I have some annual leave at the end of January and one of the considerations is Sri Lanka or India. Given there is only 2 short weeks available, India seems possible but perhaps short in order to cover the north and south for the once-in-this-lifetime trip. Conversely Sri Lanka seems too small to fill all that time (given my short attention span and need to move from place to place very quickly). I can't doubt the quality of flavours of Indian cuisine cultured in me from Melbourne and Bendigo (of all places) and most recently accentuated by London (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani). However Sri Lankan food has been elusive up until now.
Enter Camellia, Canberra's (only?) Sri Lankan restaurant complete with good Urbanspoon ratings and a fortunate standing in the Entertainment Book. It was a quiet Saturday night, with only 3 tables. Service was good including the chef (or owner?) coming out a couple of times to say hello, explain part of a dish and ensure we didn't require more sauce or pappadams (which were delicious with the mains).
- Katagesma (crisp fish with red ripe tomato & purple onion, capsicum in exotic devilled sauce with savoury rice, tropic salad) - sauce was extremely reminiscent of Cantonese sweet & sour. The tropical salad was great;
- Sweet chilli baby octopus, young garlicky beans & toffee almond - modest amount of octopus retaining a touch of crunchiness and softness;
- Biriyani (long grain rice cooked with aromatic exotic spices & tender lamb curry accompanied with two way cooked egg, mint coconut 30 sambol, pappadam & yoghurt cucumber salad) - biryani I've been craving and hoped this version would excite me. Unfortunately the rice was very simply flavoured with ghee/butter and a few spices. It lacked the potent complex flavours I've come to admire in Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani versions. The lamb curry was simple and tasty (shared a flavour with Malaysian-style) and the egg was nice;
- Spiced prawn (tempered with mustard seeds, onion, curry leaves & drizzle of coconut cream with savoury rice) - great quality prawns in a simple creamy sauce;
- Nawala Pineapple (pineapple cooked with tropical orange juice and flambéed with Rum and served with Cardamom flavoured ice cream) - the cardamom icecream is fantastic and something new to me. The pineapple sadly looks from a can (given the price of the dish) with a strong rum liquor. The very brief moment of burning at the table is a nice effect;
- Watalappam (steamed jaggery pudding) - very sweet heavy dessert closer to a moist cake than what I expected for a pudding.
Overall the food was fine without the flavours being anything particularly unique or spectacular. For this reason I did feel slightly disappointed especially as the venue is reasonably expensive. The food seems relatively safe so I think it is easy to come here and have a decent meal, but not the impact or mind-blowing introduction to a cuisine I hoped for. They are soon introducing some special events that include live music and new dishes, so I might hold out again until then.