If there’s one thing that I’m absolutely certain of, it’s that Brighton and Hove isn’t short of Indian restaurants. Having been anglicised with waves of immigrants in the 20th century, little of what we now enjoy as ‘Indian’ cuisine is even a close relation to the actual myriad of cuisines from this huge subcontinent. Whether your preference is what we Brits think of as a traditional ‘Ruby Murray’ or a more contemporary twist on the Indian kitchen, if you like a kick of spice then there really is something for everyone in the city.
Whilst I’m not averse to a gravy based curry – incidentally the now generic term derives from the Tamil word for ‘sauce’ – over the past 15 years or so it’s somewhat more fresh and modern Indian food that I look for when I’m dining. Chef and restaurateur partners Alun and Dawn Sperring introduced this then revolutionary style to the city with The Chilli Pickle, and it’s there that Cardamom Café’s chef Sabu Joseph first worked in the UK.
Heralding from Kerala in southern India, Sabu has had an accomplished cooking career in both Brighton and London. Last year, he took the leap in setting up on his own business and now runs the kitchen franchise at Easy Tiger aka The Hampton pub in Upper North Street.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Hampton, it’s a genuinely bustling local boozer with a great range of craft beers on tap and a friendly young bar team. It feels distinctly laid back and cosy but without compromise on quality or service. I popped by early on a Saturday evening in December and the venue was already busy, so I would definitely say you should book if you’ve got your heart set on eating.
The menu offers around 15 dishes plus a handful of sides. There’s no starters and mains; these are all street-food style so perfect for sharing. I’d think you’d want maybe one-and-a-half to two dishes per person, unless you’re feeling particularly hungry. With prices at a very pocket-friendly £7-14, you’d be hard pressed to get a run-of-the-mill pizza or burger for less. And you most certainly wouldn’t have the authentic yet inspiring creative cooking that chef Sabu serves up by the ladel-full. Vegans and those with gluten intolerances are very well catered for too, which I think now is pretty much a requisite for any restaurant so great to see clearly marked on the menu.
Although I could’ve happily eaten anything off the menu, being a man of the people, I asked Sabu what his most popular dishes were. The first snack was Kerala Fried Chicken – succulent chunks of juicy chicken thigh with spices, garlic, ginger and rice flour with a dressing of pickled onion. Having eaten this dish numerous times before, I knew what to expect and I wasn’t let down.
A trio of curries with fluffy basmati rice followed, all with genuinely unique flavour profiles and not a mention of chicken tikka to be seen. The paneer cheese dish was baked in a blend of masala spices boosted by mustard seeds, chilli and asafoetida – a garlic-like paste made from the fennel family – served over a rich and creamy yoghurt sauce. Beautifully soft and not a squeak to be heard, I absolutely adore paneer when it’s done well so it was hard to find any fault.
The combination of king prawn and coconut milk is a match made in heaven, given an extra kick with ginger, fresh curry leaves and more mustard seeds. There’s no scrimping on the prawns here either, so – depending on the manners of your dining partner – you won’t have either a fork battle nor the awkward ‘you have it’–‘no you have it’ conversation.
The Murgh Rogan Josh is a true crowd pleaser. Chicken thigh in a sauce of tomato, yoghurt and luxurious ghee with a spicy punch from cinnamon and black cardamom. Rich and flavoursome, this is curry how it should be.
Chef Sabu has absolutely no fear of experimentation and bold flavours, taking the very best of food culture from Kollam in the tropical far south through to Kasmir in the mountainous northern uplands. Every well-priced dish is a feast for the senses and I defy anyone to leave without a new appreciation for Indian cuisine: it’s done right and with true skill and passion. To summarise: Easy Tiger, it’s grrrrrreat!
Easy Tiger @ The Hampton, 57 Upper North Street, Brighton BN1 3FH
01273 731 347 • www.easytigerbrighton.com