Chilli paneer (£4.79) was cloyingly sweet and only with the gentlest of chilli kick. When our lovely waiter later came to take our dishes away and asked if it was ok, we told him how we felt and he took our criticism with enthusiasm. "Next time, we'll make it spicy!".
We fared better with the rest of our meal. Chilli appam (£1.19 each), also called hoppers were pancakes made with ground, soaked rice. This is mixed with coconut milk and water to form a batter, and then left to ferment for a few hours. This resulted in a pancake that was spongy in places and crisp in others, great textural contrasts. The chillis were atomic and my heartbeat rocketed after eating this. My stomach, so laden with cheese and cream and butter of the Christmas just past, was roused from its cosy swathes of fat.
The menu was littered with curry classics but I wanted to try the typical Sri Lankan dishes so instead opted for 'pittu (3 pcs) with mixed vegetable curry' (£4.29). The pittu (below picture, foreground) was 3 pieces of cylindrical ground rice layered with coconut and spices. This was a stodgy cake to be broken off into chunks and dipped in the vegetable curry. The curry was deceptively delicious; when it was first placed down it looked common enough, but on first taste it revealed complex and ferocious spicing. The pittu grew on me. At first I found it a bit bland but soon grew to love it as a coconut-tinged vehicle for the curry.
Mutton Kothu (£5) was on the lunchtime specials blackboard outside. When my friend ordered this he asked for 'proper spicy please, not mild white man stuff', to the amusement of our waiter. The silver dish turned up which contained far more than one would imagine; this fed both of us easily. The menu says you can choose what your Kothu is made up of and in this instance, it was parotta. Parotta is a Tamil Nadu layered flatbread, much like the Northern Indian paratha. Chopped up, the parotta is cooked on a hot griddle with egg, meat and spices and served with what is listed on the menu as bone gravy.
This was fantastically textured, the small pieces of bread feeling a bit like noodle. Everything is chopped up the same size giving a really pleasant mouthful. The pieces of mutton were sparse but tender, and the heat of the spices were a slow burn, gathering momentum as the dish was eaten.
We paid a paltry £8 a head for the above plus service. Although it wasn't a comfortable dining experience - don't sit by the window, unless you like cold gusts of wind freezing your sides - the food more than made up for it. The menu is extensive and I'm looking forward to going back to try the dosai, idiyappam, idly and sambols.
2 Loampit Hill
Lewisham SE13 7SW
Tel: 0208 691 7944