Situated just a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Weighbridge Place, my destination ‘Unawatuna’ is in fact the only Sri Lankan restaurant on the rock. Not only new to the area, but a new concept, and one foodies galore are bound to adore. Draped in bright red and yellow hues, not dissimilar to that of the many colourful dishes flowing freely from the kitchen, the unique décor offers a glimpse into the real Sri Lanka. The back wall is adorned with a nostalgic image, setting the scene for Sri Lanka 150 years ago, the elephants (one who goes by the name of Denis) a true signature of the country’s culture, and the bar (designed by Sudu himself) a mishmash of reclaimed wood. It was as if I had walked into a small house in the Sri Lankan countryside. At night, so I’m told, the entire restaurant comes to life, with candles casting dancing shadows on the exposed brick walls, and the exotic lamps, which hang in clusters from the ceiling, forming seductive spells through the filtered undulations of light.
A quick glance at the menu, and I’m already finding it difficult to focus on just the one dish. Luckily Sudu has an answer to this – the Sri lankan Fest – a miscellany of traditional, taste-tantalising curries – allowing you to try not one, but three different dishes a go. From Wattakka (pumpkin cooked with garlic, chilli powder, cinnamon, green leaf spinach and ground mustard seeds) to Rathu Alla (beetroot cooked in coconut milk flavoured with onion, tomatoes and tempered chilli flakes), the options are endless.
On the chef’s recommendations, I opt for the fresh crab curry, a balance of spice and sweetness that grows more captivating with every mouthful. This pastiche of flavours comprises curry powders (sourced directly from Sudu’s inspiration, his mother) a hint of lime and the warming flavours of mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks and curry leaves.
With a mysterious side of Gova Mallum (Sautee Jersey greens with spices and sundried tuna) Roti (traditional Sri Lankan coconut flat bread) and cooling yogurt, I couldn’t help but return for more.
A swift culture lesson from Sudu and I quickly learn Sri Lankan dishes are much tastier when consumed with fingers as opposed to forks, this way you can palate as much of each plate as you desire, whilst combining the powerful flavours of each.
This is the cooking that chef Sudu learned as a child. Moving to Jersey 11 years ago, he opened his first establishment some time back – a cafe at the end of Gorey Pier. Armed with his mother’s homemade curry powders (she sends them over every two to three weeks) Sudu set to work, introducing a slice of Sri Lanka, and the cuisine he loves, to foodies around the island. Customer demand has enabled him to transform this café into a restaurant – a far cry from the original seasonal shack. The authentic décor – a team effort, which both Sudu and his partner worked hard to create, sets the backdrop for his first big adventure – Unawatuna – an original name to represent the unique cuisine.
Unlike Thai or Indian food, Sri Lankan cuisine is exclusive; in fact, many of the dishes were initially created for their health benefits. A large majority of the menu derives from staple foods including rice and pulses, yet despite this, the dishes are extremely light. Meaning there’s no chance of that uncomfortable full feeling, regardless of how much you eat! Sri Lankan’s boast a sizeable Buddhist community, one of the reasons many of the dishes are vegetable based. Yet unlike raw vegetables, each plate offers a variety of exquisite flavours – cardamom cloves, coconut milk, cinnamon, spices, pepper, a juggle of turmeric here and a hint of chilli there – ingredients that allow the various dishes to spring to life through both colour and taste.
Using a mixture of local farms, as well as the Jersey Food Wholesaler, Fungi Delecti (and of course his mother’s homemade curry powders) Unawatuna is a showcase of decidedly distinctive Sri Lankan dishes, and not one boasts a sell by date.
With upcoming lunchtime options consisting of health-beneficial smoothies blended from the Gotu Kola leaf, also known as the ‘fountain of life’ (an Indonesia herb used to heal wounds, improve mental clarity and diminish a variety of skin conditions) and numerous gluten-free dishes, including mango, coriander and lotus root curry yet to arrive, finding the time to taste this small slice of Sri Lankan culture is a must.
After the savoury courses, desserts boast a timely simplicity. Sorbets, iced sweets and lemon tarts offer a welcome finale to a banquet of flavoursome dishes.
With a constant search for authentic ingredients on the cards, and a Christmas feast in the diary, where Sudu plans to offer guests not just one, but numerous dishes set out in a banquet style, foodies can expect to enjoy these precisely attuned flavours unveil themselves across several plates.
Sudu’s final words ‘we’re just a bunch of friendly people serving great food’ and I couldn’t agree more.
Authentic Sri Lankan Cuisine
8 Caledonia Place