A Great Sharing Experience – Sharing The Love
I love eating out, and I love eating out with friends. I’m a sharer – the type that will insist on you trying my dish and expecting the same in return (whether you like it or not). Why have one meal when you can try two (or three, or four?!) The concept of a banquet menu, designed to be enjoyed by a group, is therefore as up my street as you can get, and so it was that three friends and I found ourselves at The Chilli Pickle one Monday evening.
The Chilli Pickle has become synonymous with good quality, modern Indian food in Brighton.
It’s a little bit special – if I ever suggest it as a dinner destination, friends’ eyes invariably light up along with a chorus of ‘oh yes, yum yum!’ (or words to that effect).
Its takeaway selection has a following in its own right – I thoroughly recommend the thali menu. It has certainly cemented its reputation as a go-to restaurant in the city, recognised by the National Restaurant Awards among a host of others.
The restaurant was surprisingly busy and buzzing for an August Monday evening, with the majority of tables taken. The brightly coloured interior, spacious layout and modern lighting set the scene for a warm welcome. First up, the drinks. I opted for a Gulab lassi, a traditional yogurt drink with pistachio and flavoured with rose syrup. Never fear – it doesn’t taste as pink as it looks, and the combination of nutty flavour, sweet rose and cool yogurt slipped down a treat on a warm evening. My friends opted for a pomegranate caipirinha and beers. Fun fact – did you know Cobra beer was actually invented in Fulham by two British Asian guys? Every day’s a school day…
Our meal started fairly traditionally with a selection of poppadoms and chutneys. This was quickly followed by a range of beautifully presented starters. We were a mixed veggie and meat-eating group, so had chosen one vegetarian banquet and one meat version to share. In practice, this meant eating a fair amount of the same dishes, with lots of opportunities to share. Sharing with my foodie friends, one of whom grew up in Hyderabad, also meant an insight to the background and unique mix of dishes from across the region that the menu presented us with.
The starters were identical other than the carnivores being treated to a prawn papri chaat, whereas the veggies had a spicy samosa. The green pea and cheese crispies were the star of the show here, like a spicy arancini, perfectly crisped on the outside, soft and gooey in the middle. The selection of chutneys and dips with the starters was also impressive, with sweet and sour mango chutney anything but the usual gloopy stuff common with some Indian restaurants, and a tart, cleansing mint sauce.
The attentive staff talked us through each dish as it emerged and explained the regular changes made to the banquet menus to make the most of seasonal produce, like the delicately flavoured Kerala Garden Vegetable Stew, my favourite dish of the whole meal. This was one of the four dishes, plus chutneys and salad that made up the main course. Alongside the stew we veggies had a paneer jalfrezi, tandoori broccoli and blow-your-head-off-spicy tandoori Portobello mushroom. I love paneer, and while the tomato sauce had just the right amount of warmth the cheese seemed to lack the flavour of being immersed in such rich spices. The tandoori broccoli was a real revelation – a dry but creamy, almost cheesy consistency to the yogurt sauce – I’ll definitely be ordering that again.
Meanwhile, our meat loving friends had their own platter to devour: tandoori lamb chops, salmon and guinea fowl (I was assured that the salmon was some of the best my friend had ever had!) and Adraki tikki chicken curry. The meat dishes were reportedly all cooked perfectly, with the rich and creamy tomato and garlic sauce of the chicken curry being a particular highlight for the other meat eater.
They even tucked into our spicy mushrooms which, while being a tiny bit on the hot side for me, went down a storm across the rest of the table. We shared a mixture of naan bread, pilau rice, lemon rice and sambhar vegetable curry – perfect accompaniments to the rest of the feast.
By this point in the meal all four of us were already stuffed. The amount of food was incredible, we could have fed another couple of friends at least. In the name of the banquet experience however, we ploughed on to the dessert – Indian sweet treats and Rajastani Chai. Any fears that this would overwhelm our full bellies were quashed by the sight of the miniature sweets and chai, the perfect light end to the experience.
We tasted a huge range of regional flavours across the course of the meal – an unusual mix of northern and southern dishes each with their distinctive taste and each potentially a meal in itself. The result? A journey across India via a number of beautifully presented dishes, in a volume and style designed to be eaten at leisure in the company of good friends. And that is exactly what we did.
(Image credit: Xavi)