Knave’s Kitchen offers vegan junk food as part of a stripped back menu of about ten items. Having spotted their proud sandwich board out the corner of my eye the previous week, I couldn’t wait to give the food – and especially their speciality seitan options – a try.
We decided to order two things to share, plus a side, and were spoilt for delicious-sounding choices. The menu was split into sections, SEITAN, NOT SEITAN!, and SIDES; always excited to try new seitan dishes, especially in Leeds where it’s rarely on menus, I was certain that I wanted to try something from that section, but wasn’t exactly sure what. The first option – ‘The Mill Hill Special’ – had an appetising list of ingredients listed but no real explanation as to what it actually was. After asking at the bar, I was told that it was in fact a kebab, takeaway style: the hummus and lettuce and pickles that the menu boasted fell into place when I knew they would all be crammed into a pitta.
From the NOT SEITAN! section of the menu we ordered the Tofu Katsu Curry, something I absolutely love and often make myself, with crumbed and fried aubergine serving as the ‘meat’. On the side we ordered some Hand Cut Wedges, and nearly some Steamed Rice too, because the menu didn’t say that the Katsu came with it – definitely something to add to the menu just in case the person taking your order doesn’t let you know.
The food arrived on a plastic tray dressed with a patterned, monochrome paper mat. It looked really appetising, with the kebab wrapped in foil and greaseproof paper, and the wedges and katsu served in small paper pots. I was disappointed to see that they only had seemingly single-use plastic cutlery on offer as, while it may contribute to the ‘street food’ vibe, wood is a far more environmentally friendly option, as is obviously washing and reusing cutlery. (Post Update: Knave’s replied to me on Twitter and told me that they only use 100% biodegradable VegWare cutlery – always happy to be proved wrong!)
The katsu curry sauce was more yellow than I usually make it, but the cubes of breaded, fried tofu looked deliciously crispy and golden. Soft and fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the exterior, they were delicious little morsels that I had to stop myself from eating like popcorn and demolishing in about a minute. The rice was well cooked – not too hard, not too stodgy – but unfortunately the sauce was a little lacklustre. It tasted more like the curry sauce that you’d get from a chippy (one of my favourite things to be fair) than a katsu in my opinion, as it lacked that sharpness that comes with a healthy dose of mirin or rice vinegar.
As I said, the ‘Mill Hill Special’ looked really impressive in its blankets of foil and greaseproof, but I knew immediately that something was awry when I opened up the folds of the pitta to put even more sauce in and it immediately started crumbling away. It seemed like it hadn’t been toasted at all, and as a result the dry bread really was not up to the task of holding its contents inside, nor did it taste very nice.
The grilled seitan itself was moist and tasty, but was cut into such tiny pieces that it got lost amongst everything else, and you certainly wouldn’t taste it in a big mouthful of dry bread. It was accompanied by a fresh and minty raita which I loved, as well as some welcome crunch in the form of pickles, fresh carrot and cucumber. The hummus unfortunately I couldn’t really taste, although when I searched for some it was pretty tasty.
Perhaps because a toasted pitta crammed full of tasty bits and pieces is something that I enjoy both in my own kitchen and from takeaways on a regular basis, I was a bit let down by this one as it didn’t seem to have been made with much love or decadence. There needed to be bigger chunks of seitan, and more hummus, all the better to cover in chilli sauce and pretend that its 2am rather than 2pm.
What Knave’s need to do is treat their pittas like they treat their potatoes, because those wedges had been treated like kings. Cut thick, fried to a deep brown, the lightly spiced crunchy skin coated pillows of deliciousness on the inside. So good that you would gladly sacrifice the skin on the roof of your mouth and even risk what I call ‘hot potato gullet’. And with a help yourself sauces section boasting sriracha mayo, bbq, and all the hits bar plain vegan mayo, I would gladly have four portions of them and call it a day.
The food, plus a beer and a glass of wine, came to £24.00 in total, which for a sit-down lunch on a Saturday is pretty good value in my opinion. I’d certainly go back to try the other bits on the menu, but would hope that they don’t hold back on those plates. With a heavier hand on all the good stuff – the seitan, the hummus, the zing in the katsu – as well as simply a toaster, it could be great, rather than just okay.
Knave’s Kitchen, Oporto, 31 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7BT