If you had told me twenty years ago (scary!), that I would have taken joy in Sri Lankan food, I would have looked at you over my plate of sausages and mashed potato and pulled my tongue at you. I was a very fussy child and I had my fathers Scottish taste when it came to new food i.e. play it safe.
Good thing that my tastes have changed and that I have expanded my horizons because Araliya, a Sri Lankan restaurant in Hawthorn, is a taste sensation.
We have been here several times and this time we opted for the degustation menu which at, $79 per person for five courses, seems reasonably priced. The staff are attentive and Dee, the floor manager, provides great advice and information on the menu.
Our first dish, curried scallops arrives, served on a rice flour pancake. I found the curry sauce to be well balanced with just the right amount of spice. The scallops were tender and perfectly cooked. The rice flour pancake absorbed any of the remaining sauce and was a great accompaniment both it taste and aesthetics. The lime and little crunchy side add a citrus zest and some texture.
The second dish to be served is a crumbed meat patty with a hot tomato sauce. To call this a meat patty does a slight disservice to the dish, as it conjures images of tasteless meat patties served on hamburgers at your local takeaways, and this is a dish that is bursting with flavour. Served in a crumbed ball (why does the word ball always make me giggle?), the beef is cooked with ginger, garlic, green chilli and mint. The beef is very finely minced which makes it light and airy and the levels of flavour are incredible. The chilli, ginger and garlic give the dish heat which the mint balances out so that you get a perfect level of flavour. The sev (an Indian snack of crunchy noodles), which the patty is served on, add a nice crunch to the dish. My only complaint that I didn’t feel there was enough of the tomato sauce which, complimented the meat patty well.
Next up, is the fish of the day with turmeric, lime leaves and tomato and served on rice flour noodles. Twice cooked eggplant with dates was balanced on top of the fish. I am not entirely sure what the fish of the day was as this wasn’t mentioned but it was a white fish, well cooked so that it came away easily in flakes. The lime leaves gave the fish some citrus notes while the eggplant added a slight smokiness. Resting on top of the eggplant was finely sliced red chilli which added colour and gave a big hit of heat.
Following the fish dish, we were brought, what I thought was the main event, the wagyu beef in jaggery and black pepper which is served on strips of roti bread and with a minted yoghurt. According to Google, jaggery is an unrefined sugar which is produced from the sap of plants which have a high amount of sucrose, such as sugar cane or date palm. The jaggery adds a sweetness to the beef which is tender and falls apart easily. The crispy onion adds crunch and texture,while the mint yoghurt brings coolness to the beef. I enjoyed having the roti strips as they absorbed the sauce beautifully. The dish was also served with potatoes, which tasted lovely, but I’ve only just remembered so I think the beef, roti and yoghurt are more than enough.
After four courses we were feeling pretty full but we still had dessert to go, this is the conundrum of the degustation menu and, to be fair, is not the worst conundrum to have. Luckily for us dessert was light as it was a coconut pancake with a passionfruit parfait. The parfait was the hero of the dish, with the passionfruit flavour refreshing the palate. The pancake filling was given heat from cloves and another spice which I have since forgotten (notes will be taken from now on).
All in all, this was great meal and not your usual degustation, with each dish having amazing levels of flavour and texture. Sri Lankan cuisine is something that I don’t think we have enough of in Melbourne and it is a real treat to be able to have somewhere to go and eat this great cuisine. While the degustation menu is reasonably priced, some of the other dishes are a little on the pricier side so I would recommend dining there for a special event such as birthday or anniversary. They do takeaway, and though I haven’t had it myself, I have heard they serve big portions which makes it quite good value.
It is amazing how our tastebuds and preferences change as we get older, have you found any taste changes as you have got older?