Colombo Social is a new Sri Lankan restaurant on Enmore Road that serves classic Sri Lankan dishes as well as some fusion dishes. It also does double duty as a social enterprise eatery employing up to 50% of its staff as asylum seekers. So what is the food like?
"The hardest thing about opening a restaurant was finding the 7,000 clay pots," says the owner Shaun Christie-David who comes around to every table at some stage during their meal to check if everything is okay. Okay there aren't quite 7,000 in the display near the entrance but they're certainly striking.
Shaun explains that around half the staff, either floor or kitchen come from Settlement Services International and he also works with the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. He wanted to have a restaurant staffed by asylum seekers because he believes the best way to integrate is through work. He also wants them to feel as though there are people in Sydney that welcome their presence. At the moment 50% of the staff are asylum seekers.
Many of the recipes are from his mother Shiranie while the head chef is Chamara Pathiranag from Colombo. Shaun was born in Australia of Sri Lankan parents and as a child he grew up in Sydney's west. He was embarrassed by his Sri Lankan lunches but now is proud of his heritage and wants to showcase it at the restaurant. It's proved very popular - I wanted to book here last week but it was full and even on this Sunday night the times that I wanted weren't available.
Service is friendly and knowledgeable and I'm very happy to see a menu with so many of my recent Sri Lankan favourites on it. Valentina, Peter and Mr NQN let me order. We start with cocktails. Mr NQN has the Tiki Toddy Tapper is blended Ceylon Arrack (like Sri Lankan whisky based on coconut) with peach, pineapple, mint, lime, coconut cream and palm sugar all served in an adorable green ceramic elephant. I have the Lankan Love Affair with arrack, macadamia, lemon, whites, cardamom and ginger syrup and is lovely and sour. Valentina gets the Ceylon Spritz with Prosecco, bitter mango and coconut soda which is much more complex than a regular Aperol Spritz.
We start with one of the fusion items, the roti tacos. These are thin grilled roti breads filled with deep fried soft shell crab, mango salsa, fried curry leaves, pol or coconut sambol and spicy mayonnaise. They're very moreish with the super crunchy soft shell crab inside.
I love pan rolls which are short eats or Sri Lankan snacks. Short Eats come in all shapes and forms from creamy chicken filled puff pastries to deep fried "cutlets" or patties to these pan rolls which are similar to spring rolls (they came from the Chinese immigrants) which I found to be good everywhere in Sri Lanka. The superfood pan rolls are crepes filled with green peas, kale, sweet potato and fenugreek that are then crumbed and deep fried. It's served with chilli sauce on the side.
I only had a short time in Kandy when I visited so I didn't really try or see Kandy fried chicken. It's buttermilk fried chicken with a chilli mango glaze and spicy mayo. The glaze makes the fried coating quite soft so if you're looking for crunchy they're not that but they are sweet and tasty.
The Colombo snack pack is a bit of everything with chunks of roasted devilled potatoes, Amma’s curry gravy, pulled lamb and spicy mayo. It's tasty and good for sharing although I think I would have liked a bit more spice so I add some chilli sauce that we saved from the pan roll.
One of the best known Sri Lankan street food dishes is kottu roti made from chopped up roti bread cooked in a pan (kottu means cut which is the action made by the tools that chop up the roti in the pan). This has plenty of cabbage, eggs and seasoning and we add some devilled prawns with chilli, tomato and Maldive fish added to them. This is another favourite with the table and it tastes similar to stir fried noodles.
There's quite a large gap between the other dishes that came out quickly and the mains. The mains are two curries that come with the hoppers and sambols. The Jaffna style goat curry is rich in flavour with pieces of goat off the bone with roasted curry powder and fenugreek. The goat is a little firm but the curry sauce is moreish.
Out of the two curries I actually prefer the dahl. I loved the dahls in Sri Lankan as they were full of flavour and this one is no exception. The menu says that it's a family recipe too from Shaun's mum Shiranie.
In terms of the hoppers there are plain and egg hoppers available so we order a couple of each. The hoppers are made from a fermented coconut and rice flour batter that are cooked in special half moon hopper pans. The hoppers in Sri Lanka have a crispier and lacier edge to them but these do have a nice spongey centre.
No Sri Lankan meal is complete without a mixed sambol plate. There's a few sambols, mango sambol, pol sambol or coconut sambol, seeni sambol or caramelised onion sambol, pineapple acharu and fried white chillies. They explain that the white chillies are like Russian Roulette, mostly they are mild but sometimes they are hot. However in our case, all of them are hot! The seeni sambol is actually a bit less sweet and cooked down than the ones I had in Sri Lanka.
As this is only their third week open and they're trying to train all of the staff there isn't any dessert available yet. But it's a good excuse to go back really.
So tell me Dear Reader, would having a social enterprise attached to a restaurant make you want to visit more? Do you have any favourite Sri Lankan dishes?
This meal was independently paid for.
159 Enmore Rd, Enmore NSW 2042
Tuesday to Saturday 5–11:30pm
Phone: (02) 9020 6366