Serving food from the nation’s five main coastal regions, Ma-Hé opened in the Merrion Centre in August. Heading up the kitchen is Arjun Bhat, who moved from Chennai to take up the head chef role.
In his first few months in Leeds, Arjun has learnt that diners can handle more spice than he’d expected, and his menus are constantly being tweaked, refined and added to.
Arjun told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I come from a family of hoteliers who used to have restaurants back in India, but my parents never wanted me to be in this life.
“I did business management, but I wanted to be in the food industry so I went back and did a course in food production. It’s the passion for it that keeps me going, it’s literally in my blood. Seeing the happy faces at the end of a meal gives me a high.”
The 35-year-old started his career at the Leela Palace in Bengaluru, before opening a chain of restaurants in India, an Indian restaurant in Kuwait and later moving to Chennai to work at a five-star hotel and then a convention centre.
He was part of Ma-He’s founding team who are on a mission to change people’s perceptions of curry and Indian food in Leeds.
Arjun said: “Initially, we didn’t expect people in Leeds to accept our spice levels. We’ve learnt they have good spice tolerance here and people expect spicy food when they come to an Indian restaurant, so we’ve revamped the menu accordingly.
"At Ma-Hé we believe in cooking from the soul. A lot of people have the wrong notion of curry in their minds. We’re making an effort to change that misconception, because curry in different regions is made in different ways. We want to get coastal cuisine on the map.”
The restaurant started with a small menu which has slowly been expanded, with an additional lunch menu now available on Friday-Sunday. It includes Kothu parrotta, a traditional Tamil Nadu street food lunch with flaky flatbreads cooked in spicy curry masala, as well as curries, dosa and sides like the popular ghee rice.
“The feedback so far has been really good,” Arjun said. “We’re getting repeat customers which is a good sign. We just need to spread the word about our lunch menu.”