Word spread like wildfire through family Whatsapp chats and phone calls between aunties this week. Sri Lankan restaurant Dish, a famously good and cheap eatery in the western Sydney suburb of Toongabbie, has opened a second restaurant in Glebe.
This is big news for Sydney’s Sri Lankan community, for whom Dish is a household name. If you’ve had the pleasure of an invite to a Sri Lankan friend’s party, there is every chance that owner and chef Manjula Fernando catered for the event. Everyone loves his food – including the late Kerry Packer, on whose private yacht Manjula was a chef. Mr Packer, he says, was quite partial to a beef curry.
“A lot of people had been asking me to open in the city,” says Manjula. “Sri Lankans can more easily bring their friends to Glebe. They would tell me there was no proper place to take their friends to try real Sri Lankan food.”
Manjula’s Glebe Point Road restaurant is more expensive than the original shop - Toongabbie’s $15 all-you-can-eat hopper buffet is not possible with the inner-city rent, but prices are still incredibly reasonable.
The open kitchen serves to showcase the real star of the show, hoppers. Chefs expertly swirl the fermented rice flour and coconut milk batter into heated hopper pans, and cook these bowl-shaped crepes on a line of six portable gas burners. For dinner, the ‘hopper pack’ complete with curries and condiments is the best place to start, along with a few godamba roti or an egg roti. This is what Sri Lankans come to eat.
The $22 set menu lunch is a more modern approach, a very generous sampler of some of Sri Lanka’s best hits. There’s an egg hopper with a trio of spicy sambols, plus a meat or vegetable curry of your choice, and a bowl of kottu roti, made by chopping and stir-frying roti on a hotplate with egg, vegetables and curry sauce. You must also leave room for the pan roll, a spiced lamb and potato curry wrapped in a crepe, crumbed, and deep-fried. Don’t let any Sri Lankan uncle tell you that’s not good value.
A simpler, more traditional $12 rice and curry lunch is also available, as are ‘short eats’: deep-fried snacks stuffed with savoury fillings.
String hoppers are lacy nests of rice noodle that pair beautifully with a mild coconut and turmeric gravy. Then there are specialties like the dosa (crisp pancakes of fermented rice batter) loved in Sri Lanka’s north; a sour ‘ambulthiyal’ fish from the south; a slow-cooked goat curry; and the Dutch Burgher banana-leaf specialty of lamprais, a mixture of curries and sambols wrapped in a banana leaf.
“Before people didn’t know the difference between Indian and Sri Lankan food. Now they do,” says Manjula.
Still, many of his new customers are trying this notoriously fiery cuisine for the first time, and he is toning down the heat slightly. The restaurant serves hotter curries for their Sri Lankan customers, so if you want your food authentically spicy, you’ll need to make that known.
381 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, NSW
Open for Lunch & dinner, closed Tuesdays.
Images by Rachel Bartholomeusz