Monday, 5 September 2011

Meeting Palace, Wealdstone

Bank holiday weekend and we had no plans.  As I had to work on Saturday we decided, rather democratically, that I could choose what we did on Sunday, and the Ewing on Monday.  Which is how we came to be driving through deepest darkest Harrow on the way to a Sri Lankan style Sunday lunch.

Positioned on the rather unlovely Wealdstone High Street, the restaurant looks pretty ordinary from the outside.  The inside is much fancier, featuring a colonial style decor with Sri Lankan art on the walls, decorative wooden screens, carved elephants and a buffet area with clay pots under a mini straw canopy.  Despite the surroundings service was very laid back and friendly, with our waiter keen to help us navigate the unfamilar dishes on the menu.

After being deprived of breakfast, (I was determined to get there as the doors opened in case of an unexpected deluge of people, which predictably never materialised) the Ewing was glad of a glass of Nelli Crush.  This tradition Sri Lankan drink was described as being 'gooseberry' flavour by our waiter, but tasted nothing like the tart berries I know, and instead more like those strange, brightly coloured and very sugary soft drinks you would be bribed with on holiday as a child.  Slightly odd, but pleasantly nostalgic. I stuck with the Lion lager, a refreshing choice to go with all the chillies and spices in the food.

From the appetisers the Ewing chose the crab claws (the breaded, reformed kind which bear little resemblance to a crustacean, but were hot and crispy and nice enough when dipped in chilli sauce) and the Marsala vadai.  These were lentil 'doughnuts' flavoured with onion an spices and served with coconut chutney.  Good, if a little dry.

The mutton Ceylon was good; chunks of succulent, lean meat in a rich spiced coconut gravy finished with the crunch of fragrant deep fried curry leaves .

The Ambulthial fish, while being the least photogenic dish of the day, was certainly the most interesting.  Meaty chunks of fish (confirmed as tuna by our waiter) thickly covered in a very peppery marinade that bought to mind the flavour of a Caribbean jerk paste.  A little unusual at first, but the tuna stood up to the strong flavours well and I really enjoyed this.

Chicken 65 is a traditional deep fried dish that I was keen to try, but wasn't expecting it to be as exciting as the more exotic fare.  In the end it was one of my favourite parts of the meal; the chicken was covered in a moreish, spicy paste and was crisp on the outside and tender and within.

The green banana bhajee was standout.  The green bananas have a starchy, savoury quality, quite unlike their riper yellow counterparts and had been fried with chillies, spices, toasted coconut and curry leaves.  I'm planning to try this with plaintains from the West Indian stall at my local market.

As they didn't have any red string hoppers we chose uthappam (a thick fermented rice and lentil pancake) studded with onion and chilli.  It had a pleasing sourness and light and spongy texture that soaked up the vegetable sambar and chutney served alongside.

And finally a feather light parotta.  Originally we confused this with the more common, and thicker North Indian paratha, but it seemed flakier and crisper.  Some googling later revealed this to be a South Indian version, made by forming thin, circular layers of batter mixed with ghee.  Very light and extremely rich, it was a bit like mopping up your curry with pieces of buttery puff pastry.  Next time I would like to try it prepared as Kothu Roti, a famous roadside dish of meat, egg and parotta that is cooked together on a hotplate while being 'chopped' with a heavy iron spatula.

As usual we ordered far too much, even for our vast appetites, but our waitress was very happy to box our leftovers to take away.  With friendly and helpful staff, interesting and tasty food and keen prices (our meal came to £40 and there was plenty for three or four people) it also represented a bit of a bargain. Certainly worth venturing to the wilds of Wealdstone for.

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