Eating in Sri Lankan ‘Paradise’

For those who love spice, and more specifically Sri Lankan food, a trip to newcomer Paradise on Rupert Street is definitely worth a visit. It is the brainchild of Dom Fernando, whose inspiration comes from his native Sri Lanka. There are five chefs in the kitchen (which is hidden away from view) all with Sri Lankan heritage  – with head chef Charith Priyadarshana leading the brigade.

I visited at lunchtime recently and secured a perch at the bar. You can only book a table for 4 diners or more – walk-ins are given a place at the bar counter or window. Apparently on busy evenings you can expect to wait up to an hour – there are only 30 covers – so choose your timing wisely. Lunch times seem perhaps a better gamble for a first visit if you are not fond of waiting.

Before I get on to the food, let me just speak about the overall look and feel of the restaurant. The attention to detail is so on point. Of particular note: I loved the herringbone style floor tiles (see in photo above) which were made in Bali I am told; the fact there are hooks to hang things under the bar (so obvious but so many places fail to do this); the industrial style brushed concrete grey walls and black steel light fittings; the dark brown water glasses, which are made from their recycled beer bottles then cleverly cut and smoothed off to make glasses; the hand wash and hand cream in the bathrooms smell divine and are made in Sri Lanka.

Whilst we are talking bathrooms, I also liked the fact that a small trug of plants was sitting on a shelf under the hand dryer allowing ones wet hands to gently provide drips of water to the plants underneath. In short, A LOT of care and attention has gone on the aesthetics and mood of the place, which has not gone unnoticed. In an increasingly competitive market the ambiance works hand in hand with the whole dining experience. I was not surprised to hear that East London designer, Dan Preston (who was commissioned to do Smoking Goat, Kiln and Brat) was behind the stylish interiors.

Now onto the food. Firstly the menu is short – big tick – nothing worse that a menu that is too long. It also lists all the places it buys its meat, fish and eggs, which as a diner, I find really helpful as increasingly we all want to know the provenance of the produce we are eating. The menu itself is broken up into ‘short eats’, ‘hoppers & breads’, ‘sambols & rice’, ‘veg & plant’, ‘land’, ‘sea’ and ‘dessert’. There are between 3 and 6 choices in each section – the largest choice being under the ‘veg & plant’.

We kicked off the proceedings with the ‘short eats’ and opted for the mutton shoulder rolls with fermented chilli, crab patty empanadas with lunumiris mayo (Sri Lanka version of Sriracha) and sea-salt fried whitebait, black garlic mayo. The standout was the mutton shoulder roll. The whitebait was tasty, but I felt was not particularly ‘Sri Lankan’ – I would have liked to have had a delicate spice rub on them perhaps, instead of just seasalt!

The hoppers were both excellent – I liked the originality of the turmeric and fennel seed hopper, but the classic egg hopper also got a definite thumbs up. I accompanied both with the mango and chilli chutney. In the ‘veg & plant’ section I opted for the dahl and was pleased to see the pandan leaf and curry leaves making an appearance giving it a genuinely authentic taste. I will definitely try more of the veg next time as the charred pineapple salad with green chillies and the southern cashew curry with Maldive fish definitely sounded appealing.

This was all followed by the Jaffna spiced lamb chops and the roasted baby squid curry with cardamom and coconut. The former was a little fatty and I personally would want more heat to the rub. The squid however was a delight and highlight sitting in a creamy coconut infused sauce with hints of cardamom. Definitely slurp worthy!

Being rather full at this point we weren’t able to squeeze in ‘dessert’ but the buffalo milk ice cream with cashew and butterscotch brittle, the lime and coconut sorbet, basil and chilli oil and the Wattalapam gelato, salted cinnamon meringue, stem ginger caramel all sounded heavenly – especially that buffalo milk ice cream. Next time.

The menu, I am told, changes every 8 weeks. I’ll be back before then though to work my way through the menu – especially the veg and plants as I feel I didn’t give them much air time this time round. Always good to have an excuse to go back.

 

Mains: £7-13.50

Short Eats/Hoppers/Rice/Sambols: £2-5.50

Paradise | 61 Rupert Street, Soho, London W1D 7PW

All views are my own and this is NOT an ad

 

 


Gul and Sepoy, Spitalfields

Have you been to Gunpowder or Madame D’s (which I reviewed for Binge) yet? No I hear you cry. Then ladies and gents, seriously, you have got to get your skates on and head over to Spitalfields in East London and give them both a try. They’ve both received the highly acclaimed accolade of ‘bib gourmand’ (bg’s are given to restaurants which offer both excellent food and good value for money, but do not have to offer the same level of service and pomp that those winning a star would have to).

Gunpowder focuses on home style Indian food, whilst Madame D’s focus is Himalayan, or rather ‘Hakka Chinese’, food. However the really exciting news and the purpose of this post, is that the husband and wife team, Harneet and Devina Baweja, along with Gunpowder head chef, Nirmal Save, have just launched their third restaurant in under two years. Impressive hey! Gul and Sepoy is a stones throw away from their other two restaurants based on Commercial Street, just along from Som Saa.

I went with an open mind and an empty belly, but secretly I was thinking, can they have nailed a third fabulous restaurant? The answer came after my first mouthful, an absolute high five, whoop whoop, YES. I spent the meal grinning ear to ear on the combinations of flavours and dishes that were presented to us. We went for the tasting menu – £25 per person, to be shared. The menu concentrates on cuisine from both south west Indian and north west India. The ‘gul’ part is inspired by the King of Punjab’s most famous courtesan and her love of cooking. This food focuses on rich, sumptuous dishes. The ‘sepoy’ (which means soldier) menu draws from the more rustic, coastal style cooking of the south west.

It was the bream and the ‘royal guchi (morels) pulao that defeated my companion and I. We had to save a little room after all for some ‘wild berries and lavender kheer’ to sweeten our palates.  The staff kindly wrapped our leftovers into doggie bags that we could take home.

The restaurant is stylish and yet understated, with an eye catching navy exterior, gold writing type face (important details that I notice) and plum door with lots of foliage. It looks inviting and sets the tone perfectly. As you enter there is a large oak bar, offering some temptingly delicious sounding cocktails as well as a wider-ranging wine list than the other two restaurants. Upstairs, which I didn’t venture, apparently has ‘marble feasting tables providing a touch of luxury and a nod to north India’s ancient royal palaces’. It’s priced slightly more expensive than Gunpowder and Madame D, but not eye-wateringly. I went for a mid-week lunch and it was fairly quiet, but I imagine evenings will be busier and it won’t be long until lunchtimes will follow suit. It’s perfect for a lunch or dinner to be enjoyed at leisure and not hurried. The neighbouring table of 8 gentleman were clearly having a leisured client lunch, so it works for pleasure or work.

The final piece of good news I want to share with you is that in spring 2018 they will be launching their fourth restaurant south of the river at the new development ‘One Tower Bridge’. ‘Gunpowder Market Market’, will focus on Harneet and Devina Baweja’s heritage by serving up homestyle Calcutta cuisine. I know a fair amount about Calcutta cuisine, (my other half is originally from Calcutta) so I am very excited to see what they come up with. Apparently there will also be a bakery, which will turn into a wine bar in evening. I’ll report back once their new venture launches.

In the mean time go seek out their latest venture, Gul and Sepoy. All three restaurants rock and you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t take chilli then perhaps steer clear of Madame D, but it’s not crazy scotch bonnet hot, more like you know your alive kind of hot, if you know what I mean.

 

Gul and Sepoy 

65 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD

Lunch: Tuesday -Saturday: 12.oo-2.45pm

Dinner: Monday -Saturday: 5.30-10.30pm

+44 207 247 1407

 

 

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Chana Masala at L’atelier des Chefs by St Paul’s Cathedral

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A stone’s throw away from the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the city of London you will find Foster Lane and nestled down it at number 10, the cookery school and cook shop, ‘L’atelier des Chefs‘. This is one of two – the other is in Wigmore Street – soon to be three locations of the cooking school, with a further 17 across the water in France.

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Originally set up by two French brothers, Nicolas and Francois Bergerault who wanted to bridge the gap between chefs and the day to day cook. The ethos of the company was to bring people back in the kitchen, around the table and share the love of cooking. The brothers have hired passionate and skilled chefs to teach cooking classes to budding food enthusiasts. Classes range from half an hour, whereby you cook one dish over a lunch time or after work, to a four hour ‘chefs masterclass’, therefore appealing to those of all standards and budget. Class sizes also range from small intimate groups to larger corporate events/team bonding; there is even a class for kids so everyone is included and encouraged.

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I headed down there earlier this week with my mother in tow. I enlisted the pair of us on the Indian cooking session. Whilst I am very comfortable around the spice rack and cooking Indian food, my mother, who is a fabulous cook, is slightly less comfortable cooking a curry. I was keen to see if the session would appeal to both of us.

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We were greeted by friendly staff who offered us teas and coffees before class began. There were seven of us in our class and we were introduced to chef Daniel Stevens who has just returned from an extended visit to Kochi in Kerala, India, where he has been working closely with Lily Vanilli and Atul Kochhar in their new joint venture, Bloomsburys Cafe, which focuses on celebrating Kerala flavour in Western style patisserie.

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Introductions over we rolled up our sleeves, washed our hands and began slicing, dicing and chopping away. Over the course of the morning we all helped to prepare a lamb rogan josh (lamb curry), chana masala (chickpea curry), vegetable pakoras (similar to an onion bhaji) with a tamarind chutney and saag aloo (potato and spinach curry). We all took turns with stirring and adding ingredients and all tasted for spiciness and saltiness along the way. I liked how Daniel allowed the class to decide if more salt, spice, sourness or sweetness was required in a particular dish. After all Indian cooking is not an exact science like baking where exact measurements are integral to the success of the cake or bread. Indian cooking allows you to be a little flexible with measurements and a more ‘go with the flow approach’ to creating a dish – something that definitely appeals to my style of cooking.

Time raced by and after two hours we had prepared all the dishes. We all sat down on a long table, admired the curries we had created and dived in before anything got cold. We all agreed that the morning had been a real success. We had all picked up new tricks and skills and unanimously agreed that we would all be able to replicate the same dishes again in the comforts of our own home kitchens. Would we return? Most definitely. In fact a couple of my class mates were already on their third return visit and if that isn’t the seal of approval on a fun and informative cooking school, I don’t know what is.

After squeezing in second helpings we were given goodie bags to take home some more. We said our goodbyes and headed out into the rain with a glow in our bellies and a spring in our step.

Chana Masala

Adapted from the L’atelier des Chefs recipe.

Serves 4-6

250g tinned chickpeas

2 tbsp vegetable oil

3 whole cloves

1 whole cinnamon stick

3 green cardamom pods, split open

2 medium sized white onion, finely sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp red chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

2 whole garlic, finely grated

4 tomatoes, chopped into small bits

150ml vegetable stock

1 handful of fresh coriander

2 tsp rock salt

1 lemon, juice

1. Heat a saucepan and add the vegetable oil. When it is hot add the cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and allow the aromas to be released. After a minute add the onion to the pan and cook on a medium heat for around five minutes until it begins to soften and brown.

2. Now add the turmeric, chilli powder and ground coriander and give a good stir. Add the garlic and ginger and stir to make sure they do not burn at the bottom of the pan. Adding a very little water helps to prevent burning!

3. Add the tomatoes and allow them to soften for a few minutes before adding the vegetable stock and chickpeas and allowing the curry to simmer and soften gently. Allow the juice to soak up and if it becomes too dry then just add a little more water.

4. After ten minutes add some salt to taste and then turn off the heat and scatter the fresh coriander on top. Before serving add some lemon juice

Chilli and Mint was a guest of L’atelier des Chefs. You can find more details about the course and other courses on offer here.