As soon as Citrus opens for lunch and dinner, customers swarm in and make a beeline for the buffet of Sri Lankan dishes. Since launching at the beginning of the year, the family restaurant has become a favourite of Fitzroy North locals.
Originally from Kandy, a city in the Sri Lankan central highlands, the Somaweera family arrived in Melbourne in 2016. Last January, they took over the space of what used to be a vegan and organic cafe. Mom Shiyamalee and dad Keerthi are in the kitchen, while son Ravindu and daughter Mansala run the floor, with the help of a few friends.
“There was no Sri Lankan cuisine in the area so we thought it might be a good opportunity. We decided to create something slightly different than traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, by making all of our dishes gluten-free, and all of our vegetarian dishes vegan as well. A lot of people around here prefer this,” says Ravindu Somaweera.
When Citrus first opened, the family tested the waters by serving both burgers and Sri Lankan dishes. When they saw that the latter were much more popular, they decided to focus solely on Sri Lankan cuisine and serve it buffet-style.
“Mum does most of the cooking and Dad helps. They’re here by seven in the morning because it takes a long time to prepare the food,” says Ravindu Somaweera. “It’s all the food I grew up with.”
There are about a dozen dishes in the buffet at a time, taken from the family’s recipe repertoire. You’ll always find at least two different types of rice, several vegetable curries, a couple of meat dishes and condiments. The selection changes daily, and often a couple of times throughout the day.
“I only use Sri Lankan spices like cinnamon and curry powder, and of course, coconut milk,” says Shiyamalee Somaweera. “And I don’t use additional flavourings or colourings.”
After you grab a plate at the counter, head to the buffet to build your plate, starting with rice. On the veggie front, you might see beetroot, cabbage, okra, potatoes, jackfruit, bitter gourd or pumpkin.
“I’m not vegetarian, but I prefer veggie curries like beetroot or jackfruit, which is one of the most popular in Sri Lanka,” says Ravindu Somaweera. “Lentils and beans are the most popular here, so we always have one or the other in the buffet.”
On the meat front, our pick is the devilled chicken, a sweet and sour Sri Lankan staple.
“We prepare all the dishes mild so that everybody can enjoy the flavours. I can’t eat very spicy myself, but we have condiments to spice it up,” says Ravindu Somaweera. To crank the heat up, reach for the chilli paste, fried chillies or coconut sambol. Other condiments include chutneys (mango, pineapple and ambarella), raita, and kale salad.
From Sunday to Friday, the all-you-can-eat buffet is $15 per person. On Saturday evenings, the price goes up to $19.90, which gives you access to more dishes, as well as desserts prepared by Keerthi Somaweera, such as wattalappam, a spiced coconut milk custard.
Citrus is located only a few minutes away from the popular Edinburgh Gardens … a day in the park followed by a Sri Lankan feast sounds like the perfect combo.
252 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North
Tue – Sun 10:30 am – 3 pm and 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm
From French crème caramel to Filipino leche flan, steamed caramel custards can be found around the globe. Sri Lanka’s version, watalappan, uses coconut milk, a ubiquitous ingredient on this coconut palm-fringed tropical island. This rich, silky dessert, thought to have Malay origins and particularly favoured by Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, is embellished with roasted cashews for a counterpoint of crunch.
Deep pink in colour and retaining that unique beetroot flavour, this curry makes a stunning addition to a selection of curries. There is an urban myth that beetroot leaves are poisonous; well I have been making beetroot curry for years and I always incorporate the stems and leaves.
This is a recipe for string hoppers, which are made from a hot-water dough of rice meal or wheat flour. This is pressed out in circlets from a string mould onto little wicker mats, then steamed. Light and lacy, string hoppers make a mouth-watering meal with curry and sambol. Fresh pol sambol is great with everything and is served with nearly every meal. We used to wait until the hot bread arrived from the bakery next door and then put a big spoonful of it on the hot bread.