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Spice Of Life: Behind the scenes at Curry Leaf Cafe

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Curry Leaf Cafe co-founder Euan Sey on why his Indian chain is the hottest in town

I was a fussy eater as a kid

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Then I discovered Indian food. My parents took me out for curry whenever I deserved a treat and I never got tired of it. The flavours, the colours, the smells… My first true love.

Curry Leaf Cafe began with a Gumtree ad

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I was looking for a housemate, and this guy Kanthi – a chef! – came for a viewing. He cooked up a simple lentil daal that was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. We clicked immediately, and within six months his dream of opening a small cafe in Brighton became our full time job.

We’re not your run-of-the-mill curry house

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Indian restaurants in this country fall into two categories: your basic ‘Taj Mahal on the High Street’, and places that try to ape French fine-dining. Both are great, but far too hung up on faffy service and white linen tablecloths. We wanted to be more informal. Great food, amazing ingredients, modern decor, cool music. Nobody’s going to pour your wine for you here.

All three Curry Leaf locations offer something different

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Our kiosk at Brighton station serves the only Indian food on sale at any railway station in the UK. It’s unique, like its signature vindaloo bacon roll. Our residency at Temple Bar serves straightforward pub grub, which just happens to be Indian; wraps, sharing tandoor platters, finger food. The Café itself [on Ship St] focusses on South Indian cuisine. It’s authentic, but still tonnes of fun.

There’s more to Indian food than curry

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Forget anglicised, bastardised mongrel creations like Tikka Masala. Indian people eat breakfast too, you know. Dosas – stuffed Indian crepes – steamed idlii, open naan wraps. Our brunch is like nothing else available anywhere right now.

Booze matters

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Curry and beer are obvious bedfellows. So we expand on that. Every single craft beer we stock was selected to match the food. Remember, IPA was developed with India in mind. But even cocktails have more in common with the subcontinent than you might think. Rum was introduced by the Royal Navy and became a firm favourite. Gin and tonic – invented by the East India Company to ward off malaria – was chock full of local botanicals like coriander and cloves.

Not all cultural cross-pollination is British

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My favourite thing on the menu is our Goan Peri-Peri Chicken. The Portuguese colonised that part of India long before the British arrived. Their culinary tradition of chilli and vinegar, combined with local coriander and cumin, makes something truly special.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing

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When we took over the Ship Street premises – which had been trading as a restaurant for decades – we were shocked to discover no commercial gas supply. Or electricity. The toilets flooded throughout the summer because of the ancient plumbing, and to be honest the launch skirted way too close to disaster. At one point I was out on the streets, handing out poppadums to entice people in. It’s taken time, but we’re set fair now.

Cultural exchange is so important

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We have a young Czech guy called Roman working in the kitchen who helped us host a supper club in London recently. Kanthi combined his South Indian spices with Roman’s traditional goulash to create something utterly ravishing. In the wake of Brexit, that kind of collaboration is to be cherished. Brighton is perfect for this sort of thing. People here are smart, well-travelled and game for new experiences. Plus, they really love a drink.

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Indian summary

The stats behind Curry Leaf Cafe 

3 outlets

30 craft beers stocked

37 staff

250kg of rice cooked every month

300 years old: the cafe on Ship St

7,500 people per month served at station kiosk

15,000 served in total last month

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