Laura Cartledge takes on the enviable task of exploring Brighton’s fantastic food.
The story of Curry Leaf Café reads like a modern foodie fairytale, especially as it all started with an advert on Gumtree.
“He advertised for a flatmate,” recalls Kanthi Kiran Thamma. “I had looked at about 20 places and wasn’t happy with the kitchens – it is always the first thing I look at.”
Thankfully Euan Sey’s made the grade, and as a lifelong fan of Indian food the former food critic and journalist was more than happy to share his home with a chef.
“Plus neither of us like football,” he grins. “Which meant we weren’t going to be fighting over the remote.”
That first meeting was nearly three years ago and for more than half of that time the duo have been business partners.
“It was one of those things,” says Euan. “Kanthi was working at Jamie Oliver’s and he mentioned he wanted to open his own café.
“It just grew from there,” he insists, “by summer there were more serious discussions and then we started talking about what we were going to call it.”
While the original plan for ‘something smaller’, the direction and idea of it being a café was ‘there from day one’ – if not earlier.
“Kanthi knew months in advance, if not years, what dishes he wanted to do,” Euan reveals. “The food he creates could be in a fine dining restaurant, but we wanted it to be in a casual way.”
This extended to telling the staff there would be no hovering to fill glasses, no calling people ‘sir’, and instead they were to make sure diners never felt ‘rushed or fussed over’.
“You can come in and order a coffee and sit on your laptop, it is a café – genuinely,” says Euan.
“I think we have achieved what we wanted to,” enthuses Kanthi. “It is the food I grew up around, there was no fine dining. For me it has to be how it was at home.
“When I came to this county I realised how popular Indian food was, but when I went to a restaurant I was so disappointed.”
Euan echoed this desire to offer an alternative to the ‘identi-kit’ décor and menus that most Indian restaurants provide – a risk which seems to be paying off.
“We know from our reviews that people really like what we are doing, in Brighton you have to be different,” says Euan.
“It is a tough audience, people have been travelling a lot and expect a lot.”
As a result Kanthi acknowledges he was nervous, primarily because he was not ‘putting out something that people know’.
“The names on my menus are alien to most people and people do still come in and say ‘there’s no tikka’,” he reveals. “But I was confident in what I was doing.
“Sometimes it is more than what I thought it would be,” Kanthi says with pride, “not just in the business way but the recognition we get.”
However Kanthi’s ability in the kitchen was also the thing making Euan nervous.
“I knew he would knock it out of the park,” he explains. “So then it was just on my shoulders, as the marketing person, to get people in.”
He needn’t have worried however, as Euan found selling something he was so passionate about easy.
“You feel like you are letting someone in on a secret,” he admits.
While the South Indian flavours stay the same, each Curry Leaf offering is adapted to suit the location.
The main café is in Ship Street, somewhere Euan deems to be ‘much more of a night-time place’ so dinner is a focus, whereas at the second kitchen inside the relaunched Temple Bar on Western Road has given Kanthi a ‘place to experiment a little bit’.
“That is how the ‘Full Indian’ came into it,” he smiles. “I take smoky bacon and spice it up a bit, make savoury French toast – for me it is completely out of the box.”
Finger food, snacks and ‘pub grub’ designed for sharing are also served to make the most of the bar’s range of craft beers.
But if that is not enough this November also sees the pair really embrace the street food flavour as they are set to launch in Brighton Station.
You could argue it sounds like they are too busy to have the time to take stock, and while this is true, Kanthi has been able to chart their success in the reactions of others.
“Now, when I say I am the chef, the co-owner, at Curry Leaf seeing people’s faces is a big thing for me,” he says. “Whereas last year I would have to explain where it is and what we do.”
It sounds like the start of a tasty empire.
For the other interviews in this Brighton food feature click HERE
October 28, 2015 Food and Drink