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Menuwatch: Kolamba

13 May 2020 by

Eroshan and Aushi Meewella had barely bedded into their Soho site when the lockdown was put in place, but the first-time restaurateurs quickly innovated and pivoted to delivery. Emma Lake reports

After a short five-month opening whirlwind – including a rave review from The Guardian food critic Grace Dent – first-time restaurateurs Eroshan and Aushi Meewella were forced to close the doors of Kolamba in Soho's Kingly Street.

Kolamba's bar
Kolamba's bar

The husband-and-wife team barely had a chance to learn the intricacies of running a restaurant before coronavirus turned the industry on its head, forcing them to return to the drawing board to create a delivery service that would allow them to keep serving dishes inspired by the Sri Lankan home cooking of their upbringings.

The delivery service launched at the beginning of the month, with the owners having waited to ensure chef Rajat Gulati and general manager Mike Turner could travel safely into central London to lead the operation, allowed by Westminster Council's relaxing of parking restrictions.

The restaurant partnered with Deliveroo to deliver in central London, stretching to Camden in the north, Clerkenwell to the east and Bayswater to the west. Eroshan explains: "Our location is not particularly residential; we're in Carnaby, which is a lot of offices. But it's been pretty good so far, but being new to Deliveroo we're pushed down the list quite a lot. We've had to do a lot of our own lead generation, and we're really pushing our social media and asking as many people as possible to repost us."

Squash curry
Squash curry

The team is advertising a streamlined delivery menu – eight main dishes, a selection of ‘short eats', salads and sides – which can be produced solely by Gulati, with Turner offering assistance in organising and packaging orders.

Eroshan says: "We removed five or six dishes in order to ensure that what we're delivering arrives at people's homes at the right quality. Some of our food really does have to be cooked there and then. Our hot butter cuttlefish [£7.50], which is deep-fried, wouldn't travel well.

Parripu (red split red split lentils cooked in coconut milk and turmeric)
Parripu (red split red split lentils cooked in coconut milk and turmeric)

"We do have a lot of curry on our menu and that does travel well, so it has been fairly straightforward. The only significant dish in terms of it being a star of the menu that we can't offer is the black pepper prawn (£13.50), which needs to be eaten a couple of minutes after it comes out of the pan – we don't want to send soggy prawns out to a customer."

Many of the restaurant's signature dishes have been transferred to the delivery menu, including the Ceylon chicken curry (£10.90), which sees thighs on the bone marinated overnight in chilli powder and the restaurant's own blend Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, before being cooked with garlic, curry leaves and pandan leaves and finished with coconut.

Eroshan explains: "The chicken curry is a classic and so recognisable to a British audience – it has been one of our best sellers.

Vaira's jaggery beef
Vaira's jaggery beef

"The jaggery beef (£11.90) is also one of our stars. It's a spiced curry but it's finished with jaggery, which is like a palm sugar, and it gives a slightly sweet finish. It is very unusual for a curry to have that spice as well as sweetness to it."

Eroshan and Aushi opened the restaurant wanting to showcase the home cooking of Sri Lanka and have ensured authenticity is retained, something that has naturally led to a strong vegan offering, with ingredients such as cream, yogurt and animal fats not used. Consequently, seven of the 12 main courses on the restaurant's full menu are vegan friendly, translating to five of eight on the delivery offering.

Beans with coconut
Beans with coconut

While authenticity is key, some changes have been required. Eroshan explains: "Our yellow monkfish curry (£14.60) has been adapted. It's not a traditional fish found in the Indian Ocean, but it curries well and holds together nicely. We marinade it overnight and cook it in a coconut broth with lemongrass and turmeric."

For Eroshan, the delivery operation is an opportunity to keep the restaurant in people's minds through the enforced closure. He says: "This is an extremely challenging time for the industry, but we wanted to make sure that people who wanted our food had an outlet.

"It's really about staying connected with our customer base. I'm not looking at it as a massive revenue driver, although we do have a couple of staff on payroll [rather than furlough], so anything that offsets that is great, but the main driver is to keep in people's lives."

The team has taken this time to review, evolve and adapt, and is planning a click-and-collect curry bowl lunch offering when workforces begin to return to central London.

Eroshan adds: "We're taking the opportunity to reset and tweak recipes so when we do reopen, we're hoping to be better than we were."

21 Kingly Street, Soho, London W1B 5QA

kolamba.co.uk

‘Short eats'

  • Nalini's fish cutlets £4.50
  • Banana blossom pattis £5.20

Meat and fish

  • Vaira's jaggery beef £11.90
  • Yellow monkfish curry £14.60

Vegetables

  • Beans with coconut £6.50
  • Kumar's pineapple and aubergine £6.90
  • Parripu (lentils) £6.50

Rice and breads

  • String hoppers with kiri hodhi and pol sambol £5.80

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