Walking down Richmond Parade in central Brighton, you’d be forgiven for taking one look and walking straight past the row of restaurants on the north side of the street. Afront a block of affordable housing stands a garish, bright pink façade, with “Planet India” adorned above the door in a font reminiscent of something you made in ICT at Junior school.
You might be surprised to hear that this ostentatious eatery is the talk of the town, and gets booked back-to-back most weekends. This is quite some feat in a multicultural town of foodies where excellent Indian fare can be found on almost every corner.
I’d been told the food was cheap, delicious and authentic and, being half Indian and a self-confessed curry addict, I felt the need to see for myself. After being turned away twice on impromptu visits, I decided to actually book in advance for a Friday night treat – it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
My favourite Indian restaurant in Brighton is Chaula’s (pronounced “show-lers”) on Little East Street. I ate there on my first night in Brighton and loved how the Hyderabadi Chicken was just like the curry my Grandma cooks for special occasions. So I was hoping to have a similarly authentic experience at Planet India (pronounced “pla-net in-dee-ah”).
The authenticity struck as soon as I walked through the door – mainly due to the comfortingly familiar smell of braised onions and turmeric – but also because, bar the multicoloured ceiling drapes, the restaurant looked like my Grandma’s front room, complete with amazing 80s floral carpet and family photos saturating every wall. (Although, Granny Chowdrey probs wouldn’t have taken to the figure of Bob Marley smoking a big fat spliff, which seemed oddly out of place.)
What she definitely would have loved, however, was the restaurant’s strictly vegetarian menu. As of 2007, India had the lowest meat consumption in the world – the meat feast menus of most curry houses are tailored for all you carnivorous caucasians. I was pleased to see a whole host of dishes I’d actually had in India, including Bhelpuri, which can be found sold from street carts on almost every beach in Mumbai.
The service was brisk, but friendly. I felt a little rushed, but my friends didn’t seem to notice. Drinks were taken about five minutes after we sat down, and the waiter was back five minutes after, ready to take our food order. The drinks list was pretty well-stocked, with my friend Jonny trying the interestingly-named “Seven Giraffes” – cheekily billed on the menu as a “Dolby surround sound of flavours”. The water came in an old juice bottle, which gave me a small sustainabilitygasm.
The cheekiness is part of what makes Planet India so endearing. From the restaurant’s tagline – “Authentic, home made Indian food, made by authentic, home made Indians” – to the options for rice, which are “Cumin rice, cumin rice, or cumin rice.” The owners clearly don’t take themselves too seriously and this adds to the relaxed, family atmosphere.
There was only ever going to be one option for my main meal – my gold standard for judging Indian cuisine – Saag Paneer. I order this almost every time and I’ve been served some absolute shockers in the past: from overcooked spinach in a watery, tasteless sauce, to the cardinal sin of curries: using melty, English cheese, rather than real paneer (I’m looking at you, Mumbai Express).
For those who don’t know, paneer is a type of curd cheese like halloumi, and should NEVER melt. Ever. Seriously, every time you eat a paneer curry that has cheddar in it, a beautiful, endangered Bengal tiger dies. It’s an automatic blacklist for me.
Thankfully, the paneer at Planet India was superb, flawlessly fried and clearly home made. The curry itself was probably too spinachy for some, but I was more than happy with it (Bhindis takeaway still holds the title for the best, though). The spices were very earthy and the spice level medium to hot. I was glad to have ordered half an aubergine yoghurt curry to go with it, which was a nice mild break, but a bit watery. The cumin rice was possibly the most perfectly cooked I’ve ever had, although could have done with a stronger flavour.
Don’t come to Planet India expecting any fancy flavours like you get in Chili Pickle, or Indian Summer. The prices are extremely affordable (~£3 for a starter and £6 for a main) and although the food is tasty, it’s the sort of stuff I’ve had cooked by distant Indian aunties up and down the country (well, between here and Leicester).
That’s the whole point, though. Brightonians will understand when I say it’s the “Pompoko of curry”. And for those of you unfortunate enough to live elsewhere, suffice it to say that if you want a cheap, authentic, Indian meal, Planet India is your best bet for miles around.
Conclusion: For me, I’m not sure it lived up to the hype, but I expect others will find it to be a much more novel experience. Nevertheless, I had a great time and definitely got my money’s worth.