70 East St, Brighton BN1 1HQ indiansummerbrighton.co.uk
Gary Rose samples the south coast’s pioneering modern-Indian experience
Brick Lane, Birmingham, Brighton: spot the odd B out. Yes, here in East Sussex we’re not known for our abundance of curry joints. In fact, I had the worst curry of my life in Brighton. Naming no names, of course. Oh go on then: it was Nooris on Ship Street. Tinned tomato soup with frozen mixed veg never struck me as authentically Indian.
However… if you’re talking “modern” Indian, now that’s a different story. We’ve got a few crackers within a five-minute walk of each other. There’s The Chilli Pickle, The Curry Leaf CafÃƒÂ© and, the longest runner of the lot, Indian Summer.
It might be the original (hard to believe it’s been around for 15 years), but is it the best? I’m pleased to report that, despite its prime passing-trade location on East Street Ã¢â‚¬â€ next door to experimental veggie hangout Terre ÃƒÂ Terre and within wobbling distance of the pier Ã¢â‚¬â€ standards haven’t slipped. If anything, they’ve upped their game.
As I take my seat, I notice someone has left their wallet on the table. I’m just about to call the waiter when I realise it’s a leathery, pocket-sized menu. First impression: do I have to read all this? There’s a lot to absorb here. The description of the Hyderabadi murgh alone takes up eight lines of text.
My jolly Italian waiter Francesco asks if I’d like some poppadum. Has anyone ever not ordered popadoms here, I wonder. A poppadum’s a poppadum, I guess, but what lifts these above the pack is the beautifully gloopy, fragrant tamarind dip.
Before I order I’m gifted an espresso cup of tomato, ginger and lime soup. It’s got a potent little wintery nip that no cold virus would survive. The NHS should be prescribing this stuff instead of the flu jab.
After a glass of peachy Picpoul, I’m on to the Indian Summer thali; a mezze of mutton, chicken and aloo subzi, with dal, roti and rice. The three feature dishes provide a triple-tiered gamut of flavours, running through smokey umami to sour to full bodied and meaty. It looks delicate but it sure is hearty.
It’s always a bonus when wine is considered integral to an Indian meal, and here they take their vino seriously. The list is compartmentalised into “regular” wines and ones that complement spicy food: so light, fragrant, low alcohol whites and fruity, smooth, low-tannin reds.
My Chilean Pinot Noir is so dark and full bodied that I think they’ve given me a Merlot by mistake. Even more memorable is the amber-coloured noble Riesling that accompanies my dessert. Francesco’s a bit put out that I didn’t opt for the Italian, but I’m more than happy with the pungent petrol and rubber aromas slicing their way through my cashew nut tart with vanilla ice cream.
It’s monsoon season in India right now. And as I step back into East Street, it starts to chuck it down. How apt. Brightonian Summer indeed.