The joy of new discovery – or serendipity – is one of life’s pleasures. So it was with Kolamba, a newish restaurant serving Sri Lankan food on the edge of Soho. Maybe no coincidence, but Sri Lanka was, of course, once known as Serendip. Most diners are familiar with Indian food, but do not go to Kolamba (the local name for the island’s capital, Colombo) expecting anything close to a tikka masala or vindaloo. The premise behind Sri Lankan cuisine is a harmonious merger of sweet, savoury and sour flavours. It’s mostly executed very well here. The venue has the Instagram community in mind with its muted décor, distressed walls and plant-based decorations, but the food is mainly what does the talking.
At first sight, the menu may appear somewhat bewildering, divided into sections spanning bites, sambols (salads), large dishes and condiments, but it is a darned sight less complicated than that on offer at Hoppers, the venue which first popularised Sri Lankan food in London. Conveniently, there is an informative box at the menu’s top, advocating 1-2 bites, 2 meat dishes and 2-3 veg options (with the possibility of a smabol too) for a group of two to share. This was broadly the formula we stuck to, even if the dishes arrived in a somewhat random order with one severely delayed (generously) or perhaps erroneously forgotten about. Despite both my dining comrade and I being avowed omnivores, we both agreed that Kolamba excelled most strongly with its vegetarian dishes. Other reviewers have justifiably raved about the venue’s dhal, which did just what a good dhal should do – be rich, deeply comforting and flavoursome. Nonetheless, the pineapple and aubergine dish – our other vegetable option – was amazing. This surprising combination did actually work and was executed with panache. Slow-cooking seems to be the order of the day here, with the aubergine reduced to an intensely tender state (Sri Lanka’s pineapples are apparently the world’s sweetest, the menu helpfully notes). The black pepper prawn stir fry was a real zinger of a dish too, with the prawns among the largest and juiciest seen at any venue recently, lockdown notwithstanding. The Jaggery beef – another clearly slow cooked dish – was, however, something of a disappointment. The meat did indeed fall delightfully off the bone, but the sauce lacked verve in our view.
For ~£30/head, this is certainly money well spent. One caveat though: owing to the recent late August Bank Holiday, Kolamba had none of the beer we wanted to accompany our meal. Not a problem, since we were allowed to bring pints over from the neighbouring pub. It speaks to a good attitude on the part Kolamba (and indeed the pub), but does mean that diners should normally expect to stump up a bit more if they do want drinks.