Years before some council planning department marked London Road as the next street suitable for gentrification, Eastern Eye marked its spot with a rich offering of southern Indian cuisine. Without need for shiny exposed pipes, ripped out ceilings or vintage signage, this eatery appears unassuming in a street lined with £13 burgers, artisan pizzerias and a long line of gastro pubs offering wings, ribs or burgers with triple-cooked chips. However, what has kept this place busy is its flavour in dishes and attitude alike. The pace is unrushed; the staff make sure you are looked after without a false pretense. We felt welcome here. Not a bad start.
Settling down with friends, we munched through the mixed poppadoms and dips as we scanned the menu for treats. We kicked off with the Lasooni Chicken Tikka, rolled in fresh mint and garlic (£4.80) and the Fish Shami Kebab, consisting of pan-grilled white fish flakes and lentil patties (£4.75). We also ordered herb infused and pan-fried King Prawn Achari (£5.80) and the Lamb Chilli Fry which was superbly marinated in shallots, green chillies, curry leafs and fresh ginger (£4.75).
It became clear straight away Eastern Eye’s handle on fish is superior. The prawns were perfectly balanced with their batter; the lentils lifted the delicate, soft fish as well, giving a good variety of textures. We were all equally heatproof on our table, as we found out when trying the lamb. It certainly packed a punch, but in a way that kept us going back for more, much to my dining partner’s annoyance as we collectively cleared his starter from in front of him. Cue muttered discussions about why we have to share when eating Asian food. Look, this is vital journalism, I insist. We taste for a whole city here. Hedging his bets he had ordered the best main too, he started to take territory on the table. Glasses were moved. Napkins become battlements. Things got tense.
After a break to digest, cool down and taste the red wine (rich, delicious and reasonably priced) we got onto politics and ganged up on the owner of the Lamb Shank, a dedicated BREMAIN voter, and expressed our (his) views on why the sharing economy and the single market matter more than his own personal Lamb Shank.
We needn’t have worried. The Lamb Shank Narendra (£10.50) arrives in its entire splendor and there is plenty to share. And may I take this opportunity to thank the gods that there is. The lamb is so wonderful it practically offers itself from the bone to you. The caramelised onion, roasted garlic, bay leaves and black pepper sauce explores every inch of the meat. The flavours hit as if politely queuing for your attention – at times sweet then succulent, sharp then soft. The roasted garlic sits in your mouth for minutes after eating. Sublime.
I pitched for the Mangalore Prawn Curry (£8.95), which was equally as lovely – the coconut set the tone for the fish. Just the right amount of power from each component balanced the dish. I’ll say it again: this restaurant’s expertise in prepping and cooking fish is unparalleled. I meandered through the curry with support from some exquisite lemon and ginger rice whilst my more adventurous friend opted for the Karaikudi Nandu Kozahumbu (£9.85). Not just a mouthful to say but an impressive braised crab dish that demands a fight to get to the good stuff (watch out for the claws). However, she fought on and assured me how soft and flavoursome the protein was. It wouldn’t have been my first choice but I think that says something more about my inherent laziness to fight claw-to-claw. Nonetheless, I happily munch through her punchy Aloo Jerra (£3.90) while she gets her fingers messy.
As we come to the end of our meal, owner Murrali joins us with eyes full of passion for his food and well-used chef whites. We quiz him on the sauces for each dish (bespokely tailored for each one) and his history. He set up Eastern Eye after a decade-long stint at the much-lauded Chutney Mary restaurant in Kings Road, London (recently moved to St James’ Street in the West End). Chutney Mary paved the way for contemporary Indian cuisine back in 1990 and arguably invented the rich and flavoursome world of food we now take for granted in every city in this country. We are lucky to have Murrali and we are lucky to have Eastern Eye in Brighton. It doesn’t shout too loud, nor cause a fuss. It is something to be cherished and savoured.
Eastern Eye is at 58 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4JE