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Guildford's newest Indian restaurant The Chilli Pickle to bring award-wining 'tweak' to classic dishes; Co-founders Alun and Dawn Sperring talked to Get Surrey about what made their food special and why Guildford appealed to them so much.

Byline: Christopher McKeon

A new Indian restaurant is opening in Guildford, but it is far from your usual curry house.

Family-run restaurantThe Chilli Pickle plans to open in the High Streetin early July 2018, taking up the premisesrecently vacated by Jackson and Rye.

The restaurant has been operating in Brighton for 10 years, during which time it has won numerous awards and grown from a "small family upstart" to a local success story, and Guildford is its first new branch.

Get Surrey sat down with the co-founders, husband and wife team Alun and Dawn Sperring, to find out what sets the restaurant apart.

Guildford's restaurant scene

Alun said: "I think when we first started there were the really high-end quality places like Tamarind, Benares, the Cinnamon Club, and then outside of that it was more of the curry house template that obviously the whole nation loves and is a real winning ticket, but there wasn't really much in that middle ground."

Dawn agreed, saying they had wanted to create an "accessible" restaurant that could be smart or casual.

"It's high-end casual dining, so you're still going to get great food, but it's a nice, relaxed environment."

And when it comes to the food, it's all about variety for the Sperrings, who share an obsession with Indian cuisine and visit the country every year for inspiration for new dishes.

"It's such a vast country with so many different influences of climate and religion," said Alun, who is also the head chef and spent several years working abroad in luxury hotels.

"You've got the desert lands, the wetlands of Kolkata, the tropics in the south, you've got Gujarat which is predominantly vegetarian - there's so much diversity and we've always bought into that."

However, while Alun is inspired by Indian food and tries to remain authentic, he is not afraid to experiment a bit. For example, The Chilli Pickle won the award for Britain's Hottest Curry in 2008 with an oxtail madras.

He said: "I think the way we work Indian food now is very much tweaking, tuning.

"Something like oxtail madras is amazing because you've got so much wonderful produce on the doorstep there, and we're not tied by a religion or tradition.

"There is appreciation and respect for all of this, but if we want to use a certain cut of meat or a certain type of fish, if it works and it's going to create a really nice experience, then 100%."

Dawn, who is the restaurant's general manager, goes back to the issue of accessibility: "There's elements to the menu where there are a few tweaks where you're using local produce that you probably wouldn't get if you were making the same dish in India, but on the other side you're got some real traditional dishes there.

"I think there's a really nice mixed bag on that menu. You're got your people pleasers, you've got a couple of curveballs, a few real traditional items, so again it's going back to that being accessible.

"Hopefully whoever comes to the restaurant, they may have a few preconceptions but hopefully they're going to be pleasantly surprised and comforted that anything they get is going to be good."

It's a combination that the couple feels is just right for Guildford, with, in Alun's words, "an amazing, vibrant feel" and a population that is used to eating out.

Dawn said a lot of their customers in Brighton had suggested Guildford as somewhere they should open a restaurant, and walking around got both of them excited about the town.

She said: "You just get that gut feeling that somewhere's a really nice place to be, and looking at the people walking around town I think Chilli Pickle will be a great place for Guildford."

Award-winning Indian restaurant The Chilli Pickle announces new Guildford branch

Having started their Brighton venture at the start of the recession, neither Dawn nor Alun is daunted by the problemsthat have beset some of Guildford's other restaurants- including their premises' previous occupants.

Dawn said: "I think it makes customers more discerning. They'll spend their money, but they want to make sure they're spending it wisely.

"We're very conscious of being consistent. We'll listen to the customers and there's a lot of love still there.

"Yes, some places are closing some of their sites, but they're reinvesting in all their other places and making them better so in fact what they're doing is making sure that the product is as good as it can be.

"That's because the customers expect us to be as good as we can be, and why not? They're paying their hard-earned cash to come to your restaurant and you should respect that."

Equally, they see it as an exciting time for the British restaurant industry, and with a wide appeal in Brighton they're confident they can draw in people from across Guildford.


Credit: Publicity Picture

Alun and Dawn Sperring in their flagship Brighton restaurant

Credit: The Chilli Pickle

Alun and Dawn say the restaurant "feels like India"

Credit: Xavier D. Buendia

The restaurant has won a string of awards, including Britain's Hottest Currey in 2008

Credit: Xavier D. Buendia

Another of The Chilli Pickle's dishes, which Alun Sperring changes with the seasons
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Title Annotation:What's On
Publication:Get Surrey (Surrey, England)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jun 10, 2018
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