Growing up in Sri Lanka, I was exposed to a brand of cuisine that tantalises taste buds and tests one’s tolerance for spice. Being a Sri Lankan food exporter only fuelled my passion for quality food. Moving to the Western hemisphere left me in a state of wonder as to how I would survive for extended periods without a home cooked meal, or at least a suitable substitute.
London being the cosmopolitan hub that it is, happens to be home to some of the best eateries serving Sri Lankan cuisine. This is my attempt to condense my knowledge of London’s ‘finest’ (by taste) restaurants into a concise fact sheet which should help you pick a restaurant when you’re in the area or give you a reason to drive down.
Watch Me, Morden (0208 286 7900)
Despite the questionable name which may suggest that this is an establishment that serves an alternative lifestyle, Watch me’s extensive menu incorporates an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan and Indian dishes. Keeping with the trend of odd names, their signature dish is called ‘chick blast’. I’m a carnivore by nature, and even I can’t resist ordering this dish, because it’s possibly the only place on earth you can get it. I’m sure you won’t regret it, no matter how badly you want to sink your teeth into their meaty devilled mutton.
***3 Nichelin stars
Palm Beach, Wembley (0208 900 8664)
This is what makes the arduous trek to Wembley well worth it. They have the same specials all year round, BUT, when they say special, they mean SPECIAL. This is one of the few restaurants that I know of, that sells venison and rabbit. My personal preference is venison, but the rabbit is just as interestingly different and exotic. They also have a goat ‘stomach lining’ dish for those who have the gut to handle it (pun may have been intended if you picked up on it).
***3 Nichelin stars
Adchaya, South Wimbledon (0208 540 8192)
One of my favourites, because of the informal environment it presents and also because of many fun experiences I’ve had here with my friends. This restaurant tends to use ghee quite generously in their dishes which adds the umph to a mundane buriyani and setting it a fair mile from their competition. Their mutton dishes are must haves and so are their hoppers, particularly the milk hoppers. They take a while to make, but it’s worth the wait.
**2 Nichelin stars
Spice House, Tolworth (0208 390 7766)
The mutton rolls come highly recommended and will set the tone for a fulfilling meal. A licensed establishment such as this one is a prized status amongst Sri Lankan restaurants. Even being a non-drinker, I recognise that these guys win ‘Wattalapan’ points for offering a cold pint with the Koththu, which should hit the spot for many of you.
*1 Nichelin stars
Suvai Aruvi, Colliers Wood (0208 543 6266)
A recently renovated Sri Lankan restaurant with quite possibly the widest possible range of short eats. One in particular that I fancy is the mutton roti: A spicy mix of Mutton and potato wrapped in a ‘lensi’ roti. Lucky for you, they supply a selection of short-eats to most Sri Lankan ethnic food shops South of the river.
*1 Nichelin stars
Spicy Island, New Malden (0208 336 5889)
A relatively new addition to my circuit, this restaurant used to serve a very nutritious string hopper Koththu which could easily satisfy your 5 a day requirement. Of late, the dish has gradually mimicked the recipe and taste offered by the average restaurant, stripping it of its exceptional status. On select days the chef ‘s special is pol roti with a katta sambol, which vaguely resembles that which is served at a truck stop on the highway between Dambulla and Vavuniya.
Serendip, North Cheam (0208 641 2199)
This is probably the odd one out. Why? Simple: it is the only Sri Lankan restaurant I would recommend bringing a date to. The interior is new and tasteful in comparison, and the staff are courteous and professional. I believe they even have a wine list?!? However, in all the pretentiousness, the food loses its sense of authenticity. Nothing I had was particularly memorable, but that could be because I was more impressed by their tableware. It is nonetheless, a restaurant to have in the phonebook for when you want to make reservations.
Jaffna House, Tooting Broadway (0208 767 6668)
Being one of the first establishments in the UK, is possibly the only credential that I can give this restaurant for the moment. That’s not necessarily a true reflection of the quality of food, but having been to this restaurant only once, as far as my memory can recall, it wasn’t anything extraordinary. Most of its patrons are now non-Sri Lankans which may mean that they have adapted their recipes to suit a Western palette. I wouldn’t discourage you from visiting but I have no specific recommendations from their menu.
Bay and Curry Leaves, New Malden (0208 942 3008)
This is one of my most recent discoveries boasting a mean mutton roll and a fish cutlet that resembles the Keells range by shape and taste. The Koththu is nothing to brag about and the rest of the menu is still unexplored, so I fear a final verdict is still pending on this one.
Taste of Ceylon, New Malden
This restaurant is sadly no longer in business, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s probably one of reasons why I’m here writing this blog post. This is the restaurant where Nilmini (the first Gecko I ever met and be-friended), Ramanan (one of my best mates) and I shared our first ‘Sri Lankan’ meal together. They used to have a fish curry that wasn’t very Sri Lankan, but forgivably tasty and a mixed grill which I believe incorporated seafood; ground-breaking stuff in the world of South East Asian cuisine at the time.
If you have had the patience to read this in its entirety, without drooling and short-circuiting your keyboard as a result, I congratulate you for your ability to withstand the temptation to jump in your car and head to the first one you read about/the one closest to where you are.
“Greed is good” – Gourmand Gecko