Mikkayla reviews: Araliya — ‘the start of what promises to be a beautiful friendship’
1/118 High St, Kew
Press PLAY below to hear why Mikkayla thinks this restaurant will be the start of your “love affair with Sri Lankan food”
If you haven’t experienced Sri Lankan food and believe that Indian takeout is a close enough alternative, then boy oh boy am I excited to prove you wrong! There are many common elements, sure, but it’s not all just rice and curry combinations. So many elements vary – from the main ingredients and spices to the cooking techniques. The array of flavours in each individual dish is so much more vivid than anticipated, with a combination of palettes in each mouthful – sweet to sour, spicy to bitter, creamy to savoury.
This is in part due to the fact so many different ethnicities make up this pearl-shaped island nation of 21.8 million people, and also because of the international trade scene that moves through the region bringing in a load of non-native ingredients, all of which have found their place in exciting and different ways. And yes, whilst the versions of their traditional dishes may be largely watered-down in many Sri Lankan venues, you’ll still undoubtedly experience the unapologetic flavour explosions that get the adrenaline pumping. It’s not Indian-light cuisine; here they eat everything – beef, fish, pig, chicken, and the similarities are what may encourage people over the line to give it a go… but once they do, I guarantee that their own love affair with Sri Lankan food will begin.
Araliya Kew officially opened its doors in February 2021. The love-child of Sri Lankan couple Sam and Dee Wedande, this new venue is a graduate from their original venue in Hawthorn from 1985 and its former St Kilda moorings. Whilst Dee looks after the front-of-house, Sam is in the kitchen wedding spices from the east with culinary techniques from the west and gaining in the process a strong, dedicated clientele.
The amazing smells hit before you even get inside the door – warming, fragrant aromas that promise heat, spice and satisfaction. We are seated in the upper section of the dim, split-level room and order drinks while we peruse the extensive menu. Dee is happy to answer questions about the food, asking if it’s our first time eating Sri Lankan and explaining components of some of the dishes. In the end we go with the chef’s tasting menu – two starters, a main, with rice and vegetable dishes on the side to share, and we also order a couple of extra ‘nibbles’.
There are three different kinds of hoppers to choose from: duck, egg and mushroom. The crispy-edged hopper, traditionally a breakfast food, is a delicate bowl of thin, fermented rice pancakes that you tear into pieces and use to scoop up the filling in the middle. The shredded duck is sweet, meaty and juicy, and the fried egg is gooey with enough chilli to slightly catch your breath, but easy enough to scoop off and add to your tastes.
Frikadelles, whilst originally a Dutch snack, are now quintessentially a part of the Sri Lankan short-eats food culture. Crumbed lamb patties are juicy, moist and flavourful, and perfectly matched with minted yoghurt. Their pan rolls are made of a crumbed crepe enveloping a rich mixture of root vegetables and fried till golden, and the spiced fish empanadas, legendary by their own right, are a flavour explosion combining spicy and savoury inside of their buttery, cumin pastry.
If you choose to dine on your own, you can choose the curry of the day that comes with two sides of vegetables, rice and accompaniments, or the Kottu Roti, which is shredded and tossed with meat and vegies.
We are presented with the black pork curry: a rich, tender, mouth-watering piece of scotch seasoned with dark roasted spices and pepper. Enough cannot be said about this dish – and it’s the first time I’ve actually had pork as a curry. Tamarind is a starring ingredient, adding a sour but almost sweetly-fruity taste, and there are hints of roasted coconut. It’s clearly a labour of love, and pairs perfectly with basmati, a lentil and baby spinach dhal, green beans and cashew, mango chutney and, of course, pappadums. It’s a complex meal – don’t try to guess every single spice and ratio that goes into it, and don’t be off-put by the dark colouring – it’s a positive sign of the richness of the sauce.
The wine list is thoughtfully curated with selections ranging from France and Italy, to a multitude of locally-produced options. There are a selection of fun cocktails to choose from and an array of beers. Despite the somewhat difficult trek to get there from the inner north-west during peak hour, the journey was completely worth it. Exceptional food and high-quality service is just the start of what promises to be a beautiful friendship between yourself and Sri Lankan cuisine.
Araliya is open Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday from 5pm, and from 12pm on Friday and Sundays.