Indian cuisine at its best is all about big, generous flavours which comfort the soul and warm the heart. But is it possible to retain those key qualities without leaning on the old standards of ghee and curry powder, and at the same time to introduce a certain lightness and delicacy to the plate? Minesh Agnihotri and Byron Swales believe so, and with their Brighton restaurant Indian Summer they have been on a mission to prove it since 2001.
Having recently moved to larger premises, Indian Summer is perfectly positioned in the Brighton Lanes just a pebble’s throw from the seafront. Upon entering you are immediately struck by a modernity and simplicity to the surroundings, feeling more like a modern European restaurant than a curry house, the setting is all clean lines, spaciousness and wooden flooring. The lights and background music are subdued and the waiting staff who greet you are friendly and attentive.
In the evenings they offer a set menu at either 2 courses for £26.95 or the 3 course option for £31.95 which my dining partner and I opted for. The menu itself showcases cuisine from all corners of the sub-continent, with southern dishes such as Hyderabad Murgh and Pork Ulathiyathu, dishes from Goa and the west such as Malvani Mutton and Prawn Masaledar, and a range of Thali dishes from the north.
The wine list is extensive and offers a good variety of wines both by the bottle and by the glass. There is also a broad selection of bottled lagers and local Sussex ales, and one of the largest selections of gins I have seen outside of a cocktail bar. We were recommended a bottle of Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc, which with its light notes of fresh herbs and bright citrus flavours turned out to be the ideal accompaniment to a meal of rich tastes and spice.
After an appetiser of a warming homemade tomato and chickpea soup served in an espresso cup, the palate was well and truly revved up and we moved onto the starters. I opted for Bhel Puri, a Mumbai street food dish which I have never seen on a menu before, and my dining partner chose the Sesame Scallops. The Bhel Puri consisted of a lavish mix of puffed rice and gram flour sticks topped with a pomegranate and tamarind-infused yoghurt chutney. Though a little on the filling-side, this had just the right blend of spicy heat and light freshness to get me on my way for the rest of the meal.
My Sicilian dining partner knows her seafood and generally prefers it served very simply, however I was pleasantly surprised to hear many murmurings of approval coming from her side of the table over the scallops. They were sweet and tender, yet flavoursome enough to withstand the sesame and fennel seed marinade and the rich red pepper sauce they were accompanied with.
After a small ramekin each of lemon sorbet to freshen the taste buds we were onto the mains. Keen to try the meats from both the grill and the tandoor I chose the option of the Tandoori Platter, which consisted of a selection of several different types of chicken and lamb. The two highlights of this for me were the lamb kebab which was imbued with zingy coriander and just melted in the mouth, and the smoky and crispy chicken tangdi.
My dining partner chose the Tandoori Black Bream for her main, which was marinated in roasted spices and came with an aloo, sesame raita and a fennel, pomegranate and tomato salad. The bream came whole and the meat was as delicate as anything, but again it held its own and was not overpowered by either the marinade or by the accompanying ingredients. It was a delightful dish which demonstrated a real subtly of approach in cooking execution and in spicing.
We rounded off the meal with a Mango Brulee with caraway seed shortbread for my partner, and a Coffee and Baileys Sorbet for me. The brulee was packed with mango sweetness and unctuous cream, but without being heavy or cloying, and it finished off the meal like a dream. My sorbet had something of the quality of a frozen Irish coffee about it, and in fact worked so well as a conclusion to a meal that I’m surprised it’s not something I’ve ever come across before.
Minesh and Byron really have got it spot on with Indian Summer, and they go on proving that there is no doubt that in the right hands Indian cuisine truly can be delicious and comforting, and at the same time delicate and subtle. I shall certainly be visiting again.
Indian Summer, 70 East St, Brighton BN1 1HQ. Tel: 01273 711001. Website.