This is not Kitgum Kitchen’s first outing in Brighton. Hopefully you’ve already been lucky enough to taste the delights of their menu at pop-ups or various street food events across the city. Now they’ve brought the best of East African and Gujarti cuisine to the heart of The Lanes. They’ve been upstairs at the Mesmerist for just a few weeks, but their gastronomic journeys, new flavours, and fresh homemade dips are already drawing crowds. Warmly greeted with a beaming smile by owner Fayez, we are ushered upstairs past the bar’s familiar quirky animatronic mannequins. Instantly, we notice the vaudevillian chic decor has been softened here. In fact, the room is more open than I remember, comfortably accommodating 40 covers across a variety of table sizes.
Fayez seats us, brings some menus and offers a tasting plate as we pore over the luscious descriptions of the Sahani Ndogo (small plates) or Sahani Kubwa (big plates). Our host’s passion for the menu is palpable. He earnestly wants everyone to experience the magical food he grew up with. His partner persuaded him to dabble with pop-ups, after trying some of his mum’s cooking. To ensure absolute authenticity, mum is still very much involved, offering advice and keeping an eye on quality control. In 1972, his parents were amongst 50,000 Asians exiled from Uganda by the Amin regime. Although they only carried a single suitcase to the UK, they brought culture and cooking from two great continents. Fayez honours this heritage by fusing the freshest ingredients and deploying both rich and subtle flavours to bring a taste experience like no other. I’m glad I skipped lunch!
We start with Kigum Samosas (Chicken £4.50/Vegan £4), which arrive in generous portions. Light and wrapped in filo, we’re advised to pierce the pastry and drip in lemon juice, which adds an invigorating zesty steam to each bite. Next up is Jeeru’s Wings (£6.50), not least because the description read: ‘jeeru means cumin… it was also the nickname given to my mum as a child in Uganda.’ This was a selection of free-range chicken coated in tangy hot & sour sauce, then finished with fresh coriander and cumin that popped perfectly against the spicy glaze. Although this was a tough plate to follow, we next picked out Karanga Wari Kasori (£4.50). Chunks of corn on the cob lathered in a lightly spiced peanut sauce (prepared away from the other dishes), these two flavours worked in luscious synergy.
After a short break, we moved from the small plates to the main dishes. We couldn’t resist the Lamb Kalyo (£9), a succulent slow cooked curry with sautéed potatoes. This comes with chopped chilli and an amazing fresh carrot pickle to add as you feel – and it feels good! Looking next to a vegan option, we selected the Moong Nu Shaak (£8). This offered beans stewed with tomatoes, cumin and coriander, and embellished with yogurt and carrot pickle. Usually I find Moong beans a little bland, but we ordered ours with a seriously tasty Ugandan Chapati (£2), then ate with our fingers. The creamy combination of lush legumes and yogurt, infused with spices and crunchy carrot was a real surprise – both super tasty and super healthy! Last up, Kuku Paka (£9) was an onomatopoeic revelation. Free range chicken thighs in a garlic, ginger and coconut sauce, this is Korma’s daredevil cousin, which had an optional cracked fried egg on top. I’ll let you into a secret – my veggie companion couldn’t get enough of the runny egg or the sauce!
This was an exciting mix of hearty dishes, each with multi layered textures and dazzling combinations that set the senses racing! All dishes were served with homemade dipping sauces, including Kitgum’s signature ketchup, a tamarind based sauce, dark-like treacle and full of unique flavour. I’m now a true dip disciple – I want this with everything! There was also Hot & Sour, a spicy sweet and sour sauce which was light, playful and tangy sensation. A den of curiosity with entertainment from swing bands and go-go girls, The Mesmerist should have an equally ambitious and exotic menu. The Kitgum Kitchen provides just that. You’re not just eating the food, you’re learning how to eat it and about the journey which brought it together
By Tommy Doyle