When the pandemic struck I had just begun to compile another bucket list, my last one being completed with a trip to Istanbul. Although I found that particular place somewhat less sophisticated and a lot more phrenetic than the usual big cities I love to visit, it gave me the taste for somewhere a little more exotic. North Africa seemed to fit the bill, even if it were only to include a musical reference to the Marrackech Express. Obviously the bucket has now got a lid sealed on it for the foreseeable future.
After my visit to Kadas Lounge I don’t think that I need to bother testing, self-isolating and quarantining in order to experience the atmosphere of Tunis or Algiers. As soon as you walk in the door you are transported to a different place and time. The aroma of the spices, the furniture and the music made everything feel like the real thing. I am not talking romantic, travel brochure representation here, there is nothing worse than an English pub in the US where everything is so over the top it is ridiculous and the most authentic thing is always missing – proper hand pumps. I have even seen ‘English’ pubs decorated in tartan!
The furniture and decoration is on the mismatched shabby side which I find great, it was reminiscent of some of the dives I visited in Turkey, as was the teapot and food presentation. The only thing different was the spotless stainless steel and glass of the counter area. Although it was 1.30 on a Thursday I had the place to myself, which is a tragedy. A party of three arrived after a little while and made use of the pavement tables, giving an even more exotic air, or it would have done had the day not been so chilly meaning that they were a bit more togged up than would have been the case in Casablanca.
The music coming through the speakers also added to the feeling that I was in a different country. It wasn’t what you would expect, in fact I thought that it was an Italian crooner with a big band but it was a popular Iranian singer so was more like you would probably hear in restaurants and tea houses in that part of the world. I found it very evocative.
The two men running the restaurant were the epitome of politeness and I was made to feel most welcome. I was given a menu but had already looked on-line so knew what I was going to have. My order was the Special Full Mezze with Cheese, amazing value at £10. It is even better value when you see that a second plate with bread, dips and salad came with it. As you would expect, there is no alcohol for sale so I opted for Mint Tea at £1.60 for which I was given the option of having straight away or with the food. I chose the former so it would have more time to infuse, although, as you can see, there was no shortage of mint in the brew!
The Full Mezze comprised Vine Leaves, Homemade Falafel, Moroccan Chicken, Chicken Shawarma, Grilled Mushroom, Aubergine, Grilled Peppers and Bulgur, although there was a choice of Potato instead of the latter. I didn’t opt for the change but got potatoes anyway! Melted Cheese covered all of the components except for the falafel, vine leaves and bulgur.
Every part of the dish was superb and, by the way, the plate was a lot bigger than it looks on the photograph. The food was hot and all perfectly cooked. Even the mushrooms and aubergines had not gone too soft. Both types of chicken had got a bit of a kick and the potatoes were sautéed to perfection.
The side plate contained hot, soft flat bread with Hummus and Tzatziki to dip it in. The salad was beautifully fresh with the tomatoes, cucumber and olives being dressed. I love hummus, in fact I love chickpeas in whatever form they are served, this was up there with the best, the comfort food quality being countered by the tzatziki.
Now, come on, tell me that this spread is not a steal at £11.60. Especially when you consider that it has saved me a few hundred quid in flights, hotels, testing and three-hour queues at the airports. Not to mention the threat of self-isolation on return or, even worse, having to consume airline food before I could get to the good stuff.
Kadas describes itself as being the oldest Shisha Bar in Leeds, having been established in 1997, and I wish it every success so that it may flourish for many more years to come.
I suppose that if I had wanted the true feeling of hustle and bustle of a souk I could have called later on and walked out into the melee at the Corn Exchange bus stops in the rush hour – you remember rush hours don’t you?
All photographs by Stan Graham