Review: Curry Leaf Cafe
“What I love about this restaurant is that each dish on the menu is truly distinct. So many Indian menus have generic curries with flavours that are similar. Here, each dish is a masterpiece.”
There’s nothing like a curry and a few drinks on a Friday night to mark the end of a week.
For me it’s one of life’s pleasures and I have spent years testing and researching the perfect places for a Friday night curry.
From the authentic hub of South Indian cuisine in Tooting to the Michelin starred likes of Benares in Berkeley square – I’ve seen quite a few Pakoras in my time. A good curry is something I often crave. For years my venue of choice was Hove Tandoori, still one of the best classic Indian curry houses. Many a night has been spent putting the world to rights in their modern, chic and cosily lit dining room. The staff were always delightful, remembering my preferences and virtually reading my mind bringing me things I wanted. Their tandoori king prawns and Dhal Masala (served Madras hot) with a South African Chenin Blanc were my Friday night staples. It’s still on my list of preferred Indian restaurants (of the English variety) but there are also some other great choices in our region and my absolute favourite these days is the award winning Curry Leaf Cafe.
With a changing seasonal menu, fresh authentic regional cuisine and Ridgeview sparkling Wine by the glass – it’s a pretty compelling proposition. Co-founded and owned by Chef Kanthi Kiran Thamma (whose impressive credentials include working with Jamie Oliver and more recently the highly regarded Chilli Pickle in Brighton). I have been a regular since it opened and follow the changing menu with the seasons. Great care is taken over the development of each dish and the construction of the menu. Kanthi has a lifelong passion for discovering and developing new styles and dishes rooted in the vast diversity of Indian cuisine. You can rest assured anything you eat at the Curry Leaf Cafe will be based either on Kanthi’s family home cooking, or inspired by one of his many trips to different parts of India. Each dish is tested with both the kitchen and front of house teams providing input – a real team effort. This level of thought and care and the fact that every single dish is cooked fresh and from scratch with locally sourced produce (bar spices from India), means that you won’t find long lists of different curries, but rather a concise and mouth-watering selection of dishes designed to cater for most tastes and preferences (vegan, vegetarian, gluten free etc.). What I love about this restaurant is that each dish on the menu is truly distinct. So many Indian menus have generic curries with flavours that are similar. Here, each dish is a masterpiece.
There is always a tandoori roasted whole fish on the menu, either as a starter (currently mackerel) or in the summer as a main course dish (often Bass or Bream). I always have it. Fresh zingy charred spices complementing the fish rather than overpowering. Vegetarians are well catered for here; there are usually two different vegetable curries. The current menu features an aubergine curry with a coconut and tamarind sauce with ginger, coriander and chilli; a rich and fragrant dish, the aubergine lending a non-meaty ‘meatiness’. A root vegetable curry is cooked with a delicate tomato and coconut broth; the vegetables still firm adding texture. The meats vary, last year I loved a slow cooked lamb curry, this month they have a pork vindaloo but this is no ‘Anglo-Indian’ vindaloo that you often find in many curry houses, typically sacrificing flavour for chilli heat. Here it is fragrant and well balanced. There is always
a good chicken curry, currently a Hyderabad dish (this area of India famed for its cuisine). The Tandoori platter is a meat lover’s dream (me). Side dishes come included with the mains – a tomato curry, dhal, pilau rice and a naan with the option to order extra. All of this is served to you on your own tray with each curry in sliver bowls (tip – I always ask for a plate as I like to combine flavours rather than eat from single dishes). There are a good selection of starters /small plates to share. A few months back I was addicted to their paneer and pea fritters, this time it’s their onion and vegetable Pakoras. The Masala spiced nuts and poppadum’s come with freshly made chutneys and go well with that all-important first drink.
The wine list is great, a mixture of international varieties that compliment Indian cuisine as well as an Indian wine menu and of course spirits, beers and cocktails. On my last visit I chose to follow my glass of Ridgeview with a Languedoc Sauvignon Blanc, the high, refreshing acidity balancing well with our meal. You can order many of the wines by the Carafe. Unusually for an Indian restaurant, desserts are a real treat. Interesting and modern twists on traditional Indian sweets. Think chilli and vanilla sponge spiced with cardamom with saffron ice-cream (supplied by nearby excellent Boho Gelato) or heavenly spiced rice puddings.
Expect to pay about £35 a head for more food than you need and plenty of good wine. Good value.
The Curry Leaf Café also has outposts at the Temple Bar where they serve authentic Indian bar snacks and most recently a kiosk at Brighton Station serving the food you’d actually find at Indian train stations – an inspired move and a great alternative to the usual suspects. This is already proving popular.
Here at the Curry Leaf Cafe, the room is bright and cafe like – convivial and lively with warm and chatty staff. Service is efficient and relaxed. Despite two-hour time slots I’ve rarely left sooner than three hours, after all there’s a lot in the world to put right.
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