Brighton Food Reviewer, Lizzie Enfield, June 2015
Brighton has had a long running affair with the Indian sub-continent.
If you need evidence of the relationship, look no further than the Royal Pavilion, its domes and minarets inspired by the Taj Mahal. Or listen to the large number of fifty somethings still talking about their time on the hippie trail!
So it’s not surprising that the Chilli Pickle restaurant, serving regional Indian food in the heart of Brighton, is packed. Even early on a Wednesday evening, with nothing particular going on in the city, every single table is full.
Not a typical Indian restaurant
But it’s not a typical Indian restaurant, not in the British curry house sense anyway. The décor is a mixture of natural woods and jewel bright walls and paneling, accessorized with shopping bags, sourced in Delhi markets, alongside traditional Indian cooking pots and platters.
The owners, Dawn and Alun Sperring, are Brits and if you’re after a tikka masala, or anything else you likely to find at corner curry house, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Chilli Pickle offers a pan Indian menu featuring authentic regional cuisine from across the country.
The kitchen team hails from all over too: from Kerala & Tamil Nadu, to the desert state of Rajasthan and West Bengal on the mouth of the Ganges.
Eating our way around India
My dinning companion has eaten is way around India, when he was part of a vaudeville theatre company, playing in cities from Bhopal to Bharatpur, Jaipur and Hydrabad. He is the kind of person who will tell you the best thing he ever ate was in an out of the way restaurant in Bharatpur but, as we begin to eat our way around the country, without stirring form our seats, he is suitably impressed.
We order two giant Tiger beers and a range of starters: Pani Puri (puffed mini puris with chick pea dahl and a piquant tamarind chutney), Rajma Cheese Crispies (spicy cheese dumplings, balanced with a fresh tomato chutney and sour cream) and Machi Fry, (fried whitebait but with a south Indian twist). Served with chilli and kasundi mustard dipping sauces, these tiny fish pack more of a punch then when served on the edge of the Med – but be careful to look before you eat. My companion momentarily mistook the chilli pickle, bunched with battered fish in a gleaming silver goblet, for one of them. I warned him before he gobbled it whole!
Efficient and unobtrusive
The service here is efficient and unobtrusive. A team of international waiters and waitresses slip platters onto your table and whisk them off again, with the minimum of fuss but with a smile and an openness that allows you to ask about the provenance of a dish and what it is that gives each recipe it’s particularly provocative tang.
The flavors of the food are distinct and subtle.
The spices and sauces enhance and stimulate the taste buds rather than blowing the roof of your mouth off. And the presentation is alluring too.
My main course, Murgh Pulungari, a mustard coloured delicately spiced dish of chicken with coconut, was scattered with green curry leaf and complimented by the red and white of the Sambhar masala rice. A teasing temptress, which didn’t disappoint.
My dining companion opted for all out sensatory assault, over subtle gastronomic seduction, choosing the tandoori chicken platter: pepper chicken seekh, red tikka leg and mali tikka breast, served with red chilli sambhal, mango ginger chutney and spring onion.
I sneaked forkfuls of the sambhal, which like everything else tasted fresh and flavorsome, a world away from the cloying sauces we’ve come to associate, wrongly, with Indian cuisine.
It left him sated but still wanting to be soothed by a the rich smooth cool of a banana kulfi, an ice cream lollipop with an almost fudge like consistency. I opted to nibble on a sliver of milk cake and a pistachio sweet. I was full but unable to resist.
With restaurants like the Chilli Pickle enticing diners with its range of arresting dishes, tantalizing flavors and colorful surroundings, Brighton’s love affair with India looks set to continue.
We were certainly seduced.