90 Tooting High Street
020 8672 7786
"It's the sort of meal you'd get at a bus station in Jaffna," said my friend. She was right. It was filling without being fun, cheap without being cheerful. Bus station fare.
I visited Sri Lanka in December 2005, a year after a tsunami killed 35,000 people and displaced half a million. I was tagging along with my ex, a guest of the tourist board. Every time she met a marketing manager for dinner at a posh hotel, I ate at a cheap cafe with our driver. The food was simple but delicious - no cutlery, all flavour. I recall one meal, eaten somewhere on the road from Colombo to Galle, a winding circuit of flattened houses, overturned cars and temporary tent cities. And terrifyingly bad driving. At this small roadside eatery, I pushed sambal round the plate with my fingers to mix up the flavours and textures, and almost wept when my first bite revealed psychotic levels of spiciness.
While some parts of Tooting look like they've been hit by a natural disaster*, the food here's not good enough to bring back the devilled memories. We started with two weighty deep-fried balls of dough; one made with bananas (vaaipan) and one made with onions and chilli (vadai) - they tasted similar. Pittu, a brown and white-striped blend of rice flour and coconut, resembles a Birds Eye arctic roll that's spent a week inside a vacuum cleaner. It's another dry, doughy, heavy dish, which didn't go swimmingly with vegetable kotthu (made from bread) and fried string hoppers (rice noodles) with chicken. A couple of small bowls of dal couldn't counter the fact that everything was dry and heavy, and the flavouring lacked subtlety and variety.
I've had plenty of great Sri Lankan food in the past so I have faith that the Sinhalese meal will be an improvement.
*A gratuitous joke because things were getting a little heavy. I actually love Tooting.