Seasonal Surprises in Spring

Brighton Food Reviewer, Matt, April 2015

8pm on a Thursday evening and the atmosphere in the Curry Leaf Café on Ship St is positively bustling. It’s more or less a full house, with rafts of happy relaxed diners enjoying the delights of South Indian street food. In fact the service team are politely turning a stream of eager would be diners without reservations away until a bit later on.

This is an encouraging sign.

Curry Leaf Cafe, Brighton, brunch, Indian Cafe and restaurant
Interior – The Curry Leaf Cafe

Having had lunch here previously it felt like a relaxed modern café and this is still the case now, but tonight proves it’s intimate enough to comfortably host dinner as well.

The interior comfortably combines wood, exposed brick and swathes of green, while the seating through to the rear rests under the gaze of an apex glass roof is deceptively spacious.

Our attention turns to the dinner menu; sensible in size, comprising of six starters, six mains, seven or eight sides and a clutch of desserts.

Curry Leaf Cafe, South Indian Street Food, Restaurant, Brighton, Ship St

It’s an enticing read, the food sounds delicious and with a couple of preferences aired, affable front of house chap Jack orders us his picks.

We’re keeping the starters relatively light in anticipation of heftier main courses. I think most folk would happily sample everything that’s on offer here and take a lucky dip. That said, the menu helpfully denotes vegetarian, dairy and gluten free dishes.

Standout Drinks Menu

Working with wine on a daily basis I fancy a beer this evening, which pairs really effectively with Indian food and it’s great to see a well thought out list featuring some standout local breweries as well as London (Kernel, Beavertown) and further afield.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Poppadums

The wine list follows in the same vein, potentially difficult to pair successfully with this type of food but what’s on offer makes sense.

There are familiar styles present with thought exercised to accommodate the cuisine.

For instance, the Pinot Grigio is blended with the Garganega grape, which will give the wine a touch more body than if it were just made from the former.

The Sauvignon Blanc is Chilean, usually a more exuberant example than Old World equivalents. The reds lean towards the fuller side of the spectrum, which is what’s required, with some choice picks from southern Italy of note (demonstrating great value from this region).

Back to the beer though and I’ve opted for an incredibly citrusy IPA on draught called Arise from Burning Sky brewery based near Lewes.

The hop bitterness works a treat, cutting clean through the menus spicier offerings. Incidentally my eating partner is 8 months pregnant and for good reason not drinking. What she is drinking is the Belvoir Ginger beer, which doesn’t sit on the fence, delivering a hearty kick of warming ginger spice and sweetness.

Appetisers and Starters

First up, crisp mini poppadums served with some well executed pickles and dips – the tamarind sauce a standout for us. There’s also a bowl of moreish masala peanuts, pumped up with a zippy dash of lime, chilli and coriander.

Of our three starters the Chilli Gobi packs the most punch;

..the marinated cauliflower florets look hot, they’re a deep red colour, and in this case looks do not deceive. They’re served with a fullsome sweet chilli and garlic sauce.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Chilli Gobi

In comparison, the Dahi Papdi is a little more delicate, these are bijou servings of cold chickpea and potato chaat, gently spiced, perched on crisp fried crackers, dressed with pomegranate seeds, yoghurt and snippets of vermicelli. A fine fusion of textures and flavours; it’s an unexpected treat.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Dahi Papdi

Pick of the starters and seasonal too is the Gosht Pudina (lamb). The mint marinated chop housing a warming spicy note, chargrilled yet tender inside, accompanied by an earthy beetroot chutney. From the menu, the lime juice and spice marinated fillet of grey mullet pan fried in coconut oil also grabbed our attention.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Gosht Pudina (lamb)

The tandoori meat platter

For our mains we’d opted for the tandoori meat platter, listed in addition to the main dishes, and a vegetarian Keralan curry.

The platter comprised zingy chicken kebabs, marinated in mango and mustard, a couple more of the lamb chops (well…if you must) and a whole quail, adeptly spiced and again the cooking of the meat really well judged.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Tandoori Platter

On the side; crisp quarters of peshwari naan, not too sweet of coconut but enough to contrast nicely with the bolder tandoori flavours and a vibrant beetroot raita. Great to share while manageable for one too; overall though what a triumph.

Perhaps the most interesting plate of the evening was the Kai Kari Ishtew, a classic Keralan dish.

The fragrant coconut based broth hinted at south east Asia, the underlying aromatics of clove and cardomam firmly cast the dishes Indian roots. And it was fantastic; soothing comfort food yes, though by no means lacklustre. A toasty sambar offered an optional touch of heat and then the dosa, crisp, light, there to scoop up the vegetables and soupy goodness. Vegetarian and gluten free, this was a complete contrast to the platter; an attribute of a menu that feels complete in its composition yet manages to be diverse too.

curry leaf cafe, brighton, street food, indian, review
Kai Kari Ishtew

For dessert, my companion had a coconut and lime sorbet with mango and pistachio ice cream. These are made exclusively for the Curry Leaf by Boho Gelato and they’re exceedingly good. The refreshing sorbet proved an apt palate cleanser. The flavour of mango was insanely fresh and the ice cream silky smooth.

I had the Jamoons, which after some consideration, could be described as being similar to rum baba’s but bathed in a booze free syrup. They are lusciously sweet and it’s an inspired decision to serve them with a fragrant rosewater and vanilla lassi, which kept the dish fresh and alive.

Best Dining Experience This Year

Service throughout the night was well balanced, attentive without ever being cloying and despite an obviously busy night everything was served in good time.

In terms of spicing there’s a deft touch at work here (hats off to Chef Kanthi) and all the more impressive when you remember that this is a menu rooted in everyday street food from South India.

Ultimately though, if you’re fan of flavoursome food that has the ability to surprise and delight then this is the place for you.

For me it’s the best dining experience I’ve had in Brighton so far this year, hands down.

However, perhaps the best testimony to the quality on offer here is the fact that my dining partner has already booked a table for her and a group of friends this Sunday.