Enlightening visit to the the Curry Leaf Kemptown
It is well known that Brighton is spoilt for choice when it comes to great Indian restaurants. Indian food in the city has evolved from the standard post pub curry house of the 1990’s, to modern and innovative takes on a cuisine that has been much misrepresented.
At the forefront of that movement have been restaurants such as Indian Summer, The Chilli Pickle and The Curry Leaf Café. Each of these fantastic venues has made its mark on the city in their own way, and opened our eyes to what Indian cuisine can and should be.
Now the Curry Leaf Café is showing us another way to enjoy Indian food with the Kemptown Kitchen.
From pop-ups to kiosks
I’ve been a fan of the Curry Leaf for some time. Their flagship restaurant on Ship Street has explored the food of the entire Indian subcontinent, and matched it with craft beers with great aplomb. Never ones to rest on their laurels they have treated us to pop ups, pub kitchen takeovers and even a train station kiosk.
With the new Kemptown restaurant, they want to show us a fun and unrestrained take on Indian food which is more in keeping with how Indian food is consumed in its homeland.The sharing plate concept is one that we are all familiar with now, and this is what The Curry Leaf Kemptown are offering.
Sharing plates, just like in India
Instead of choosing one large curry with rice and a side, you get to have many smaller dishes which you can either share or keep for yourself. This means you can pick and choose your way through the menu, taking yourself on a journey across India and its varied regional flavours.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot more exciting than sticking to just one dish.
Luring colourful exterior
I headed down to Kemptown to give the concept a try for myself. It is always nice returning to that area of the city, it’s where I first lived in Brighton, and is great that the area is gaining more attention. The restaurant is not hard to miss. The Curry Leaf’s signature colourful exterior is very much in effect here, and the bright interior pulls you in off the street.
Inside, the large open kitchen dominates the space, with a small bar to the left and canteen style seating throughout. It has a rustic and playful charm to it, this is not the sort of place where you need to pull on your Sunday best to feel welcome.
A plentiful menu
There is plenty to choose from on the seasonal menu, quite a lot in fact. In most restaurants, a large menu is often a little concerning but here it is in keeping with the ethos of sharing and exploring.
Neatly separated into nibbles, vegetarian, meat and fish dishes it is easy to traverse; and the classic sides have their own space.
A solid drinks menu has strong craft beer and wine options with a section dedicated to bespoke spiced cocktails for something special. If you are feeling a little lost there is a tasting menu with beer and wine suggestions as well.
Rounds of food start to arrive
So far so good. We kick off with the Curry Leaf mix, their home-made Bombay mix. Lightly spiced and sweet with coconut they are a fab side to the Beavertown Neck Oil I am drinking. Our first round of dishes arrives, yes, we are going in rounds. We start with Parippu masla vardas and chicken Manchurian.
The vardas are lentil fritters which have been made only using fresh spices such as ginger, garlic and lemon zest. This shows in the bright and fruity flavours which combine fantastically with the crisp fritters, coconut chutney and tomato chutney.
Moreish Manchurian chicken
The Manchurian chicken is a representation of the Indo-Chinese street food found in Southern India. These delicious sweet morsels remind me a little of Korean chicken wings, but without all the faffing of bones. A sticky spiced sauce coats the crisp nuggets of chicken thigh in a moreish and flavoursome combo.
Tender melt in the mouth lamb
Our other two starters are the Hyderabadi lamb chops and Kasundi mustard salmon. The lamb is a dish I’ve eaten before at the first restaurant, and are one of my favourite Brighton dishes. These do not disappoint with the achingly soft and tender meat dissolving in the mouth, leaving just a hint of spice.
Newbie salmon dish gets the thumbs up
The salmon is a new dish and is another winner. They make their own mustard on site, and it is surprisingly mild and sweet with just a hint of nasal burn thanks to the cooling yoghurt in the dressing. Cooked in the tandoor, the salmon is moist and not overpowered by the mustard coating one bit.
Perfectly cooked paneer curry
After a brief hiatus, round two makes an appearance. If round one was about finger food and nibbles, then round two is a little more curry focussed. We share three different curry dishes with rice and a chilli naan. First up is a fruity paneer curry called a Makhani which is flavoured with fenugreek and cashew paste. Paneer can sometimes be a little rubbery and squeaky, but this is anything but. Made locally it is silky smooth and gives a central focus to the creamy sauce.
Dish two is a deep and rich Malabar mutton curry. The intense sauce is packed with the earthy spices such as nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon that come from the Malabar coast. This is a delicious plate of food.
The slow cooked mutton melts in the mouth, but not before delivering a superb meaty kiss to remember it by. If this dish was about deep, rich and intense flavours then our final curry could not be more different.
The seafood moilee is a delicate and creamy curry that whispers in your ear as you dig in. Huge meaty prawns and local fish fillets reside within the vibrantly coloured and luxuriously creamy coconut based sauce. This is delicate and elegant, subtly spiced and very rewarding.
A little room for dessert
We are feeling fairly full by this stage, but not in a sluggish sort of way. Despite this we tuck into desserts of festive Pradhaman and Gulub Jamoons with rose and coconut ice cream. The Pradhaman is a cold rice pudding which is surprisingly light and zesty, nothing like those disgusting rice puddings of your childhood. Served cold it is a refreshing dessert that totally fits the summer menu.
The Gulub are deep fried dumplings, similar to donuts, that are soaked in a spiced sugar syrup. The fragrant Ice cream cuts through what could be quite a sweet dessert, creating a lovely balance.
A brave move
At this stage we exit stage right, having eaten most of the menu.The Curry Leaf Kemptown have been brave for several reasons. Opening in a part of the city that is slightly off the beaten track was a big move and I applaud them for doing so.
Some people may not get the concept, and for those people there is still the central restaurant. If, however, you are happy to share and experiment then the Curry Leaf Kemptown is a very rewarding experience.
Go with an open mind
Every dish is distinct and shows off the skill of the chefs in recreating the flavours of the Indian subcontinent. Picking your way around the menu and dipping into different flavours and textures is a great way to eat, and stops you from getting bored of one thing; as can be the way with traditional one plate curries. Go with an open mind and you will be come out feeling well fed and perhaps even a little enlightened.