Monday, November 21, 2011

Apollo Banana Leaf: A Fiery, Sri Lankan Gem in Tooting

Name Apollo Banana Leaf
The storefront may be unassuming, but the food is anything but.
Address 190 Tooting High Street, London SW17 0SF
Phone 020 86961423
Main dish price range £3-6
Rating 4 Stars. An excellent place to answer my craving for kohtu roti.
Recommended dishes Mutton Kothu, Squid Curry 

Web site

Of all the ethnic cuisines that capture my imagination and set my mouth awatering, I must confess I've always had a soft spot for Sri Lankan. On days when I'm bored with the standard, prepackaged sandwich offerings widely available in London, I almost always find myself dreaming of kothu, a Sri Lankan dish made up of of cut up rotti bread that's doused in egg, spiced to perfection and then lightly fried over a stove top. In the land of bland that can sometimes characterize the UK restaurant scene, Sri Lankans also stand out from not beign afraid to make their dishes hot and spicy--- provided you ask for it that way.  The best Sri Lankan curries are both rich and milky, while also being scorching and scintillating at the same time.

I dream of kothu like this on a regular basis.
So I was pretty excited when I first found my way to Apollo Banana Leaf, a tiny Sri-Lankan and South-Indian curry house located along a quiet section of Tooting's bustling high street. I'd read that Apollo is a favorite spot of London's sizable Tamil community, and when we walked in, the friendly staff was sure enough buzzing around a large table packed with what appeared to be three generations of a single South Indian family. A young looking, presumably Sri Lankan waiter with a full-on Aimee-Mann, Voices-Carry era haircut (think: spiky hair, rat tail, the works) caught our eye and gave us a smile, and I knew we were in for a real treat.

Because we're such fans of Sri Lankan food, we bypassed the traditional Indian curries on the menu and headed straight for the Sri Lankan classics. First up, the Chili Masala Dosa (£3). Like the best of its ilk, this one had the perfect crispy top layer and came with a trio of sauces, including a delicate coconut chutney and a spicy sambar that I just couldn't stop eating. The restaurant's Mutton Kothu, a steal at just £4.25, was also done to perfection. The bits of rotti making up the dish were fried, but not dried out, and the meat had enough spicy kick to make me reach for my ice-cold beer to quell that beloved, familiar, burning feeling in my esophagus.  Green beans, diced onions, and fresh chilis rounded out the dish's amazing flavors. (Regular readers know I would never normally weigh in on this, but even the vegetarian version of the dish was a stunner-- Nick made me try it during one of his health kicks.)
The delectable squid curry.

We owe how much?
Of course, being an island nation, Sri Lanka is also well-known for its amazing seafood, one of many things that distinguishes it from traditional Indian cuisine, with which it shares a lot of influences. Unlike my favorite Sri Lankan joint in New York-- New Asha in Staten Island-- the seafood here has a huge place on the menu and definitely doesn't disappoint.

After a couple visits, I'm putting my endorsement behind the restaurant's squid curry (£5.95), a well-known Sri Lankan delicacy. This one had large pieces of squid, a coconut-milk-based sauce loaded with flavor, and a few tender, cooked vegetables tucked in for good measure. When we arrived we'd given the waiter our standard pre-meal spiel, which goes a little like this: "We're not British.  We like our food extremely spicy, just like actual Sri Lankan people. Please, PLEASE, pluh-eese, believe us-- we're not joking!"  Being white as white can be-- and living in a country full of people who despise spice-- this routine doesn't always work.  At Apollo Banana Leaf, however, we're happy to report that the curry was strong enough it felt like it could burn some of our hair off.

And one of the best parts of our evening: the bill. Apollo is BYOB and boasts no corkage fees.  And since the staff also takes major pains to keep the food affordable, Nick and I were able to stuff ourselves while not even breaking the £20 mark. This is the most delicious Sri Lankan food we've ever found at this price point, certainly-- better than Jaffna House nearby, which has its fans. We'll give you all an update though after we take a romantic, two-week trip to the actual island of Sri Lanka this March.  (And no, we're not  going just for the food-- the country has amazing surfing beaches too.)

Apollo Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon


Toby said...

Sounds delicious! As excited as I'd be to visit this restaurant, I'm even more excited for you & your trip to Sri Lanka. *Drooling*

tom said...

Heading here today as part of Eating London's World of Food - A2Z Sounds amazing!