Siri 7 Taste of Sri Lanka
Review by May-Lee Wong
New Zealand and in particular Auckland is a flurry of different cultures, and with those cultures comes a flurry of different foods. We have more than our fair share of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indian restaurants in our isthmus, but what about some more obscure cuisines? I’ve yet to happen across a place that serves Ethiopian, and there’s only one good Lebanese place to choose from. But to add to the ethnic mix, there’s now Siri 7 Taste of Sri Lanka.
Although they very recently opened up shop in the heart of Sandringham, Siri 7 has been dishing out Sri Lankan cuisine from their small shop that was previously located in the Moshim’s complex on Stoddard Road. The new place has more aesthetic appeal than the bland stalls of Moshims; there is a definite tropical feel to the place, with a cute Tiki-hut style counter complete with thatched roof and bamboo.
The owner is a wonderfully friendly man who talks passionately about Sri Lankan food and is happy to guide you through the menu. Sri Lankan food hasn’t become mainstream yet so a lot of the foods were new to me, albeit exciting and delicious.
There is room to dine in here, although seating would be extremely limited if the place were to get busy. One can eat here well within the Cheapeats budget; I brought mum her for a birthday lunch, and the bill totalled $25 with the two of us barely able to finish our meals. Those with hungrier eyes and bigger appetites could have a right royal feast here. If I were in such a mood set, I’d start with a few of their entrees or ‘finger-foods’, of which the lamb cutlet is particularly yummy. On a visit to their old store, the owner served a couple of these crumbed and deep-fried balls of lamb mince to us on the house, explaining they are very popular in Sri Lanka and that he often serves these as entrees when he caters.
Ask any Sri Lankan you know about lump rice, and they’ll nod with an all-knowing smile. Lump rice ($15) is a quintessential Sri Lankan dish similar to Malaysia’s nasi lemak (for those who are familiar with it). The lump rice is a parcel wrapped in banana leaves (and then glad wrap, but don’t let that put you off!) and inside is a gastronomic gift. It contains a selection of vegetable and meat curries, a piece of fried chicken, a hard boiled egg and the most wonderfully fragrant red coconut chutney, served on top of yellow rice. It is a must for anyone trying Sri Lankan food for the first time and it gives you a taster of the many different things Sri Lankan food has to offer.
The eggplant curry, and of course the coconut chutney, were easily the two highlights of the dish. The curry was aromatic and had a good kick to it (evidenced by the whole green chillies in it). Unfortunately the chicken drumstick that accompanied it had been deep-fried within an inch of its life and so was rather dry as a result. At Siri 7 they haven’t toned down their food to meet the tastes of the heat-shy, of which I am thankful. But they’ve got the balance of flavours and heat spot on: it’s not so hot that you stop enjoying your food and stop tasting the palette of spices, but it’s hot enough to having you reaching for the chilled water.
Having already tried the appa, wafery cups made from rice flour and served with an array of curries and chutneys, I thought I’d try something new, and ordered the pol roti ($10). Roti means bread, and at Siri 7 it takes two forms. They offer roti in a form most people are used to, light and tissue-like, and then the traditional pol roti, a much denser, pancake-like version made with wheat flour, ground coconut and vegetables. The pol roti came with a zesty, onion chutney and a choice of vegetable, chicken or mutton curry.
I found the pol roti a little heavy for my liking, having been used to a more pastry-like roti, but it wasn’t greasy like the roti I’m used to, and the flecks of chilli, onion and curry leaves strewn through the pancake made it tasty and fragrant. The mutton curry was a lovely specimen to dredge my roti through and onion chutney was just delightful: it was heavy with whole cumin and chilli and again, those wonderful curry leaves.
There are good things going on in Sandringham. Many of the dishes at Siri 7 use rice flour and are gluten free as I overheard the owner explain to a customer, so those with gluten intolerance need not be excluded from this new cuisine. They even do desserts here; had I the space, I would have loved to have tried the kiri appa, filled with coconut cream and palm sugar. For those with a taste for adventure (literally), gather your companions, venture the to heart of Sandringham and try something new.