January 2019 - Simon Richardson
That there was such a gorgeous little curry house down on Burley Road? That it boasts an effortlessly welcoming service the like of which people like me sometimes (very very very occasionally) dream about? And that the food is good and it’s so affordable that you make a mental note to self before leaving that this could be your new favourite Indian restaurant?
Well, you know now. It’s called The Corner Cafe. With a name like that and given its general location, I have to say I was expecting something along the lines of breakfast-in-a-bap, pre-made custard creams and coffees done black or white with a blissful ignorance of anything which involves a barista (amen to that, anyway, by the way).
However, The Corner Cafe is none of these things. It’s not that easy to spot, either, as there are no garish signs, no glaring neon. Instead, it just suddenly appears alongside you as you amble along Burley Road towards town. As its name suggests,it is on the corner of the aforementioned road and Westfield Terrace, ensconced in a building which both blends in and stands out in equal measure, if that makes sense. It blends in, because of the lack of signage and by virtue of its urbane red brick exterior and one glance at the tall, boxy windows, you could be forgiven for thinking this was, in a former life, a launderette or some other quite functional business. Once found, however, you suddenly realise it harbours a quiet confidence. The entrance features a substantial looking faded pine door, above which is an elaborate art deco fresco. Inside, there are more hints to former grandeur and the greeting is immediate and really rather welcoming. Service counts for a lot in the restaurant trade and people hanker for the genuine article - well, here, they have it in bucket loads.
The business was, apparently, established in 1976. That is has survived is something to be celebrated. Opposite stands the former The Queen pub, which succumbed to the endless ebb and flow of commercialism and became a Tesco Extra some years ago. Which is why we need to savour places like The Corner Cafe.
Actually, this was my second attempt at dining here. I attempted to ‘drop by’ several weeks earlier, mistakenly thinking that the place would be near-as-damn-it empty and begging for the trade. Not a bit of it. It was packed to the gunwales.
Our return visit was pre-booked, however but even then, there were people wanting to get into this place and ever so politely being told ‘no room at the inn’, which has to tell you something.
The welcome was faultless, assured, polite but not overly deferential. The inside is split into ground floor seating, with a mezzanine above.
We began with the pickle tray and popadums - chunky lime pickle, lashings of fresh yogurt, with its slightly sour, herby aroma, decent mango chutney, et al. All good.
I started with fish pakora (£4.95) from the specials board. What a dish. The fish was piping hot and just melted in the mouth, the batter soft, light, crispy, served with salad and a wedge of lemon. Delightful. My partner had a shami kebab (£3.75), which was also good.
Next up was mutton massala. Yes, mutton! Bravo. Why we have to eat poor little lambs all the time is entirely beyond me. Mutton, on the other hand, which at least gives the poor animal a longer stay on earth, is an undiscovered land, a pasture that has been left fallow for far too long and very well ought to be re-entered and enjoyed all over again. The flavours here are much more complex than lamb, they are more developed, a little gamier and more robust. It’s a curry to warm the embers.
Our second choice, though, was a too salty for us both, a chicken and kablichana (a kind of chickpea) korma (£8.55). We also ordered garlic and coriander naan (£3.20) and pilau rice (£2.95) and finished off with espresso ice cream (£4.25 per serving). So often, this is where even better than average Indian restaurants fall down, some still offering up the dreadfull ice-cream-in-a-toy. Not here. Here, the ice cream is home made, or feels like it at least.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find Northern Monk’s Faith being offered here (they make a point of working with local breweries) and even more taken aback when given the choice of it being service at room temperature or from the fridge. The final bill came to a snip over £60. Plus (another mental note to self), they do a take away service.
It’s places like this that make a community. In the turbulent tides of the modern era, they are the rocks to which barnacles cling, the landmarks by which the wary seafarer might navigate.
And mark my words, once you have discovered it, you’ll want to return.
Yorkshire Evening Post 28 March 2019