Our table at Kolamba wasn’t ready when we arrived, and this was a good thing. Our upgrade, size-wise, could barely contain the spread of dishes recommended. Sri Lankan food is as much about the relishes, condiments, chutneys and sambols (intense side salads) as the mains, and it’s all meant for sharing. Fortunately, I was dining with my son, and as such there was no standing on ceremony and a lot of elbowing aside for the last succulent chunk of Vaira’s jaggery beef, a slow cooked marinated short rib that melted in the mouth. Our other main, the monkfish poached in coconut milk and turmeric, held its own with a subtler note amid the bold big dishes.
We had started with the hot butter cuttlefish. It packed a powerful chili punch but was deemed delicious by the boy brought up with a central London palate. Culinary heritage is the backbone of Sri Lankan cooking. Sweet, spicy, hot and sour intermingle on a menu that references the family and friends whose recipes have inspired this new Soho eatery. Kumar’s pineapple and aubergine was the side of the moment, though the unattributed cashew nuts fried with green capsicum were a close second. Flash-fried green beans with grated coconut were unexpectedly crunchy, with texture jostling for attention alongside colour and spice.
The cocktail list made ample use of traditional flavours such as pineapple, jackfruit and jaggery; the Bentota Bittersweet gin and ginger combo brought a welcome hint of beachside sundowner to autumnal London.
Less holiday, more every day, hoppers are a big deal in Sri Lanka and Kolamba is keen to make them a thing in London. Traditionally street food, these edible bowl-shaped rice flour and coconut milk pancakes are designed to be filled with whatever your heart desires. Ours had a soft cooked egg nestled in the bottom, and a spicy red onion relish on the side: break, tear, share, were our instructions. A milky sweet hopper made an appearance for pudding – a creamy coconut and lime sorbet with a refreshing hint of zing, and crunchy caramelised pineapple with silk smooth vanilla ice cream.
Aunty Nalini’s rum-spiced ice coffee was a dessert in itself. And if Nalini is a regular at the stove in any Sri Lankan kitchen, she deserves to put her feet up with just this kind of booze-laced caffeine. Hats off to her.
21 Kingly Street, W1B (020 3815 4201; kolamba.co.uk)