Curry Leaf Cafe

Photography by Brighton and London photographer Emma Gutteridge

The days of old-school ‘white tablecloth’ Indian restaurants seem to be on the wane, as more contemporary, trend-influenced Indian eateries arrive on the scene. Curry Leaf Cafe offers a completely fresh take on the Indian dining experience.

Having been open a mere six months, the restaurant is already making quite the name for itself, receiving the silver award in the ‘Best Newcomer’ category at the recent Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Awards. A fantastic achievement considering that Curry Leaf Cafe wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for an unfortunate personal incident which led the mastermind behind the venue,
former food critic Euan Sey, to meet chef Kanthi Kiran Thamma. ‘I’d just split up with my girlfriend and decided to rent out my spare room. Kanthi moved in and started making me homemade South Indian dishes, stuff I’d never tried before, and it was like a lightbulb went on,’ says Euan.

Thamma’s kitchen pedigree includes cheffing roles at Brighton‘s award-winning Indian restaurant The Chilli Pickle, as well as a spell working as a food champion at Jamie Oliver’s Recipease. As my visit would show, the restaurant’s dynamic duo has formed quite the creative partnership.

Photography by Brighton and London photographer Emma Gutteridge

The décor

There is so much to like about this place. Although I would normally choose to have Indian food for dinner, the casual nature of the restaurant, and its presentation as a cafe, makes it an equally attractive place to drop into for lunch. Painted in warm sabar orange and lime green, with exposed brick walls and solid oak wood flooring it’s easy to forget that you’re in an Indian restaurant in
Brighton. It really has the feel of a trendy East London eatery; relaxed, fun and forward-thinking.

Photography by Brighton and London photographer Emma Gutteridge

The menu

South Indian food is often fresher and lighter than its Northern counterpart, making it far easier to consume a lot of. Sauces are not blended, so you detect all the ingredients and the food is fragrant. Kanthi has a lightness of touch with the food and from the samples of the menu I tried, you can clearly tell this is the sort of cuisine he has grown up with and loves; adding his own tweaks and twists to
elevate home-style dishes. Starters of pan-fried mackerel spiced with chilli, ginger, garlic, and curry leaves and adraki chaamp (lamb chops marinated in a ginger-based spice paste) were a great introduction to the flavoursome and exciting realm of Indian street food. And they were an instant example of how Curry Leaf Cafe differs to traditional Indian restaurants.

On to the main course. Goan pork vindaloo, a dish peppered with Portuguese influence, achieves the perfect balance of heat, sourness and sweetness, a real stand-out dish that you won’t find so well-done by too many places. Mild yet flavoursome paneer kofta zafrani also offered a wonderful combination of tastes, consisting of fried Indian cheese and vegetable dumplings simmered in a creamy tomato and onion sauce. Dishes were served with plentiful rice and naan to soak up those gravies.

Personally, I have always found desserts at Indian restaurants disappointing, often lacking imagination. Not so at Curry Leaf Cafe. Banana and semolina dumplings served with beetroot and cardamom ice cream provided the perfect mix of savoury and sweet, combining real unique flavours in a showstopping end to the meal.

The drinks

As a Brit, Euan knows how challenging it can be over here to match Indian food with drinks. How many of us in the UK have struggled to find anything that can equal the panoply of Indian spices, other than a heat-cooling lassi or a thirst-quenching

beer? Fortunately, as the Curry Leaf Cafe’s meteoric rise attests, Euan is not a man to shy away from a challenge. The drinks menu is impressive, offering a number of hand-picked ales to accompany anything you may choose on the menu, as well as a thorough and carefully chosen selection of European and even Indian wines from Mandala.

The service

All the staff members we encounter are friendly, helpful and always on hand to walk you through the menu and give advice on beer and wine pairings for your courses – as the sheer choice can actually hinder you making a selection. Far more relaxed than a traditional Indian restaurant, the service is befitting of the laid back ‘cafe culture’ that Curry Leaf exudes.

Photography by Brighton and London photographer Emma Gutteridge

The verdict

Much more than a place to eat, Curry Leaf Cafe aims to build a new community of people interested in Indian culture, sustainable dining and the sociable pleasures of the street food experience. It’s perfect for lunch or dinner, and I also hear that they serve a pretty mean brunch. Curry Leaf Cafe is a great example of how to reinvent a cuisine without losing any of the substance and flavour that made it special in the first place.

Three course dinner for two with a bottle of craft beer each – £60

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