Kolamba, London W1: restaurant review
Try aromatic monkfish curry, egg hoppers and smoky palm treacle at this Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho
Looking for great places to dine in Soho? Check out our review of Kolamba, then read our guide to the best restaurants in Soho.
In a nutshell:
Kolamba brings aromatic, spice-laced Sri Lankan cooking to Kingly Street in Soho.
Owners Aushi and Eroshan Meewella have crafted a nostalgic culinary hymn to the dishes they grew up eating in Colombo (or Kolamba, as the locals call it in Sinhalese).
What's the vibe at Kolamba?
Set over two floors, luxe modernism with tropical touches sets the tone at Kolamba, with a medley of earthy, natural tones and textures – think 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.
What's the food like?
Recipes from Aushi and Eroshan’s friends and family form the core of the offering at Kolamba, from Aunty Mo’s ‘chatti’ roast (chopped beef dry-fried with onions, green chilli and tomato) to Vaira’s jaggery beef (slow-cooked short rib stepped in unrefined cane sugar and spices). It’s a sharing-plates menu, divided into snacks, meat and fish, vegetables, rice and breads (think rotis, hoppers etc), sambols (small salads) and condiments.
Food arrives from the open kitchen with alacrity and all at once, a slightly tricky proposition for the trendy yet petite terrazzo tabletops – expect to play Tetris with plates to make them all fit.
Dishes are characterised by aromatic, complex spicing and heat that accentuates rather than destroys flavour. A snack of Nalini’s fish cutlets are crispy, breadcrumb-coated pilchard croquettes similar to Dutch bitterballen, the rich oiliness of the fish balanced by delicate spicing. Fiery king prawns are tossed with crushed black pepper, green chillies and fudgy, almost caramelised onions. The dish comes with moreish nuggets of crunchily deep-fried shellfish heads that add pleasing texture. Yellow monkfish curry is masterfully balanced, with butter-soft fish poached in a lightly creamy turmeric, tomato and coconut milk broth that soothes while stealthily delivering sly heat.
When ordering, contrast the spicier dishes with gentler veggie ones: Kumar’s pineapple and aubergine is a comfortingly sweet-sour affair, while cashew nuts fried to tender softness with green capsicum and coconut is another subtle foil to the bolder dishes on offer.
Sides also impress. String hoppers – steamed soft rice-flour noodles – come with a mild, turmeric and coconut milk curry to drizzle over, and a punchy chilli-coconut relish. Egg hoppers (think Sri Lankan pancakes) jewelled with a pale-yellow yolk are perked up with fiery lunu miris (sambol paste) on the side.
Desserts are simple but deliver yet more flavour, from grilled slices of arrack-infused pineapple with vanilla ice cream to set yogurt topped with woody, smoky kithul (palm) treacle.
And the drinks?
Sri Lankan beers, spirits and teas pepper the drinks menu. The Bentota Bittersweet with Colombo No 7 gin, coconut water, ginger beer and Angostura bitters is a tall, refreshing foil for the rich food that follows. From the mostly European wine menu, a Trocken Ruppertsberger Pfalz riesling, with a background whisper of sweetness, is an apt match for spicy flavours.