Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer
The colourful Chilli Pickle
‘The samosa chat is alive with red onion, ginger, sweetened soya yoghurt, kaleidoscope chutneys and sev’
Having begun life as a small 50 cover restaurant hidden away among Brighton’s cobbled lanes, the success of The Chilli Pickle has led to ambitious plans to grow it across the south east of England.
The concept was launched by husband and wife team, Alun and Dawn Sperring, whose aim has always been to recreate the flavours of India, which have long been their obsession and inspiration, with the ingredients available on their doorstep.
This passion has led to the Brighton restaurant holding two AA rosettes since 2009 and a Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2010 – and, while the south coast town’s restaurant scene is buzzing these days, they were there from the start.
So, why am I writing about all of this in Surrey Life? Well, the first of their new restaurants opened in Guildford this summer. It’s a huge 150 or so cover venue spread over two dining room floors at the top of the High Street, near G Live.
Having read the back story, I’m a little surprised by the scale and ambition of this independent’s new home when we arrive. They’re clearly not doing things by halves. The walls are a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colour, the background music flits between The Beatles, Bob Dylan and more traditional tunes and it makes for a bright and breezy welcome. It feels like you’ve walked into The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Settled at our table, we quickly get down to the business of pouring over the food and drink options. The impressive drinks list celebrates their Sussex roots, with the likes of Trenchmore Farm’s Silly Moo Cider and Goring Brut from the Wiston Estate, but also features wellpicked international flavours, intriguing cocktails and pairing recommendations.
We’ll be staying away from those cocktails on this occasion, as we’ve got our three-yearold daughter in tow, who is as fascinated by the decorations as she is the children’s drawing set on the table.
Poppadoms arrive with a rainbow array of chutney, pickle and onion salad on a silver platter. Both our starters are exciting little introductions to what the restaurant is all about. The pana puri, an Indian street snack consisting of crispy shells filled with potato and chickpea salad alongside a tamarind water with chilli to drizzle into it, are lovely little flavour explosions. The samosa chat is alive with red onion, ginger, sweetened soya yoghurt, kaleidoscope chutneys and sev (crunchy noodles) – you discover something different with every mouthful.
Right up until the moment our order is taken, I’m sure I’m going for the beef short rib madras but ‘mixed grill’ comes out of my mouth instead. Not something I’d normally go for, but I’m intrigued by the combinations on offer… I’m not completely won over by it, if I’m honest, although hats off to the pepper chicken seekh and smoked aubergine riatta.
Oh well, it’s an excuse to visit again and with Michael Bremner, owner of Brighton’s current top-rated restaurant (according to the 2018 Brighton Restaurant Awards), 64 Degrees, recently
recommending the madras dish, I feel rather bound to.
There is a moment of confusion as the wrong main course is delivered to Sylviane, but this is swiftly spotted and rectified by the manager – and the dish, ultimately, is a hit with its whole sea bass swimming in waves of nuanced flavour.
All the while, our threeyear-old daughter is absolutely demolishing her mild kids chicken thali with rice, riatta, chutney and baby naan and poppadum. She loves the fun element of being able to dip, mix and enjoy each component - while multi-tasking and colouring in the menu with the pencils provided. Meanwhile, my dessert of coal roasted fresh pineapple with chilli and stem ginger glaze and coconut sorbet is an absolute winner. I could eat bowls full of that one, daily.
Overall, I really admire The Chilli Pickle’s story and, while there’s probably still a bit of time before the Guildford restaurant reaches the magical levels of its Brighton counterpart, there’s a passion and ambition behind the place that seems to indicate they’ll get there. It’s already a colourful adventure.