Peter James

All Smiles At Azaro

Words by Peter James

Back in my youth, with rare exceptions, Indian restaurants were grim places.  Surly waiters, universal – and ghastly – red flock décor with a framed, wrinkled, lop-sided print of the Taj Mahal on the wall, and a couple of dusty, porcelain elephants on a shelf.  They were, uniformly, the late-night refuge for hungry drunks.

A lot has changed in the past four decades, but even I was shocked to learn what the most eaten dishes in our nation are today.  What would you guess?  A Sunday roast and fish and chips?  That’s what I’d have put my money on – and lost.  At number one is Chinese stir fry – and a close second is Chicken Tikka Masala.

The Ashoka was the first Indian restaurant to raise the bar in Brighton and set a new standard of comfort, service and food.  Within weeks of its doors opening in 1977 it was impossible to get a table without a lengthy advance booking, and it still maintains a high standard today.

Over the years many have followed, but Brighton’s Indian restaurants have never matched the flair, quality of service or food of some of the great London ones.  I’ve eaten in great restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and yet to find one that come close to touching Benares in Berkeley Square, the Cinnamon Club in Westminster, or, to my mind the star of them all, the Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington – a ten minute walk from Earls Court.


I was taken to the Bombay Brasserie for lunch by my Danish publishers during the London Book Fair – does it get much more international than that?!  It is a beautiful, elegant, airy room, with courteous staff that are charm personified without every being unctuous, an every dish was superb in flavour and texture, with a deft lightness of touch and so often lacking in Indian restaurants.

Azaro in Church Road, Hove is a place that is capable, I think, of taking the crown in this city.  I ate there recently with friends, and the place instantly put a smile on my face from the moment I entered.  I liked the sharp, simple modern décor.  I liked the greetings from the staff.  There used to be a tiny Greek restaurant by the Clock tower, run by a huge and hugely charming Greek, Vasso, who used to greet you by saying, ‘You are in my restaurant, you are in my home.’   I got that same sense at Azaro.

The first big surprise is how tiny the menu is.  Just fourteen mains – it’s the shortest menu I’ve ever seen in an Indian restaurant.  Normally you have to wade through page after page of choices, written in tiny print – and then why do they always put on somewhere in the middle “Chef’s specialities!”  Shouldn’t everything on a restaurant menu be a speciality of the chef?

The size of this menu put another smile on my face – they must have begin to wonder by now whether I was some simpleton who just smiled a lot and needed humouring.  But I was smiling because this meant that chefs in Azaro were actually going to cook the food we were going to heat, rather than just re-heat it.

Brake Brothers provided the opportunity for every landlord in the UK, with little more culinary skills than the ability to boil an egg, to turn his place into an instant gastro-pub.  And because of the fine quality of their food, a very acceptable gastro-pub.  In the world of Indian restaurants some operate on a similar basis, reheating food they’ve bought from a distributor and allocating flavour according to what the customer has ordered.

There is a good range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian starters, at £4.25 £9.95.  Among a selection I tried were a superb, densely-filled vegetarian samosa, bursting with flavour, a chilli paneer, tandoori lamb chops – so good I could have eaten these as a main – and a very delicious and gently spiced crab and fish cake.

Mains include – a very fine version of the nation’s second most popular dish, and a Kerula influenced sea bass moily – this ubiquitous fish, which never excites me and rarely fails to disappoint me, worked brilliantly here – this was a very fine dish indeed, and well up to the highest international standards.

One guest waxed lyrical about the lamb shank Kashmiri style, and another thought his chicken Chettinad so good he gave me the most miserly nibble to try.  Vegetarians are in for a treat with the Vegetable kolapuri – a dish of sautéed mixed vegetables in masala.

The wine list is short but acceptable, and sensibly priced, but in general I prefer beer with Indian food as it stands up to the flavours rather than being mugged by them.  Azaro has a small, good selection.

There’s a pleasant bar area, and Monday to Thursday there are tapas on offer.  I liked this place a lot.  I was still smiling when I left.  The staff nodded their heads.  When you are India, if you ask a question, you will often get either a nod or a wiggle in response.  I asked what these represented and was told either of them can mean either yes, no or maybe.

            No maybe about Azaro.  I shall go back.

Azaro Illus Pic

Azaro is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12-3pm and then from 6pm-10:30pm 6 days a week. For more information or to read Azaro’s menu visit

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