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“Well this place is worth coming into bloody town for”: review of Permit Room

Permit Room by Dishoom in East Street, Brighton

Rumours have swirled around the opening of a Dishoom restaurant in Brighton for more years than I can remember, writes Nick Mosley.

For those of you not familiar with the brand, Dishoom is possibly the UK’s most successful Indian dining group of recent times and quite rightly so as anyone who’s witnessed the queues going around the block at their insanely popular London restaurants will have seen or experienced themselves.

Now – as always – Brighton is a special case. Firstly, there’s no doubt that Brighton already has some pretty impressive restaurants serving up the kitchens of the varied and exciting cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Secondly, the city-by-the-sea is a veritable magnet to hospitality multiples that perceive the dynamic dining and drinking culture of Brighton as an ideal match for their target customers.

Not all chains entering the Brighton marketplace get it right – most jumping long before they can walk which inevitably ends with casualties – but Dishoom has undoubtedly put the groundwork in. Dipping their toe into the market, the lucky folk of our city have for some time been able to order Dishoom at home via the Deliveroo ‘dark kitchen’ in Olive Road which no doubt demonstrated to the company the appetite of Brightonians for the product.

Hence, it is in Brighton that the Dishoom group have recently chosen to launch their new Permit Room concept that is same-same-but-different to their restaurant operations in the Big Smoke.

Clover Club – the signature cocktail of Dishoom

Pitched as a cocktail bar with food rather than a restaurant per se, the name derives from the late 1940s when specific states in India effectively had a prohibition on alcohol. Individuals were required to apply for a personal licence in order to drink alcohol in restaurants – allegedly for health purposes only – which probably sounded as bonkers to imbibers then as it does to us today. I guess you’d say the vibe they’re going for is an Indian twist on a US-style ‘speakeasy’.

Permit Room is cosily nestled in East Street between Brighton hospitality grand dames The Sussex pub and English’s seafood restaurant. The narrow facade belies the scale of the venue, which I reckon must accommodate around 150 diners.

Having now visited four times in the past month – for both food and cocktails – I can happily report that Permit Room is exceptional. Whilst you can walk in during the week, come the weekend you’ve not got a hope in hell of getting a table if you don’t reserve in advance. And for good reason, everything about Permit Room is extraordinary.

I dined in a packed restaurant on a late Saturday afternoon with my family. From the welcome and service through to the food and drink itself, the experience was faultless which – from my humble experience of dining and drinking in the city – is the exception rather than the rule.

I’ll start with the cocktails, the majority of which are pre-batched. Now I wouldn’t usually sing the praises of cocktails that are made off-site but every single drink was perfection. The house cocktail is their Clover Club – a magnificent confection of gin, red fruit and tart lemon topped with heavenly cardamom and coconut infused cream.

The Golden Gloaming Fizzer – whiskey with mandarin cordial and orange bitters soda – is a masterclass in cocktail making, as was the Thums Up Sazerac – a pokey old-school short drink of rye whiskey, cognac and absinthe sweetened with a reduction of Thums Up Indian cola.

Tandoori chicken at Permit Room in East Street, Brighton

And so to the food… whilst nowhere near the extensive menu of a full-on Dishoom restaurant you won’t be disappointed with the menu of snacks, starters, curries and sides.

The fried spinach and kale with tamarind, pomegranate and yoghurt was a heavenly bowl of crispy deliciousness; the mushroom and onion bhajias as light as a feather and packed with spice.

Thankfully, the black daal is included on the menu. Having bought the Dishoom cook book during lockdown, we regular make this at home by the kilo and freeze it down. Having shovelled down a bowl at Permit Room, we clearly still have work to perfect it chez Mosley.

The pièce de résistance was undoubtably the tandoori chicken which melted like butter in the mouth and was seasoned to perfection. At £12 for a half bird, it was also amazing value. This was easily the tastiest thing I’ve popped in my mouth in 2023.

For dessert, we enjoyed the ice cream sandwiches – mango and vanilla alongside the chocolate and butterscotch – both superb and that’s before I knew they were made by ice cream supremo Seb Cole at Boho Gelato in Pool Valley.

The menu has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, and whilst the website menu allergen filters seem to point that many dishes aren’t dairy or gluten free due to the possibilities of cross-contamination in the kitchen there is plenty of choice if you flag concerns to your server.

Cocktails aside, you can easily eat at Permit Room for around £20-25 a head; for this quality of food this is possibly the best value dining currently available in the city.

Permit Room is a game-changing addition to Brighton’s restaurant scene. I can’t put it into words any better than my somewhat forthright Yorkshire-born dad: “well this place is worth coming into bloody town for”.

Nick Mosley

Permit Room, 32 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HL


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