Finally, London seems to have clocked on to the joys of Sri Lankan cooking. Though rustled up in restaurants across Tooting, Wembley and Ealing for decades, “trendy” spots have now sprung up across the capital: Weligama supper clubs @ Italo, Paradise on Rupert Street, Hoppers (of course) and Kolamba on Kingly Street. Named after the Sinhalese name for Colombo, Kolamba’s owners, Eroshan and Aushi Meewella, have opened up this very cool spot just off Regent Street, to showcase the food they remember from their childhood there, promising a “vibrant blend of Sinhalese, Tamil, Moor, Dutch and Malay tastes and textures”.
In anticipation of a trip to the island at the end of the month, I’m subsuming myself into its vibe – food definitely included and in doing so, I’ve made an important discovery: Sri Lankan food is probably my favourite. That should be no surprise: coconut-based curries, spicy sambals, crisp rice-and-coconut hoppers (like a basket-shaped dosa), sticky chutneys…It’s a heavenly combination.
From the moment you walk in to Kolamba, tropical touches set the tone, with a medley of earthy, natural tones and textures – concrete floors, raw plasterwork and textured fabric pendant lighting, offset by verdant accents, from glossy teal tiling to tumbling plant life and huge, vividly hued batik works from Sri Lankan artist Sonali Dharmawardena. Set over two floors, the semi-open kitchen is on the ground floor, whilst the impressive bar in the basement.
The drinks created at that tiny but punchy bar bring the tastes of the island instantly alive – probably the most successfully. With a menu of totally unique combinations, all Ceylon-spice infused, I went for the Kadju Sour (£9.90) – a blend of Colombo No 7 Gin, Pineapple Chutney and Cashew Orgeat. With a sip of this crisp drink you’re in for a real taste of Colombo. Not too sweet, warming through the cinnamon spicing and with a subtle touch of cashew, it’s totally unique. In a very good way.
Onto the foods, when ordering, we tried to contrast spicier dishes with gentler veggie ones: Kumar’s pineapple and aubergine (£6.90) is a comfortingly sweet-sour affair, while the Ala Thel Dala (£5.90) were spicy potatoes. The latter, though, could have done with a touch more fire and crispiness, a la gunpowder potatoes – I found them underwhelming.
Though keen to try the Beetroot Curry (£5.90), it too could have done with more uumph – ideally more coconut sambal to give it more boldness and envelop its eaters into this Sri Lankan staple.
Though the Milk Hopper (£3.70) was good, it was very tapas size (about half the size of Hoppers) and was cold by the time it was served. It was, however, paired with a tangy little diced tomato sambol with lime juice, green chilli and red onion – small but pungent.
Also very good was the Date and Lime Chutney (£1.50) – a rich, dark and incredibly moreish dip which was sweet, sour and spicy all the same time, especially alongside the Pol Roti (£3.80). Though rather tough, this coconut flatbread – which the menu describes as “rustic” – fulfils the important job of reaching the coconut smears and cardamom-scented sauces that no fork or spoon can ever reach. And like any good flatbread/roti/naan, it’s deeply satisfying.
Kolamba has great potential and transports you far away through its setting, food and definitely drinks. Whilst their veggie dishes could be dialled-up a touch, the foundations of the best flavours and spice combinations are definitely here.
Kolamba, 21 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5QA