CLASSY and contemporary, the new Bengal Brasserie in the heart of Leeds certainly has the style but can the food match the lofty standards of the décor?

Anila Baig went to find out.

WALK into the Bengal Brasserie and you know you are worlds away from the traditional backstreet Asian restaurant.

Enter through the glass-fronted building and you are struck by how spacious the restaurant is. Trendy white leather sofas are dotted around where you can wait in comfort for a table or your takeaway. The lights are dimmed creating an air of sophistication and the décor is cool- modern, up-to-date.

But clearly it’s not all ‘chrome and mirrors’ as the restaurant has a strong reputation for delivering excellent food too.

Owner Malik Miah said the restaurant has won many accolades over the years and he’s particularly proud to be nominated in the first ever Asian Restaurant and Takeaway Awards later this month.

The restaurant was subjected to a rigorous selection process with judges visiting the establishment anonymously.

“They came twice but the first we knew of it was when we got a call saying we had been shortlisted. The quality of the food and the service were mentioned as reasons why we were chosen.”

Like many restauranteurs from Bangladeshi backgrounds Mr Miah, 50, has been in food trade since he was a teenager.

“I always worked in the food industry and it was always the plan to open our own family business one day.”

So after working at various other establishments Mr Miah opened the first Bengal Brasserie in 1995 in York city centre.

“The restaurant was a hit from the beginning. We had 50 covers and most nights we were turning customers away.”

Incredibly the family business still employs the same chef- Mohan Miah- whom Mr Miah describes as a ‘best friend.’

“He’s a partner in the business and well known in the Bangladeshi community for his cooking. In fact, he is a local celebrity.”

The restaurant focused on traditional Bangladeshi cuisine.

“Our food has its own unique style and is different from typical Kashmiri cooking. The spices are the same but how a dish is put together is different and, of course, and there is more emphasis on fish and rice.”

Fish was an especially popular choice with customers.

“We have literally hundreds of varieties of fish in Bangladesh and these dishes are always very popular especially eaten with plain boiled rice which acts as a canvas allowing the flavours of the fish to take centre stage. Our vegetable dishes are also very popular as people are interested in eating lighter, healthier dishes now.”

The restaurant garnered excellent reviews for both its food and service from locals and the Press and in 1999 Mr Miah expanded by buying a purpose built building in a retail park on the outskirts of York.

“We doubled our seating and still we were turning customers away so in 2003 we opened another branch in Market Weighton.”

Further branches opened in Wetherby and York and this restaurant, at Merrion Way, opened 18 months ago bringing the chain of Bengal Brasseries to five in total.

So clearly the management are doing something right.

But what is the verdict on the food?

The chef has created his own signature dish, the Mohoni, made with lamb, and there are grilled whole fish options and a majestic looking King Prawn Nawab dish.

But it is the modern dishes that we sample. The grilled lamb chops are generously sized and mouth-wateringly tender, lightly crisp on the outside with a delicately spicy marinade and deliciously moist on the inside. The chicken tikka masala is traditionally sweet and caters to the western diner perhaps but I enjoy the chicken handi- fat, juicy boti served in a thick, flavourful sauce.

No wonder the restaurant is vying for one of the top food awards in the country and chef Mohan has scooped his own individual awards over the years too.

The service too is impeccable and nothing is too much trouble for the young smiley waitress who brings peppermint tea and keeps checking to ask if we need anything.

Mr Miah said: “We have won a lot of awards over the years and of course I am very proud especially when we won the Restaurant of the Year at the British Curry Awards in 2005. You never forget the first award you win and being one of the top Asian restaurants in the country was a great achievement.

“We also won the Best Indian Restaurant at the Oliver awards earlier this year which are the biggest awards in Leeds.

“Being shortlisted for the Asian Restaurant and Takeaway Awards feels very special too and I am looking forward to going to the ceremony which will take place at the 02.”