Spicing up cold nights - Indian restaurants

Starry-eyed from meeting Gordon Ramsay in The F Word final and tasting the winning dish, Lulu Larkin searches for the best Indian restaurants in Sussex. No curry in a hurry for her.

Ashoka Restaurant and Kalima Bar 28 Cornfield Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4QH tel: 01323 733344  

WE’VE had the Golden Globes, the Orange Baftas and even the Raspberry ‘Razzies’  for worst performances, but the Hollywood Oscars always take star billing in the cinematic galaxy as actors and actresses jostle for the opportunity to wave that little guy in the air.

I love all the glitz and glamour of the blockbuster babes shimmying down the red carpet of the Kodak Theatre in their designer frocks and the men looking dashingly handsome in their tuxedos – and I’m sure Dame Helen, Carey, Colin, Nick and Armando will do Britain proud on March 7. The acceptance speeches always bring a lump to my throat as the stars pay tribute to everyone behind the scenes whose constant support and encouragement made it all possible. It’s the same with reviews: people imagine that I swan around Sussex dining at the best restaurants and quaffing champagne, but it’s not as simple as that.

So I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who’s helped me in the production and development of this column. I’m overwhelmingly grateful to my husband Daniel, Gordon Ramsay, Ankit from BT, the staff of Eastbourne District & General Hospital and my dining companions  Sarah, Jo and Simon for their invaluable help. And last but not least, the wonderful Ronnie Pal. Mwah! Mwah!

But what do all these people have in common? Quite simply a love of good, sophisticated Indian food. Forget the cheap curry houses with their swirly carpets and plastic pot plants, somewhere you went for a tikka masala and a lager after the pubs closed. Dining out in Indian restaurants has become far more sophisticated and our palates more discerning. Chefs are returning to their roots, to the street stalls of Mumbai, Delhi and Goa in search of authentic recipes to satisfy our increased appetite for the best of Indian cuisine.

I recently had a computer fault and spent a very happy hour under my desk chatting to Ankit at a BT call centre in India. Once he’d established that I had a dodgy dongle, the conversation turned to food. He spoke with great enthusiasm about his favourite restaurants and ‘junk’ places, his mum’s cooking, a growing trend for vegetarian food and how the best food always used fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. He was utterly charming. But as I got up to put the phone back, I banged my head and was taken to hospital. There I was treated by a wonderful Indian doctor who, you’ve guessed it, was passionate about Indian food. He wanted to know all about my meeting Gordon Ramsay at The F Word final and the winning Indian dish of delicately spiced and tender Dexter fillet beef with dhal puree. I’d never tasted Indian food quite so delicious.

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A hard act to follow, so where would my doctor recommend in Eastbourne for a similar gastronomic experience? Coincidentally, publishing pal Simon and his wife Jodanna came up with the same place: Ashoka. A quick call to journalist friend Sarah and we booked a table for the following evening. We met up for a Cobra in Kalima, the convivial bar next door, where  Simon introduced us to the owner, Ronnie Pal. Exuding charm and Bollywood good looks, he told us how he had taken over the business from his father after 20 years and looked forward to taking Indian food to new and exciting places. Well, there was only one way to find out.

Ashoka is warm and welcoming with lots of twinkly lights, mirrors and tasteful paintings on the wall and not a fanned pink napkin in sight. Once we were seated in our comfortable booth, Ronnie came back to take our order but we were so keen to try as many different dishes as possible, we decided to leave it to him.

He recommended a Gevry Chambertin (a reasonable �30.95), a superb choice to accompany spicy food, and brought a basket of popadoms for us to peck at. Well, wolf down actually – they were very moreish. Sarah is vegetarian and in her experience, Indian food is either a disappointment or a dream. But after her first nibble of her sweet onion bhagees and spinach cheese samosa, she was transported heavenwards. The rest of us shared a tandoori mixed platter, Mysore spicy prawns and charcoal-grilled chicken tikka. All subtly-flavoured, exquisitely presented and very delicious.

Our tastebuds were tantalised further when the mains arrived: Hyderabadi lamb with coconut, Bangalore duck, a vegetable dansak and king prawn la-jawab. All was so delicious that Sarah had to fend off the carnivores as  we greedily took turns in trying ‘just a little spoonful’ to go with our scrumptious pashwari naan. Indian ice creams and Tia Maria coffees completed  what had been a superb meal and Ronnie certainly delivered the exciting take on traditional Indian cuisine he had promised. Ankit would love it.

3 otherStars of India     

Chilcha 154 Montague Street, Worthing, West Sussex BN11 3HH tel: 01903 200150  www.chilcha.com With its chic d�cor and delectable menu, Chilcha is pure Bollywood by the sea.  Owner/manager Mohammed Wahid insists on the highest quality, freshest ingredients and employs experienced chefs from Mumbai, Delhi, Nepal and Goa. Chilcha was voted best restaurant by the Worthing Herald in 2009. The video of Mohammed’s speech is worth seeing. But next time, darling, a little smile for the camera – you’re a star!

India Gate Mill Gate Road, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9AH tel: 01903 884224. Also: 14 St Pancras, Chichester PO19 7SJ tel: 01243 787748 www.india-gate.co.ukOwner Michael Nol prides himself on excellent service, a friendly welcome and superb food at both India Gates.   Nibble on one of their house specialities: a huge golden, fluffy cloud of naan bread freshly cooked to order. As well as satisfying the pyromaniac with a huge variety of sizzling dishes, shashliks and mixed grills, there is much for the vegetarian. And maybe finish off with a refreshing healthy home-made Kulfi ice cream?

Basmati 49 Devonshire Road, Bexhill, East Sussex TN40 1BD tel: 01424 216956 www.basmati-cuisine.co.uk This is a jewel of an Indian restaurant and one of the best-kept secrets in the county. Not only is the food of the highest possible standard – chicken dhakeshwari (with mango and clotted cream), slowly-cooked spiced lamb shanks and tandoori favourites cooked to perfection but you could have knocked me down with a popadom when I saw the prices: set lunch: �6.95, Sunday buffet �7.95 and a banquet on Tuesdays for �10.95.

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