Indian Street Food Brighton – Our Top 5 Restaurants
Increasingly, ‘authentic’ is the buzzword of Brighton’s Indian restaurant scene. We want colour. We want fresh-ground spice. We want unfamiliar menu items that need to be translated for us. We don’t want chicken tikka bloody bhuna. Catering for a public hungry for real Indian food, street food-inspired joints are distinct from typical British curry houses. Specialising in regional cuisine, many of them are vegetarian or at least offer a sizeable selection of vegetarian options, a nod to the fact that across the subcontinent an estimated 20–40% of the population eat a wholly meat-free diet. They tend to be good value, relaxed and, of course, authentic. Here’s our selection of the best Indian street food Brighton has to offer. (Still peckish? Check out our guides to Brighton’s Best Pizza, or Mexican Eateries)
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (the most ridiculous complaint I’ve heard levied against it is the fact that you can eat everything with a spoon!) but those who love Planet India do so with cultish fanaticism. Ever wept when you’ve phoned up to book and been greeted by an answerphone message telling you that the family are on holiday for a month? You’re in good company.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what inspires such devotion, but from the fading, 1980s family photographs on the walls, to the helpful tasting notes on the menu – ‘My wife’s current favourite’, ‘It zips, zwangs and twangs all around the mouth’ – everything about this place is just so very charming. The menu is entirely vegetarian with plenty of vegan friendly options. Most aficionados pride themselves on knowing the selection off by heart and everyone’s got at least one dish they can’t resist ordering every time (pea and paneer for me). For the lentil lovers there are even two types of dal.
Planet India has street food snacks nailed with its starter menu featuring, amongst others, ketchoris (little balls of magic stuffed with spiced coconut and peas), pani puri (crisp shells that you fill with chickpea mash, top with flavourings and pop whole into your mouth), and the celebrated dahi bhel puri (a zingy salad prepared with fresh tomato and onion, crispy noodles, tamarind sauce, and heaps of fresh coriander). Transporting you straight to the streets of Mumbai, this is food for the travelling soul.
The beer list offers a selection of citrusy, hoppy craft beers from Scottish brewery William Bros., with names so twee they’re fun to order, possibly not quite so hilarious for the staff though – “We’ll all have ‘Good Times’ please” (groan).
We love you Planet India… just please don’t go on holiday for a while.
4-5 Richmond Parade, Brighton, BN2 9PH
To say that Tun Tuns is low key doesn’t really adequately explain just how modest it is. The place is so low key it makes Planet India look like a multinational conglomerate. Situated beneath a green and white sign on Lewes Road, you might mistake it at first glance for an unassuming sandwich bar or yet another greasy spoon. Inside there’s a café counter, a few tables and chairs, and… a hand-drawn sign indicating a spice shop out back. Because far from being your average lunch spot, Tun Tuns is a Bangladeshi café serving honest home cooking at ridiculously reasonable prices.
The no frills setting really does belie the quality of the food, which is clearly prepared with a lot of care to traditional recipes. The menu is almost entirely vegetarian with the inclusion of a chicken and a fish curry – fish being a staple of Bangladeshi cuisine. It offers a selection of vegetable curries, mixed dal and fried street food snacks, but the café’s unique selling point is its brunch menu of chilli-spiked omelettes, dosas served with fresh sambar and coconut chutney, and something called ‘The muscle builder’, a service that means the place must have seen its fair share of bleary-eyed students recovering on a Sunday lunchtime.
Tun Tuns doesn’t have an alcohol license (try a cup of freshly brewed chai or a sweet mango lassi instead) and they’re only open until 8pm most nights. Stick around though and it’s not entirely unheard of for the family to pile a little extra on your plate as they’re closing. They also run cookery classes on Sundays.
150 Lewes Road, Brighton, BN2 3LG
It’s only been open for a few months, but already Curry Leaf Cafe has proven itself a welcome addition to the Brighton food scene. By day they offer thalis, naan bread wraps and street food snacks, and from 3–6pm they’re open for afternoon tea, serving cups of amber coloured Darjeeling and iced cupcakes. Don’t be fooled by the ‘cafe’ moniker and the laid-back decor though, in the evening Curry Leaf cooks up restaurant quality meals to rival many of the city’s more refined establishments.
The menu is comprised of south Indian specialities, which are beautifully presented on wooden trays and beaten silver dishes. Each dish reflects the typical ingredients and cooking styles of the region that inspired it, for example, south Indian spiced mussels (if only they came with bread to soak up that aromatic coconut and curry leaf broth!); Pondicherry pork with Dijon mustard, inspired by the former French colony; and a slow-cooked lamb curry in a thick gravy that is heady with the scent of fresh-ground cinnamon and cloves. Each dish is paired with accompaniments that really complement it – maybe a crisp black sesame seed naan or a tiny dish of comfortingly smooth Mysore dal. There are also more international craft beers on offer here than there are dishes on the entire menu.
60 Ship Street, Brighton, BN1 1AE
Chaula started off selling her own Gujarati home cooking at curry nights in the newsagent she and her husband ran in Lewes, before expanding to sell fresh and frozen foods in shops around the Brighton area. Over 20 years on and the empire continues to grow; as well as a well-established restaurant in Lewes, there’s also now a newer Lanes venue situated in a large building opposite Brighton Town Hall.
Chaula’s is beautifully decorated with dark wood and an evocative wall-length mural. It probably feels, on first encounter, the closest of those on our list to a ‘normal’ British curry restaurant, and there are some familiar curry house classics here for those who prefer to stick with what they know. Thankfully, they’re relegated to the back of the signature dishes menu, which is a feast of unusual names and ingredients exotic enough to impress any curry connoisseur. Darbari chicken, for example, is cooked in a rich, highly spiced sauce made from blended cashew nuts. Another signature favourite is the traditional Gujarati dish of stuffed baby aubergines: meltingly soft, glistening aubergines with peanuts and sweet jaggery, this is exactly the sort of food that Chaula’s does best.
Vegetarians receive equal if not more attention than meat eaters, with over half of the menu given over to vegetarian specialities, along with vegan, wheat and nut free options. The veggie starter platter offers a taste of fried street food classics, some you’ll recognise – the onion bhajis are surely some of the crispiest and lightest this side of Ahmedabad – and some you probably won’t – try the patra, or edible ‘elephant’s ears’ leaves.
2-3 Little East Street, Brighton, BN1 1HT
There was a time when The Chilli Pickle was much applauded as one of the only establishments in Brighton serving genuinely exciting Indian food. Since then, as this list testifies, competition has grown, but The Chilli Pickle remains one of Brighton’s gastronomic jewels, consistently voted as one of the top 100 restaurants in the UK. From humble beginnings in Meeting House Lane the restaurant has grown to fill bright, expansive premises at my hotel on Jubilee Street, where delicious wafts of aroma escaping from the kitchen taunt those fresh from exercising at the Prince Regent swimming pool. The interior is a happy mixture of fine dining chic blended with equal parts Brighton kitsch and Indian, er, kitsch (a colourful painted cow welcomes diners).
A regularly changing selection of pan-Indian cuisine takes influences from different regions and pulls them into a menu showcasing a range of different flavours and styles. As if the surroundings weren’t bright enough, the food is somehow even more vibrant. Salads arrive loaded with freshly chopped pineapple and mango; chicken is spread with green pastes made from fresh herbs; and rainbow sambals pop in silver dishes.
The Chilli Pickle will wow anyone who longs for exotic food. Because when you’re served up a whole Sri Lankan marinated sea bream on a banana leaf it’s hard not to imagine yourself on a beach surrounded by coconut palms. And that’s probably what the quest for ‘authentic’ food is really all about: finding a gateway to another world, without ever leaving the dining table.
17 Jubilee St, Brighton BN1 1GE