Brighton Food Reviewer – Ami Thornton, September 2015
Indian Summer has been a stalwart of ‘proper’ Indian food in Brighton since 2001 and has spruced up their offering with a glitzy face lift plus adding a few extras to the menu, all the while keeping a hold of firm favourites. I visited for lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon to be greeted by Pat, the effervescent head waiter, who sat us by the window so we could people watch (Brighton is fantastic for people-watching, but do I really need to tell you that?) and let the summer sun give light to all the pretty, kaleidoscopic colours on our plates – after all, it is Indian food.
Newly Renovated, Large Dining Space
I took a self-guided tour around the restaurant and was surprised at how big the space was: follow the walkway to the back of the restaurant and you’ll find another atmospheric dining area, complete with a floor-to-ceiling image of a man that Pat used to source his ‘bhel puri’ (a tasty mix of puffed rice, gram flour sticks, potatoes, onions, chickpeas and tomatoes, which you can find on the menu) while exploring India’s culinary treasures on his motorbike. I thought the photo was a nice personal touch to the restaurant; the team’s closeness was palpable and expressed a kind of warmth that added more dimension to Indian Summer’s sexy new look.
Perfectly Formed Lunch Menu
The lunch menu is small but perfectly formed; familiar enough for comfort but also houses a few interesting choices for those who like to experiment. We munched on ‘sanchar papdi’ (crunchy gram flour crackers served with chutney) and I drank sweet mango lassi, while my dining companion perused the extensive tea selection before settling on black jasmine – served in an unusual, pretty white tea set. The lunch menu is divided up by light Indian snacks which can range from roasted and spiced cashews to crispy fried breads with black pepper and ajwain (thyme’s flavour twin) and small plates specials such as tandoori paneer tikka served with coriander chutney and laccha onion as well as a couple dosas.
We shared the masala dosa which was actually quite filling, despite us trying to save room for our main courses. The rice and lentil pancake itself was beautifully flaky and light however the spiced veggie and potato mixture was quite hearty and was saved becoming too stodgy with the milky coconut chutney and savoury sambhar, which, frankly, no dosa should ever be without.
The menu has a strong vegetarian slant,
perhaps because of the Gujarati influence (the owner Minesh has family ties to the west Indian state), however the restaurant also offers meat on both lunch and dinner menus. The dinner menu offers a handful of extra dishes – one that caught my eye, in particular, was a most scrumptious sounding ‘alleppey prawn moilee’ (tiger prawns cooked in an onion and coconut sauce served with sesame kale and rice), plus the awesome selection of pickles.
Royal Meat Thali
But on this occasion, I opted for the protein-heavy, royal meat thali – thali is the ubiquitous, all-in-one Indian meal – which had a variety of picture-perfect dishes. There was the creamy lentil dall, the delicate cinnamon-infused Hyderabadi chicken, the absolutely gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth tender achari lamb, carbs in the form of jeera spring aloo (crispy potatoes and onions sauteed in super fragrant spices) and some rice and roti, plus sharp and tangy pickles and minty raita adding extra complexity to the explosion of colour, flavour and texture that was in front of me.
I really love a good thali, as you’re able to taste a multitude of things and there’s a natural harmony to how they work together.
My only criticism was that I wished for a stronger hits of spice, but that may be down to growing up eating fiery kimchi on a daily basis.
Influences From All Over India
The chefs are not only influenced by Gujarati cooking, but different regions of India (mainly south) are represented, so spice levels are pretty varied but could also depend on how delicate your Western(ised) palate may be. Regardless I found the meal quite elegant, surprisingly subtle and decidedly more upmarket than your local curry-house but without pooh-poohing everyones love and familiarity of streamlined Indian food.
One of my favourite parts of the meal was an unusual, small Indian sweet simply called mithai, which is basically a flaky square made of dehydrated powdered and condensed milk, brown sugar and a type of nut oil – it is a must, but you have to save it for the end of the meal. As it was lunch, we steered clear of any high octane drinks (3pm slump, be gone) but the wine list has a good mixture of old and new world wines, with a couple Indian wines thrown in for good measure, the red available by the glass if you’re interested.
Proper Indian Food
Indian Summer is noticeably confident in their offerings, which in turn made me trust it. You could sense how the years have created a fully-realised, slick and dependable restaurant with genuinely close-knit staff – a real treat for anyone who’s looking for ‘proper’ Indian food in Brighton.