The Vegan Mum and Baby can’t be bought but if anyone wants to invite us to a 5-course complimentary meal with drinks we’re not going to refuse…. We received such an invite recently to a press event at The Culinaire in Bexhill. I already knew we were in for a treat as I has tried out the chef Kuldeep’s food when he ran a pop up at The Observer Building. I was a bit worried about taking babba at first as I was not sure if she could sit through all those courses, which turned out to be 8 in the end not 5, so I took along a friend as well in case she got restless. We went on the train as the restaurant is a short walk from the station and although it’s in a quiet unprepossessing side street it’s also only 5 mins from the De La Warr Pavillion and the seafront.
We started with a potato and onion dumpling, this dish, as well as most of the others is not as simple as described on the menu, as it also came with a broccoli pakora and a tamarind chutney. The bubba got a portion all to herself and she loved it, normally it’s hard to get her to eat vegetables but anything deep fried goes down well. The dumpling was delicious and delicately spiced, I think with curry leaves and nigella seeds. The pakora had a light crispy batter and a deep earthy taste reminiscent of deep fried seaweed (aka cabbage).
Next we had the dosai, I have eaten masala dosa many times as has the babba, and she always really likes the pancake. What set this dish apart though were the chutneys which were amazing, one was pea, garlic and coconut and the other was pineapple and rum. The pea chutney was totally unique and one of my favourite parts of the meal.
Following on we had the crispy fried okra, I was expecting whole okra but in fact they were thinly sliced then battered. These would make the perfect salty, crunchy bar snack although they were a bit tricky to dip in the tomato chutney.
The soup of the day was tomato and cardamom, I only gave the babba a small bit of mine as I thought she’d spill it everywhere but she loved it so much (see photo below), I had to get her her own cup. I was right and she did spill half of it, but that’s what napkins are for! As with all the dishes the flavour of the soup was very unusual, and the consistency was somewhat reminiscent of Heinz tomato soup, but in a good way…
By now we were getting a bit worried about having to eat four more courses. But as well as being a master at using spices, it is obvious the chef Kuldeep was a master of portion control, as we managed to get all the way through without feeling full. This is no mean feat and something I was terrible at when I ran a cafe. It also helped that we had a nice gap between courses and lovely music to entertain us from Rufus Stone and Alice Barnard. I needn’t have worried about the babba getting restless, as she had a great time, dancing around to the music, going for a little walk and hiding under a napkin. The staff were also very friendly and relaxed about the babba wandering about and they made sure she got her portion first, which other restaurants should learn, never make a baby wait for her a dinner!
Back to the food…Next came my favourite dish tempura aubergine slices layered with a spinach and potato cake, served with tomato and fenugreek sauce. It also came with a carrot poriyal with coconut and mustard seed, and a smokey aubergine mash. All I can say is yum!
The final main course was a mushroom and quinoa biryani with cauliflower and a mint and coriander sauce. Quinoa can sometimes it can be a bit chewy, but this was cooked perfectly and include a variety of mushrooms. The sauce was again delicious and different from all the other flavours we’d already tried.
Our pre dessert was a summer fruit granita with popping candy in a little baby sized glass so was another special treat for the babba.
Finally the dessert was a mango and saffron rice pudding, coconut laddo and chargrilled pineapple. The babba grabbed a bite of the coconut laddo straight away (see photo below). I really liked the dessert as I like eating things I’ve never had before and also preferred that it was not too sweet, and tasted a bit savoury. But my friend was not so sure about the texture, which was quite dense, as it was made with rice flour not grains, so I don’t think it would be to everyone’s taste. Puddings are very important to vegans as usually we never get one, and if we do generally all the non-vegan ones look better than ours. So if Kuldeep could veganise some of the other amazing looking desserts I think he’d be on to a winner.
I checked the online menu and there is nothing obviously vegan on the main courses but most of the side dishes look suitable. So I would just make sure you book ahead to let them know and they will definitely be able to cater. I am not sure of the price of the tasting menu, but starters are around £5-6, mains £12 and puddings £4-5 which I think is very good for the quality of food.
This was a pretty perfect night of food and entertainment and probably some of the best vegan food I’ve ever eaten in the Bexhill/Hastings area. It was also ideal for the babba as she loves things she can pick up and dip in sauces, and she ate more food than I’ve ever seen her eat before. We go to a lot of posh restaurants who sometimes look a bit askance when I walk in with a small child strapped to me. But this was my favourite type of place to eat, amazing food in unpretentious surroundings with warm and welcoming staff, so we will definitely be going back soon.
Photos: Feature image – Daniela Exley Starter -@alicestronaut Others – Thilaka Markham