Thursday, 29 December 2011

Vinishas - Sri Lankan in Lewisham

My friends told me excitedly about a new Sri Lankan place near where I live; their tales of fiery curries and bargain prices meant a trip was scheduled soon after. The restaurant isn't big, with a handful of tables and we were the only customers there for a late lunch. Handed takeaway menus to peruse, the plasticky tablecloth and the radio station playing wasn't exactly a promising start.

Chilli paneer (£4.79) was cloyingly sweet and only with the gentlest of chilli kick. When our lovely waiter later came to take our dishes away and asked if it was ok, we told him how we felt and he took our criticism with enthusiasm. "Next time, we'll make it spicy!".

We fared better with the rest of our meal. Chilli appam (£1.19 each), also called hoppers were pancakes made with ground, soaked rice. This is mixed with coconut milk and water to form a batter, and then left to ferment for a few hours. This resulted in a pancake that was spongy in places and crisp in others, great textural contrasts. The chillis were atomic and my heartbeat rocketed after eating this. My stomach, so laden with cheese and cream and butter of the Christmas just past, was roused from its cosy swathes of fat.

The menu was littered with curry classics but I wanted to try the typical Sri Lankan dishes so instead opted for 'pittu (3 pcs) with mixed vegetable curry' (£4.29). The pittu (below picture, foreground) was 3 pieces of cylindrical ground rice layered with coconut and spices. This was a stodgy cake to be broken off into chunks and dipped in the vegetable curry. The curry was deceptively delicious; when it was first placed down it looked common enough, but on first taste it revealed complex and ferocious spicing. The pittu grew on me. At first I found it a bit bland but soon grew to love it as a coconut-tinged vehicle for the curry.

Mutton Kothu (£5) was on the lunchtime specials blackboard outside. When my friend ordered this he asked for 'proper spicy please, not mild white man stuff', to the amusement of our waiter. The silver dish turned up which contained far more than one would imagine; this fed both of us easily. The menu says you can choose what your Kothu is made up of and in this instance, it was parotta. Parotta is a Tamil Nadu layered flatbread, much like the Northern Indian paratha. Chopped up, the parotta is cooked on a hot griddle with egg, meat and spices and served with what is listed on the menu as bone gravy.

This was fantastically textured, the small pieces of bread feeling a bit like noodle. Everything is chopped up the same size giving a really pleasant mouthful. The pieces of mutton were sparse but tender, and the heat of the spices were a slow burn, gathering momentum as the dish was eaten.

We paid a paltry £8 a head for the above plus service. Although it wasn't a comfortable dining experience - don't sit by the window, unless you like cold gusts of wind freezing your sides - the food more than made up for it. The menu is extensive and I'm looking forward to going back to try the dosai, idiyappam, idly and sambols.


2 Loampit Hill
Lewisham SE13 7SW

Tel: 0208 691 7944


Kavey said...

One of my local "aunties", a close family friend who lives just round the corner from us growing up, was from Ceylon and she (and her mum, when she visited from India - she'd moved from Sri Lanka) used to cook Sri Lankan and taught my mum a few dishes I think... I don't think I ate much as I'm a certified chilli wuss and was probably even more pathetic then.

Helen said...

Ooh this looks ace and blow me down if I won't be racing down there to spend EIGHT POUNDS A HEAD. Eight pounds!! Wow.

Hollow Legs said...

Kavey - Yes, I've heard Sri Lankan food is pretty hot. Still, I'm sure there are some mild dishes...?

Hollow Legs said...

Helen - EIGHT POUNDS! We should do an en masse trip to try as much as possible :)

Jess e said...

Ahhh I must go, looks so good, Espesh that mutton.s v similar to lots of food I had in kerala. Quite liked the puttu there tho didn't have it with curry.. Instead with chai, sugar milk etc for breakfast. Interested to try their dosas! See if you can try the vada if you can.... Think you might like, essentially savoury donuts made with lentil flour batter... Dip them in sambar, amazing.

Dini said...

Hi Lizzie, Great to see you trying out and enjoying Sri Lankan (my native cuisine). Kothu roti can come with any combination, mutton or prawn is probably the most common.
I wonder if you were offered a cocunut/chilli sambal with your pittu, it's the traditonal accompaniment and fish(head)curry goes really well with it. I agree pittu can be a bland, but like rice it's mainly used as a base.
Suggestions for next time, great dishes for you to try: paper dosai, uttapam and vatalapallam (a coconut water dessert).

Anonymous said...

I love pittu (although I usually like it with a milky curry/gravy called kiri hothi) and I don't think it's easy to find in London either. And the chilli hoppers look great. I must check this place out!

Chris Pople said...

I *love* Sri Lankan food but yes, like Thai, it makes no sense unless it's spicy as hell. I guess having to ask for authentic spicing isn't the greatest hardship in the world though, and this all looks fantastic. Do they do egg hoppers do you know? I was told to get them from Jaffna House in Tooting (another top Sri Lankan place) but they'd run out.

I heart cupcakes said...

I must go check this out -not far from New Cross and cheap enough to try a few dishes. Cheers for posting this - I've passed it a few times and wondered what it was like!

Krista said...

My Sri-Lankan co-worker explained how kothu roti is one of the best drunk foods ever. Love it.

One of my farewell meals was at a Sri Lankan place that my co-worker picked out. There were a bunch of us and I LOVE the photo I took of what Dilshad ordered for us in this post:
Handy reference should you need it next visit!

Restless Native said...

Sounds Cool , Its helpfull to get feedback about food in London. We visit London a few times each year.
I had Sri Lankan food only once , not bad. The take away is no more.
We hit Tayyabs last time we were in London, not bad, but to much hype maybe. The sizzling lamb chops were amazing.
I go back a long way with the east end. I used to get a thank you curry from my boss over 25 years ago. Brick Lane Nazrull (massivly diferent from todays Brick Lane Nazrull).
Happy New Year.

Richard Dixon said...

Blimey. Somewhere for me to try locally! What with Le Wei Xiang to try too and Meze Mangal up the road in St John's, Lewisham is clearly the new food hotbed and I won't need to leave it in 2012 !

Richard Elliot said...

I"ve never been brave enough to try any of the places on Loampit Vale. The smell of wee outside many of them when I lived in Brockley put me off. Looks like I need to overcome my prejudices and get there.

HungryLondoner said...

This restaurant is very close to me! I think I'll print out your blog post and take it with me so I know what everything will be like :-)

Thanks again for a fab post.

Paul (aka the hungry londoner)

Martin said...

I love this place. Fully agree with Richard above that it's not a hugely inspiring run of shops and businesses, though it's a lot nicer than it may look/smell - AJ Food is a particularly heroic one-stop shop for cheap spices, curry leaves, frozen fish, beans/pulses and so on (and thoroughly friendly with it).

That said, though, as a Vinisha's virgin one might be best served by getting a takeaway: dirt-cheap if you collect (20% off menu prices), and still perfectly acceptable if you order it for delivery (they're on JustEat, for example).

Lamb kothu parotta, spinach and dhal curry with an egg veechu roti bread, maybe some mutton rolls if in a particularly decadent mood. Barely a tenner and enough to keep the stomach happy (and comfortably on fire) for a good while! Hugely impressive stuff for such an unassuming place.