The majority of my friends and family will know that I grew up an incredibly fussy eater. The chicken nuggets kind of kid, that was me. But as I entered my mid-teens, I realised how much I was missing out. I was quite lucky then, when my first real taste of Indian food, was in actual India. At 16, I visited Goa for one of the most defining trips of my lifetime so far, and fell head over heels with the food.
Coming home from this, you have to accept that you won’t often come across Indian food quite like it in the UK, but then I moved to Brighton.
Curry Leaf Cafe
Curry Leaf Cafe had always been one of those restaurants that I’d heard plenty of people exclaiming about, yet still never tried for myself. A few months ago, after they’d bagged number thirteen in Brighton’s Best Restaurant awards, I decided that enough was enough and booked a table.
If you don’t know the story, the partnership that founded Curry Leaf began when journalist Euan put out an ad for a flatmate, which was answered by chef Kanthi. Today, they have two restaurant locations under their belt, plus a kiosk within Brighton station.
Open for lunch, dinner and now with a special Sunday brunch and dinner menu, Curry Leaf Cafe has a vibrant yet laid back atmosphere for any kind of dining. Decked out with fresh greens, oranges and yellows, it gets you thinking about your food before you’ve even seen a menu.
For drinks the menu is very well curated, with a vast beer menu, wines by the glass and a small selection of spiced cocktails, all selected for citrusy or spicy notes that pair perfectly with the food. I went for my go to Punk IPA after a small panic of indecisiveness.
The food menu is kept small, but don’t think that makes it any easier to decide! With a mixture of street food snacks, veggie, vegan and gluten free dishes, there is something for everyone here, and I found myself feeling the dreaded FOMO. In the end, we started with mini poppadums, lamb boti and chicken drums of heaven; I chose the Mutter Paneer curry for my main with naan and Brandon went for the Malabar lamb stew with Goan red rice. Curry Leaf’s menu recommends the accompaniment for your main so we weren’t going to argue with that.
The poppadums arrived first, which we quickly munched through after being surprised at how flavoursome they were. Accompanied with assorted homemade chutneys and dips, they were a welcome snack whilst we waited.
Next, the chicken drums and lamb boti, both of which blew us away. Not usually the biggest chicken fan, I absolutely loved the drums, which were sticky, sweet and spicy all in one with succulent meat on the bone. We had to be careful to make sure we split the lamb boti 50/50 as we were both obsessed. Incredibly tender, packed full of flavour and accompanied by a chilli and apricot chutney, I could have eaten these and these alone, all night long.
The Mutter Paneer, chunks of paneer cheese in a curry of garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and green peas, was delicious albeit slightly too mild for my liking. With the mellow taste and texture of paneer, I could have done with a touch more heat. Brandon’s Malabar lamb stew, on the other hand, was to die for – it’s safe to say I had major food envy. The rich, tender chunks of lamb melted in the mouth, accompanied by the creamy stew of coconut, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, green chillies and onions. This one definitely packed more of a punch in heat, and I wouldn’t hesitate to order this next time.
There is no question as to why Curry Leaf Cafe is one of Brighton’s best loved restaurants. Similar to other renowned eateries in the city (I’m looking at you, Fatto), the food here is proof that good quality, authentic food needn’t cost you the earth.
It’s clear that a lot of dedication is put into creating the menu, with the thoughtful pairings of both sides and drinks to create a truly memorable food experience. Combined with vivid interiors and buzzing atmosphere, Curry Leaf Cafe succeed in recreating the feelings I experienced eating dinner outside on gorgeous Goan evenings.
Have you been to Curry Leaf Cafe before? I’d love to know your thoughts, or any recommendations for great Indian food in Brighton.