The curry has become completely ingrained into British culture to that point where they are pretty much inseparable. However, the word curry is an ambiguous one; referring to a vast array of dishes and cuisines as diverse and different as the regions that they hail from. Ask most people and they will probably mean Indian-style curries, or at least the Westernised versions we all know. I doubt many people would tell you that their favourite curry hails from Sri Lanka.
This is by no means down the quality of the food rather the lack of dedicated Sri Lankan restaurants in the UK. Luckily for us Hove is home to Moonstone – the only Sri Lankan restaurant on the South Coast.
Situated on Church Road, Dimuthu and his team of Sri Lankan-born chefs have been serving up authentic southern Sri Lankan cuisine for the past eight years. Moonstone offers diners a vast array of meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan dishes to choose from.All of the dishes are prepared with the freshest ingredients available and cooked to order using a secret spice mix imported from Dimuthu’s family back home. Add to this the health benefits of Sri Lankan cuisine due in part to its use of coconut milk over dairy and you cannot go wrong.
The restaurant is an intimate and functional space decorated with images from its homeland. It is not going to win any awards for décor but that is not what Moonstone is about. I took a seat in the window and ordered a bottle of Sri Lankan stout from the Lion brewery. I’ve never come across this before and was glad I did; it was a surprisingly light and refreshing beverage that belied its 7.5 per cent abv.
We started with mango salad with spicy honey dressing, fish balls with Sri Lankan pineapple chutney, and chicken olls with Sri Lankan sweet and sour sauce. The wonderfully crisp fish balls and chicken rolls were light and fresh with no greasiness from the fryer. The salad was simple and straight forward with beautifully ripe mango pieces and a sweetness from the dressing.
For the main we were presented with a veritable feast showcasing the full range of Sri Lankan cooking. With too many dishes to name individually particular highlights included the stir fry devilled chicken with a deep rich sauce reminiscent of Chinese food and an aromatic and vibrant prawn curry made with coconut milk. From the non-meat side an offering of beans and cabbage with a blend of spices oozed freshness, and side dishes of sweet potato curry, coconut sambal and egg noodles were delightful.
Despite my gluttony I still had some room for dessert and sampled some small pieces of the home baked coconut and Malibu cheesecake and the Wattalappan. The baked cheesecake had an almost caramel edge to it and the subtle coconut flavour was not overpowering. The Wattalappan is a traditional set pudding made with egg, palm sugar treacle, coconut and cardamom.
Sri Lankan cuisine has been tipped as having a big year in 2016 according to Katy Salter in The Telegraph; and following my visit to Moonstone I can see why. The style of food is familiar enough to go down well with even the most cautious of restaurant goer; but has enough of its own qualities to please the more adventurous.
Moonstone is a fantastic little restaurant and they are even offering takeaway to suit the TV dinner crowd. The food is inexpensive ranging from £6.50 for a vegetable curry up to £11.95 for king prawn with sides around £4.
The healthy cooking style results in a curry that is not oily like some Indian dishes and you can have it to cooked to your heat preference from mild to very hot. Dimuthu is highly knowledgeable and passionate about his cuisine and this shows in the quality and diversity of the food Moonstone produces.
208 Church Road
This review first appeared in the February 12th edition of The Brighton and Hove Independent