Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Brighton favourite Chilli Pickle is a spacious, modern, knowingly kitsch Indian restaurant offering imaginative spins on classic regional dishes.
Chef and co-owner Alun Sperring runs the kitchen – he’s gathered together a team of chefs from several regions in India, and his extensive travels in the country are reflected in the diversity of Chilli Pickle’s menu, with varied dishes from the likes of Pondicherry, Delhi, Kashmir, Hyderabad and the Punjab featuring.
What’s the vibe like?
Chilli Pickle has a cool, if heavily branded, canteen vibe – the décor is bursting with vivid Bollywood colours and furnishings are cool shabby chic, with café-style wooden tables and chairs, and metal jugs and tumblers for water. Star-shaped paper lanterns adorn the ceiling and smartly designed bottled condiments (chutneys, sauces and pickles) are neatly lined up on roughly hewn wooden shelves. The service is attentive and friendly, with staff taking the time to offer recommendations and describe dishes as they set them before you.
How does the menu work?
The menu’s pretty comprehensive, ranging from set menus of two (£24.95) or three (£28.95) courses, to à la carte options of nibbles, starters, mains (including curries, biryani, tandoori grills and kebabs), sides, bread and rice, and desserts. There’s a good selection of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu too, the latter including palappam and celeriac soybean kolombu (soft rice pancake with tomato rasam, celeriac and edamame coconut stew, chutney and pickle) and idli sambhar pumpkin (steamed rice and curry leaf dumplings with sambhar vegetable curry, masala crushed pumpkin, coconut chutney and pickle).
Which dishes should we order at Chilli Pickle?
The obligatory poppadums (a mix of roasted and fried) come with four condiments, including a tangy sweet chilli ketchup and a peppery yet sharp lime pickle. Starter-wise, the pretty, down-in-one dahi puri stand out, their crispy shells encasing a creamy spiced yogurt filling with whole chickpeas and a subtle, escalating background heat. Also good is the jhol momo, thick Nepalese steamed chicken dumplings, to be dipped in a chilled tomato and timmur chutney, each bite releasing a satisfying slow-building heat at the roof of the mouth.
For the main course we loved Chilli Pickle’s take on the classic Goan fish curry – the meltingly tender sea bass fillets were nestled in a beautifully sweet tomato, coconut and curry leaf gravy. The light, puffy peshwari naan we ordered alongside it was lent its subtle sweetness by a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a drizzle of honey.
Which dishes should we miss?
Our other main, a sigri (stove) charcoal roasted lamb shank, was not quite as melt-in-the-mouth as we’d hoped and its smoked aubergine marinade didn’t penetrate far into the meat, but nonetheless worked well enough with the accompanying spicy ‘mint sauce’, black lentil dal and mint butter naan.
What’s dessert like?
Given the generous main courses it makes sense that the dessert offering is limited and light. We opted for the homemade Indian sweets and truffles – six enjoyable one-bite morsels, including a squidgy peanut jaggery toffee and a luscious, syrupy maple gulab jamun.
What are the drinks like at Chilli Pickle?
The cocktail menu includes drinks with an Indian twist, such as the Star of India (house-spiced Gosling rum with vanilla and cinnamon syrup, and lime) and chilli and mango margarita (Hornitos tequila with mango purée, chilli and lime). We opted for two non-alcoholic coolers: the Persian lemonade, with fresh lemon, rose essence, mint and cucumber ribbons, was a refreshing counterbalance to the spiced dishes, the fragrant rose coming through with each sip; and the pomegranate and ginger fizz was a gratifying combo of tart fruit and the subtle heat of root. Be sure to finish with a theatrically twice-poured-at-the-table Kerala coffee, an eye-opening cross between a chai tea and a flat white, laced with that evocative infusion of cardamom.
What else should we know?
Anything you don’t eat can be taken away in doggy bags, and should you be tempted next time by a Friday-night takeaway it’s worth bearing in mind that Chilli Pickle’s Canteen has won Best Takeaway in Britain at the British Curry Awards for the past four years running.