A Sri Lankan feast with a really spicy kick… in Wembley
17 Ealing Rd, Wembley, London
London is a city built on immigration. Made great by it too. Ever since some Roman centurion thought, a couple of millennia back, ‘by the gleam on Caesar’s pate, that bend on the flumen Tamasis would be a right bonum place to build a garrison’, the capital has welcomed the world with (mainly) open arms. This also makes it one hell of a place to eat. Turkish in Green Lanes, Punjabi in Southall, the little Korea that is New Malden, the Caribbean bustle of Brixton, Portuguese saudade in Vauxhall, Arabian nights on the Edgware Road and Hasidic Jews in Stamford Hill. The joy of disappearing into another world and culture. All just a few Tube stops away.
Rather like Wembley, where I pass a Shiva temple, ornate mosque, sari shops, spice-scented cash and carrys and endless jewellery emporiums before arriving at Palm Beach, a Sri Lankan restaurant with two flat tellies blaring out Bollywood extravaganzas (always a good sign), walls of a Trumpian orange hue, fluorescent purple lighting and a fish tank right next to the bar.
Palm Beach is a Sri Lankan restaurant with two flat tellies blaring out Bollywood extravaganzas, walls of a Trumpian orange hue, fluorescent purple lighting and a fish tank right next to the bar
Bill and Tanya, well-seasoned Sri Lankan travellers, passed by one Sunday, saw the queues and decided to see if it was worth the wait. It was. And so we’re all back, lost in a ten-page menu that doesn’t just take us through the great dishes of the country (fish curries, idli, dosa and the rest), but Southern Indian and Hakka (Indo-Chinese) classics too. We start with mutton rolls, crumbed cylinders heavy with cardamom-spiked, slow-cooked sheep. And nethili fish fry, or deep-fried anchovies, which seem to have been sun-dried first, giving them intense piscine chew, as well as a lusty saline kick. Damn, they’re good. They disappear in moments and we order more.
The usual side dishes of egg hopper and spongy idlis (with subtle lentil, and fresh coconut dips) are torn apart and doused with the ever-essential home-made sambals: coconut, bracingly fresh and shyly spicy; seeni, where sweet caramelised onions pack a chilli punch and a sly tamarind sharpness; and katta, fiercer still, with curry leaves and bits of dried fish. The breads and sambals are a meal unto themselves, but we have only just begun.
Because this is feasting food, a cacophonous delight, the flavours big and bold, the seasoning lustily applied. A South Indian mutton curry is slick with oil and fragrant with curry leaves, the soft, fatty meat still bleating with ovine heft. Then rabbit pirattel, a dry curry, which goes big on the chilli, cardamom and black pepper, and sees the whole beast hacked up so you suck the meat from the bones. The heat lingers long after the last scraps have gone. The colours may be uniformly beige, but there’s nothing drab about the taste. Best of all is the string hoppers kothu, a vast brown mess of chopped, noodle-like string hoppers with shards of dried fish, a riot of spice and lashings of Indian Ocean allure. Change that spicing and it could be from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia or South India. Close your eyes, and Wembley seems a long way off. This is comfort food with balls and bite, fanned by a limpid breeze. A dish to revere. And yet another reason to return.
Aloo gobi. Because this is feasting food, a cacophonous delight, the flavours big and bold, the seasoning lustily applied
As if I need one. There’s lamb intestine curries to check out, and venison fries, and devilled… well, devilled everything. Plus Elephant House ginger beer by the bottle, and a pretty decent arrack to burn a post-prandial hole through all that glorious stodge. I’m no expert on Sri Lankan food. I’ve yet to visit, despite meaning to for years. But Bill and Tanya reckon this is the real thing. I adored every bite. We step outside into a grim, grey Wednesday afternoon, and, for the very briefest of moments, that dull Wembley sprawl seems bathed in the softest of tropical sun.
About £25 per head