Featured Restaurant: Virundhu

4th August 2017

13 Field End Road • Eastcote • Pinner • HA5 1QG • 020 8866 7500

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

On a quiet Wednesday at the dead start of summer, when all the world seems to have gone away, Virundhu, a new Sri Lankan restaurant in Eastcote, is over half-full, and buzzing. Although it's been open barely a month, we bump into old friends who are already on their second visit. It's a good sign.

The atmosphere here is inviting: the decor simple, in muted tones, with a tiled floor and plain walls, part wood-panelled, part painted a pleasant sage green. It's calmly welcoming and easy-on-the-eye. Staff are cheerful and friendly, happy to decode all the beguilingly-named but unfamiliar options.

Head chef Ravi, whose menu is full of Sri Lanka's favourite dishes, his own family recipes and signature creations, puts together a platter of 'Short Eats' for our starters: Keerai Vadai, savoury fried doughnuts made with urid dal, fresh spinach and spices; Mutton Rolls, mutton pieces cooked with potato and seasoned with Jaffna spices, rolled in filo pastry and lightly coated with breadcrumbs – 'Everyone in Sri Lanka knows this dish,' he says – and Grilled Lamb Chops, marinated overnight with crushed red chillies, ginger and garlic paste and spices. The doughnuts are tasty, perhaps not quite as light as I expected, though redeemed by the accompanying coconut relish which is zingy and terribly moreish. The mutton rolls, beautifully crispy, have a tender, succulent filling. The lamb chops are so savoury that we're both tempted to pick up the bone and gnaw it to retrieve those last lovely nuggets of deliciousness. It's all substantial, but fresh and light on the digestion.

At Ravi's suggestion, we don't order our mains until after our starters. The pause offers an excellent chance to catch up with our friends who are already a course ahead of us and, encouragingly, recommend everything they've eaten.

We opt for Eral Kulambu, a rich and creamy prawn curry made with a combination of Sri Lankan spices and coconut milk; Chicken Devil, stir-fried with spices, onions, red and green pepper, banana pepper, green chillies, spring onions, garlic and ginger paste; and Mutton Pirattal, a hearty and comforting spicy curry made with a mix of exquisite spices. Then there's Red Country Rice, and Malay Pickle, and 'have some String Hoppers', says Ravi. So we do.

There is, of course, way too much here, but we cope. In fact, I almost forget to make notes, so glorious is the spread before us. We might be stumbling over the pronunciation, but we're certainly not stumbling over the taste. My mouth is on fire – in a very good way: alert to all the layers of flavour. This food is not aggressively hot, but full of subtly blended spices. It's not necessarily sophisticated – though it is beautifully presented – but it feels very authentic, and that's what counts.

The Eral Kulambu promises 'a complex flavour which is extremely delicious and delightfully fragrant', and delivers it, although the sauce, which I expect to be thick and pale, is dark and thin. Gorgeous, nevertheless; I could drink it. The Chicken Devil is tender, with a sticky sauce that's almost caramelised, and lots of fresh red onion on the side for contrast; the Pirattal is rich, and mouth-watering, with wonderfully cooked meat – and in combination with the sweet kick of the Malay Pickle is a marriage made in heaven. The rice, big-grained and rustic, is light and lovely – a real asset to the meal – and the String Hoppers, which are not unlike noodles and come with a tasty thin coconut dressing, are softly-textured and appetising.

'Let us take your taste buds on a wonderful journey to Sri Lanka,' says the website. 'Feast on a wonderful and rich melting pot of flavours and abundance of delightful dishes…' I couldn't put it better. We'll definitely be back for more – and have already added Sri Lanka to our list of Places To Visit Soon.

STARTERS: £3.45-£13.95 • MAINS: £5.95-£13.45
DESSERTS: £3.45-£4.95 • HOUSE WINE: £16.50

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