I don’t really do vegetarian food, I like meat and am loathe to eat a meal without any. I am aware that this is quite an outdated and reckless viewpoint in terms of sustainability and personal health. I know that many people will disagree with me, some quite strongly, and that’s fine by me. We are all different and this is what makes us human, it is our differences that create a more interesting and vibrant society.
Planet India has always been one of those Brighton restaurants that I heard lots of good things about but had never been to – for reasons already stated. When I read that they had opened a new restaurant in Hove I felt that it was time to give them a try. We should all do things that we wouldn’t normally do every now and then, it’s good to challenge our preconceptions even if it only serves to reinforce them.
The new restaurant has taken up residence in a rather grand looking building on Third Avenue. I am told that it used to be an Italian restaurant called Leone’s that was linked to a hotel – it is not one that I was previously aware of. As I enter I am greeted by the owner Nilesh who immediately strikes me as a very friendly and personable man.
I take in my surroundings which I find to be charming in a very strange way. They have not refurbished the old restaurant rather appropriated it. The result is a mix of styles that are very divergent in their nature. Grandiose marble columns and a fancy wooden bar from its past life are mixed with fun animal print seating, reggae music, and family pictures from India. It shouldn’t work but sort of does in that it sets the tone for what is to come.
As I glance over the menu this feeling of familiarity and openness continues. It is written in a way that gives the impression of a friend telling you about the dishes. Little personal touches and playful language bring a smile to my face as I look over it. Nilesh offers to bring me out a sample of dishes from the starters and mains so that I can get a feel for what Planet India is about.
My mixed platter of starters includes some familiar and not so familiar dishes. The onion bhaji is one of the best I’ve had. No hint of grease and the sweet crisp onion is supplemented with aromatic fennel and Nigella seeds. The samosa is dense and packed with potato, and so I only have a cursory bite or two.
It is in the less familiar dishes that my taste buds are really treated. Khaman Dhokla is an impressively light and spongy non wheat cake that surpasses all expectations. Pani Puri are an explosion of freshness and heat that you build yourself before popping into your mouth whole. The signature starter is a chick pea and puffed rice salad called Dhai Bhel Puri. It is a complex dish of texture, heat, cooling yoghurt, sweet tamarind and zesty citrus that is an instant hit with me.
As I reflect on the starters I realise I am entering uncharted territory. I am eating vegetarian food and actually enjoying it. I sip an ale called Seven Giraffes that is Nilesh’s favourite and ponder over whether the mains will continue to impress.
The main dishes arrive and I have a selection of three curries and assorted sundries to accompany them. My curries are a creamy aubergine in yoghurt, a pea and paneer that I am pleased to hear referred to as cheesy peas and finally a Masoor Dall.
Of the three the Masoor Dall is the best as a standalone dish. It is a simple red lentil curry with a sweetness from tomato and delicately spiced. The others are good without being particularly stand out. Where the dishes really begin to get interesting is when you start to combine them, both with each other and with the sides.
Sweet mango chutney and fresh tamarind root pickle add layers to the dishes whilst cooling yoghurt offers relief from heat. Sides of cabbage, sweetcorn and salsa give a variety of textures that make the whole more interesting than the sum of its parts. The Thepla bread is a new one on me and something I would definitely order again. Not quite the heady heights of the starters but a good meal nonetheless.
I finish with a cardamom and saffron ice cream that they make on site. It is both delicious, refreshing and indulgent all at once. It is rare to get such a lovely dessert at an Indian restaurant and I polish off the whole bowl.
Seeing as this was my first visit to Planet India I was really impressed with what they had to offer. It is relaxed and playful dining that is best enjoyed in a group. Singularly the flavours are good but once combined they start to bring out the best in each other. The starters were really stand out and the ice cream was a highlight. There is a really interesting feel to the venue and, whilst I appreciate it will not be to everyone’s taste, if you don’t like it you are probably taking it too seriously.
8 Third Avenue
Open 6pm – 10pm
tuesday – sunday
This review was first printed in the July 22nd Edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. The food was complimentary and the restaurant were aware I was reviewing. This in no way influenced my opinion or the content of this review.