Brighton's Indian food scene is as strong as it's ever been, and there's more to come.
Curry Leaf Cafe is an award-winning slice of South India, just a stone’s throw from the beach. With a kiosk inside Brighton station, and a Kemptown Kitchen opening this month, Curry Leaf is one of Brighton’s most loved Indian restaurants.
The purpose-built Brighton station kiosk is really cute, and is a great option for travellers and commuters who fancy something a bit different on their journey. The menu includes a vindaloo bacon roll, pakoras, and daily daal and curries served with rice and naan. There are great lunch time paratha wraps too, filled with 24hr marinated chicken tikka, laccha salad and chutneys – highly recommended.
I’ve been to the cafe several times since moving back to Brighton 18 months ago, and while I’ve always enjoyed it, the food has never blown me away. I was hoping this visit would be different.
As a group of seven, we decided to order all seven starters on the seasonal menu, as well as some cocktails from the impressive menu put together by The Cocktail Shack, one of the best cocktail bars in Brighton. My choice was Truth Be Told (£7.50) – Ocho Blanco tequila, mezcal, mango, scotch bonnet, lime and coriander. I love all those things, and this sour, smoky concoction may well be the perfect cocktail.
Our starters arrived, and as soon as I tried one of the stunning Mushroom Manchurian (£5.75), I felt like this meal could be a bit special. Crispy, fried mushrooms in a sticky, sweet, sour, and punchy sauce, it was my favourite dish at my friend’s Hindu wedding earlier this year, and Curry Leaf Cafe’s version is top drawer.
The Leek & Parsnip Pakoras (£5.50), were a nice seasonal twist on this classic Indian street food, and were very moreish. As was the Hyderabadi Venison Boti (£6.75), which is given 24hrs to marinade in a brown onion paste, spiced with garam masala, black salt, ginger and red chilli before being chargrilled in the tandoor, producing tender meat and intense flavours.
A saffron, ginger, garlic, cardamom and yoghurt marinade kept the Murgh Zafrani Tikka (£6.25) beautifully tender, as well as packing it full of flavour, and the crispy Chilli Paneer Salad (£6.50) was nice and light, with a lovely mango and chilli dressing to spice things up a bit.
My favourite dish of the seven was the Erachi Ularthiyatu (£6.75). Slow-cooked beef in an aromatic blend of spices, then quickly tossed in a pan with ginger, curry leaves, fresh coconut and green chilli. A superb dish, which reminded me a bit of beef rendang, for its depth of flavour, and dry curry style.
Last but not least, we had a dish from Kanthi’s home kitchen, Kekda Karwari (£7.95). Crispy, hand-picked crab cakes, spiced with onion, mustard, curry leaves, lime, ginger and turmeric. Another lovely dish, and the mango, chilli and lime sauce was perfectly judged not to overpower the subtle crab.
Two main courses stood out to me, so I persuaded Dave to share them with me – the Festive Tandoori Platter (£19.95) and Goan Pork Vindaloo (£14.50), both of which were absolutely bang on…
On the platter, the minced lamb sheekh, Hyderabadi venison boti kebab, and whole leg of 24hr marinated corn-fed chicken were all chargrilled to perfection in the tandoor, and the sides of Hyderabadi salan (brown onion & tamarind sauce), tomato salad, yoghurt raita, and apricot naan brought the whole thing together.
But, the pork vindaloo was something else… The sauce, made with palm vinegar, garlic, fiery dry red chillies, and palm sugar was incredible. An amazing balance of sweet and sour, with great depth and the perfect level of chilli heat. The chunks of slow-cooked pork shoulder were as juicy and tender as I’d hoped, and the simple steamed rice and spinach daal accompaniment helped to tame the heat.
Quite possible the best curry I’ve ever had – I would happily eat this everyday, forever.
As well as a selection range of ice creams and sorbets from Boho Gelato, there was also a delicious Beetroot Halwa (£5.95) on the menu. It was an interesting mix of flavours – shredded beetroot simmered in spiced milk, topped with roasted nuts, ghee and a rich saffron and vanilla ice cream. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so this was right up my street, and I kept going back for more.
This meal was more than impressive, and has moved Curry Leaf up a level in my mind – great food, friendly service, reasonable prices, good atmosphere, what more do you want?
I’m looking forward to the Kemptown Kitchen site, which will open later this month, offering a tapas-style ‘small plates’ menu (such is the fashion these days), but whichever Curry Leaf location you visit, you’re in good hands.