Sri Lankan food seems to be enjoying a resurgence in London at the moment. Following the launch of Hoppers and Kolamba (on which see my reviews here and here), the most recent addition to this eclectic party is contemporary Sri Lankan restaurant Paradise. I say eclectic as all look to celebrate the country’s truly vibrant and cross-cultural influences, spanning Portugal, the Malays, South India and the Netherlands.
Paradise landed in Soho just before lockdown #1 last January 2020. Located slap bang next to Snog on Rupert Street, it’s ideal if you’re craving a taste of the tropics closer to home. Set up by Dom Fernando, the founder has taken inspiration from childhood trips to his native Sri Lanka, where he observed his grandmother’s traditional cooking techniques and use of historic recipes. Working with head chef Charith Priyadarshana, Fernando has drawn on the island nation’s different regions to create a selection of dishes that merge British and Sri Lankan ingredients, with an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability.
With only 30 covers, the space is small yet moody. Whilst the bar and window-seating is for walk-ins only or bookings of two, small groups of tables / booths are available for larger booking. Inspired by the modern bistros of Colombo and Galle, the design blends industrial elements (think black metal) to create a tropical yet brutalist style that’s smart and subtle. But don’t let the muted blend of the unpolished cement, brutalist interiors and grey plates fool you, this restaurant packs a serious punch when it comes to flavours. If anything, it’s muted grey tones are a splashboard for the flavour explosions of each dish.
Given the menu is designed around small plates made for sharing, my companion and I went for all four vegan / vegetarian options. First up came the triple cooked devilled new potatoes, rampe, chilli, curry leaf, puffed rice (£8.40). With a crispy exterior (enhanced by its bhel-like finish) yet a tender finish, these potatoes are shaped as chunky chips. Though mention of chilli certainly comes in its brief, this dish packs a serious chilli punch – like triple kick. Both my companion and I found this a fiery start to our meal here, so much so that we had to ask for some cooling coconut yogurt. Fireworks from the very first mouthful, including from the seasonal tomatoes and beautifully cooked small onions in this dish, also coated in the sticky chilli glaze.
Next up was the country style mung bean curry, coconut, pickles, curry leaf oil (£7.80). Though daals are a regular occurrence in my household – and I say “daals” plural given the multiplicity of ways in which this South Asian staple can be made – Paradise’s coconut creamy take on this bowl via the green mung bean lentil was just that: Paradise. Soothing, comforting and wholesomely nourishing, this daal was an ideal antidote to the chilli potatoes.
Onto the curries, the fried long aubergine jaggery moju (£8.20), one of Sri Lanka’s most famous dishes, was probably the star of the evening. The sweetness of the jaggery, enhanced by the warmth of the delicate spicing of cinnamon, shone through. A totally unique flavour combination like nothing you’ve tasted before (nor would be able to create yourself).
Our other curry was another first for me: charred Melilot Farm courgette and cucumber kiri-hodi curry, cumin and chilli oil (£8.30). The vibrant greens of the cucumber and courgette – both whole and spiralised – are showcased in this dish within an equally radiant green coconut milk curry sauce. But what makes this bowl memorable is its spicing: specifically, the generous strands of saffron adding a richness to its sauce that lingers long in the mouth. Total luxury.
No Sri Lankan meal is complete without one of the most iconic dishes of this country: its signature hopper (£3.50). With a spongy centre, this rice-flour basket-shaped pancake is ideal for dipping into the saucy curry and scooping up daal. Meanwhile, my companion enjoyed a handkerchief-thin roti and accompanying loveage butter which enveloped anything it touched.
From the chic interiors to the knowledgable staff (everyone working here spent five days in Sri Lanka at owner Dom’s mum’s house before the restaurant opening to immerse themselves in Sri Lankan food), Paradise lives up to its name.
Paradise, 61 Rupert St, London W1D 7PW